Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bicycle Crash Investigations -- Will there be a detailed report?

Ask a bicyclist about their crash -- go ahead. Most of them can tell you the details of their own story. They all seem to have one. Interestingly, many of those stories also include questions regarding how their crash investigation was handled. After witnessing a pretty bad crash myself just recently, I asked others to share their stories with me. I wanted to know: who conducts detailed investigations for bicycle crashes?

My Story:

On Thursday, August 6 at about 6:20 PM a bicyclist crashed on Gibraltar Road in Exeter Township at the intersection of Gibraltar and Pheasant Run Road. I witnessed the crash as a motor vehicle driver traveling north from Birdsboro towards 47th Street. The cyclist was traveling south on Gibraltar Road towards me in the opposite lane. The amount of traffic was moderately high and most traffic seemed to be going faster than the posted 35 mph – though I was not. Thank goodness. If I had been speeding, I would have hit and perhaps even killed the bicyclist.

I noticed the cyclist before the incident began because of the work that I do – advocating for bicycling and walking. I noticed that he did not appear to be wearing a helmet or have a visible bicycle light on his vehicle, but that he was riding in an upright position, seemed to have full control of his bicycle and was wearing a light colored (white) shirt. It was bright daylight and he was fully visible from a distance. He was wearing a backpack and appeared to be holding a water bottle in his right hand. As he came down a slight hill on Gibraltar towards me, I saw that his bicycle was in the center of his travel lane, which I thought was appropriate for the amount of motorized traffic and the lack of a shoulder or bike lane. A white Jeep was traveling directly behind him. As the bicyclist appeared to come down the lane in a straight controlled manner, his bicycle suddenly veered widely into my lane. I applied the break, I felt I was far enough away from him that it was unlikely that I would hit him with my vehicle. “What just happened?” I said.

I watched as the cyclist swung wide in the lane of oncoming traffic – make a broad, wide right turn towards Pheasant Run Road – then hit the curb and stop sign at the intersection. His body seemed to wrap around the stop sign post and then he fell to the ground, motionless. I picked up my cell phone and dialed 911 as I watched the driver of the white Jeep immediately park his vehicle in the grass just beyond the victim, throw his door open and run back to him. I found a safe place to park while I spoke to the 911 dispatcher. I explained that from where I was walking toward the cyclist that I could not see the cyclist move at all. His body appeared to be in the same awkward position as when he first fell. The 911 dispatcher asked me if the victim was breathing, but I was standing on the opposite side of the street at that point. I crossed the road and saw that the driver of the white Jeep was returning to his vehicle. “Sir, is he breathing?” I asked. The driver of the white Jeep did not look at me or speak to me, but got back into his Jeep and drove away. I spoke to the 911 dispatcher. “The driver of the white jeep is getting into his jeep and driving away. His license plate number is _______.”

As I continued to move towards the victim, another man in a sleeveless shirt with tattoos on his arms spoke to me. He said, “I made the call. I am an off-duty Reading Police Officer. I made the call. Get off the phone. No one hit him; no one is leaving the scene. I made the call. I saw everything.” So, I repeated what he was saying to me to the 911 dispatcher. I answered the questions of the 911 dispatcher and ended the call.

The female companion of the off-duty officer asked me, “Does Exeter have a paid emergency response service or do they have a volunteer service?” I answered that I was not certain, but I thought perhaps there was some paid staff. She responded, “Oh. I’m just wondering as it seems to be taking a long time for them to respond and I was wondering if paid staff are actually at the station ready to respond to a call or if they have to drive from home.”

During this time, many motor vehicles passed the scene. I also noticed four other cyclists traveling on that same right of way. One man appeared to be a bicycle commuter. Two cyclists appeared to be teenagers riding to see what was happening in their community. One man asked if he could help – but decided other than making a call to 911 (which had been done) there was nothing more for him to do. Only one of the cyclists wore a helmet and had a bicycle light on his vehicle. Five pedestrians also traveled that route – one man walking his dog, one runner, and two young people walking together. [Note – there is no shoulder, no bike lane, no sidewalk, no crosswalks or even share the road signs on this length of road.]

After several minutes, an Exeter Township ambulance arrived at the scene. The female companion of the off-duty officer spoke to me, saying, “Oh, they don’t have their lights or siren on. That’s weird.” That same woman also commented to the off-duty officer, “Don’t the police usually arrive to an accident with an ambulance?” The man answered, “Yeah, I don’t know.” A few minutes later, a police officer did arrive to the scene, and I noticed that there was no siren or flashing lights on his vehicle. Another few minutes, a second police officer arrived. The officers approached the off-duty officer and spoke to him in familiarity. I did not hear any questions about the accident or the victim. The EMTs were caring for the victim and began to stabilize his neck and body. At one point they asked the officers to assist them with the board to make sure that the victim was stable.

During this time a large white van pulled around the corner and parked where the white Jeep had previously been. A young man with dark curly brown hair approached the scene and stated that he was responsible for the victim – as the cyclist was a “consumer” from his group home. He reported that the cyclist was in his early 30s. The EMTs asked him to assist in speaking to the victim to try to get him to respond. They expressed that needed him to help them compare his normal ability to respond to his present condition.

An officer approached me, took my name, phone number and address. He stated that no one may actually need to speak to me about the incident, but as a witness they would need my contact information. I then walked away from the crash site to return to my vehicle and continue to my destination.

I can’t help but wonder – wouldn’t the driver of that white Jeep have something important to contribute to the investigation report? After all, he was directly behind the cyclist when he began to lose control of this bike, he saw him crash, and he was the first person to go to him after the crash. Did the police get his contact information and speak to him to make sure that the report includes the information necessary to determine the cause of the crash? Maybe they were able to contact him from the license plate I provided the 911 dispatcher? I also wonder if I was the witness who saw the full scene from the opposite lane – do they need me to provide a report of what I saw from my angle? Will the cyclist receive a full, complete report that may be necessary for his insurance purposes?

Sally’s Story
One evening at 4:40PM I was attempting to use the new crossings on the Martin Luther King Drive to get from the bike path to the Art Museum side. Inbound crossing went okay. Outbound crossing started okay, a driver in a large SUV stopped waved me across, I started across, and another driver, crossed the white line to pass and came inches from hitting me. I crashed my bike into the street landing inches from the second car’s tires. I suffered multiple bruises, scrapes, and was bleeding.

Here is the weird part: A police vehicle came upon the scene, the cop got out, spoke to me for 10 seconds, asked the driver to pull off the road so he (the cop) could speak to him, and then they both drove off! The cop never returned to check on me, to ask if I was able to get home, needed an ambulance, etc...I called 911 to see what I should do. They instructed me to wait and I did, for a total of 1 hour from the time I was almost hit till I had to start riding home to care for my injuries. Ok, I was not killed, and that's good.

But while standing there for an hour I saw near miss after near miss as drivers either did not stop for pedestrians and cyclists trying to cross, or as drivers tried to blow by a motorist who was trying to do the right thing. Should I have done anything differently?

Sally Poliwoda
Co-founder, Sturdy Girl Cycling

Ben’s Story

On Saturday, June 17, 2006, I was riding down Main St in Oley, shortly before noon. I was on a new custom bike with less than 500 miles on it. Just down and across the street from the fire company is an outgrown shop. As I approached this shop, a lady opened her car door directly in my path. I was traveling approximately 20 mph. Yes, I was in the door zone.

Literally, she opened the door at precisely the right moment for me to slam into it. I hit the door head on. The bike had a heavy rear end due to an internal gear hub, so the back end flipped up and over. I separated from the bike at about vertical and landed square on my back. I tried to get up to get out of the street, but I could not. I tried to slide on my back to get out of the street, but by that time some people from the outgrown shop (they were having a sidewalk sale) came over to me and told me not to move.

Since I was just down the street from the fire company, and there was a traffic accident elsewhere in Oley at the same time, an EMT was with me in about two minutes. They moved me to a backboard and walked me across the street to the fire company. Since the Oley ambulance was already engaged, I had to wait for the Fleetwood ambulance to take me to the hospital. I spent the afternoon in the hospital getting a variety of tests, but I was home by 6PM.

I was incredibly lucky. The results could have been devastating if I landed on my head rather than flat on my back. This accident was the impetus for me becoming an LCI. It also gave me a reason to purchase and recommend the Road ID(TM). The Oley police were called and were on the scene with the EMT's when I was still on Main St as well as when I was at the fire company. It was a pretty brief investigation for them. They determined it was the driver's fault, but it was an accident.

My family lives in Oley, so the people at the outgrown shop took my bike and gear and called my relatives. My mother retrieved the bike and took it to one of my relative's houses in Oley where I picked it up the next day. The bike did not look to be severely damaged to my relatives, but closer inspection showed that the fork was bent beyond repair and the frame was cracked in several places. The main parts of the bike were a total loss.

Because I was injured and had out of pocket medical costs, plus loss of the bike, I followed up with Chief White from the Oley police department. He was very helpful in explaining the legal aspects of the case from his point of view. He made it clear that it was her fault and that he would gladly ticket her if I would like. Her insurance may have paid for damages.

I felt the Oley police did a good job with the investigation, and in facilitating the return of my bike, gear, and wallet, to my relatives through the folks at the outgrown shop. Chief White was very helpful after the accident. I did not ask for the full report because I was not going to pursue legal action.

Benton Levengood
League Cycling Instructor
Board of Directors, WalkBikeBerks

What a Police Officer Has to Say about ‘Bicycle Crash Investigation, Part I’
“After reviewing a number of crash reports by officers and crash reconstruction experts, it is apparent that many important factors involved in bicycling are either unknown or unconsidered and quite often undocumented by crash investigation professionals.The state of the art in specialized bicycle crash investigation and reconstruction is rudimentary at best. Focused training in bicycle crash investigation is rare, if it exists at all.

In virtually every state, bicycles have most of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Many officers don’t seem to know, or care, that they do. Training in bicycle traffic law is virtually nonexistent in police academies and crash investigation courses.

Unfortunately, many serious road cyclists know and understand traffic laws regulating bicycles far better than most street cops. Officers who have received quality bike patrol training, such as the IPMBA Police Cyclist™ Course, have been trained in the legal status of bicycles in traffic, proper and legal lane use, and other pertinent provisions.

When investigating a bicycle-vehicle crash, it may be a good idea to involve a trained bike patrol officer to help get a comprehensive perspective as to the bicycle-related factors and conditions involved. Criminal charges may be warranted. An officer knowledgeable in bike law could be a victim cyclist’s best advocate, or a legal opponent, providing the details for fair prosecution.

Some states don’t require, or even allow, a police crash report unless the crash involves a motor vehicle. Yet, it is quite possible to have a serious or fatal crash involving a lone cyclist, two or more bikers, or even a cyclist and a pedestrian. Since these don’t involve a motor vehicle, none would be reported on an official state or FARS crash report form. These incidents would be classified as a public accident of some sort. The obligation for a thorough and detailed investigation is no less important.”

~Kirby Beck, PCI #002T
Coon Rapids PD (MN) retired

Law Enforcement & EMT’s

For information on how to locate IPMBA Training, please click here.
IPMBA Police Cyclist Course
IPMBA Public Safety Cyclist II Course
IPMBA Survival Tactics and Riding Skills Course
IPMBA EMS Cyclist Course
IPMBA EMS Cyclist II Course
IPMBA Instructor Course
IPMBA Maintenance Officer Course
IPMBA Bicycle Response Team Training
IPMBA Security Cyclist Course
IPMBA Night Ops-Firearms & Tactics Course

WHAT TO DO IN A BICYCLE CRASH Call the police and get a report. There are a few things you need to know to protect your legal rights in a bike crash. If you are in a crash with a car, do not leave the scene without:

· tag number of the car
· names & phone numbers of witnesses
· driver name and contact information
· police officer name and badge number

Even in cases where cyclists are badly hurt, the police have not always identified the vehicle or driver involved. The ambulance personnel will not include this information in their report – you must make sure the information gets recorded by the police. If it is a hit and run, you need to file a police report as soon as you are able.

Your Turn

· HB1110
· HB1109
· SB 776

Call and write to your state legislator today and ask them to support these bicycle friendly bills – to create safer access for cyclists on the streets in Pennsylvania.

The single most important action that you can take now is to contact your legislator and encourage them to support HB1110 or SB776 (Safe Passing Legislation). And HB1109, a harassment bill meant to protect cyclists from "bullies" on the roadways. An email, phone call or brief letter will only take a moment of your time, but is vitally important to the success of these laws.

Please also be sure to ask your legislator to support the Federal Safe Routes to School Program so that children can safely walk or bicycle to school.Contact Your Legislator


  1. Anonymous13/8/09

    Gibraltar road is horrible.

    Whenever a call is made to 911 a dispatch is sent out and all police can hear on their radios in the car and on the police radio in the office.

    Officers responding will call in.

    Ambulance and police may not arrive together.

    In some cases the fire dept & their medics might get there first before ambulance and police if the municipality relies on Southern Berks Ambulance Service.

    The question that one must ask did the off duty police call 911 or the Exeter Twp. Police Dept. or NEXTEL Exeter Twp. How did he report the event? That is the issue.

    If he did identify himself as a police officer with badge ID then that could be a factor that no lights or sirens on Exeter Twp. police cars. The off duty police officer will be the "officer in charge" until the municipality police arrive.

    I am not saying that this happened. At times a request may be put in not for the ambulance to have sirens or lights on. I am not saying that in this case but it can be requested. Sometimes the request is honored othertimes not

    The victim has to request the accident report.

  2. Anonymous13/8/09

    You … mention that many states don't take police reports unless it's an automobile, but it would be good to know what PA's law is, or if it's different depending on municipality. I'm not sure. We've heard so many different stories, including that you can get a police report after the fact.

    Here is what one officer said in an email to us "I was checking out the "in a crash" section of your website. You have some great advice for cyclists. One point of clarification on the police report. By law, we only complete a police report if there is an injury or a vehicle needs to be towed from the scene. Some people become upset when we explain this to them. It may be useful to spell this out and explain that the police will gladly assist the cyclist in exchanging information with the driver if there is no injury or no tows."

    Now, police aren't doctors, so they don't know if there is an injury. Also, sometimes, adrenaline makes it so that you don't feel the pain of an injury until the next day, and you may even need to go to the hospital. Now I'm glad that adrenaline does it's job, but it doesn't help us in this situation.

    Also, bicycles don't get towed.

    Another insight that he gave was this tidbit:

    "The last note on the page directs people on what to do "If you had trouble with or experienced harassment by a Pittsburgh Police Officer." Their is a veiled implication that you can expect to be harassed by an officer. Harassment is a crime. In my 14 years, I've never seen a fellow officer harass someone. I have however seen officers go beyond the call to assist individuals on numerous occasions. I'm sure it is simply a poor choice of words. You may also want to include information that encourages people to contact an officer's supervisor when they receive particularly exemplary service, as this is much more common. I am in no way suggesting that people should not contact the proper authorities when an officer acts inappropriately."

    Well, I'm not going to go into the harassment part, many many cyclists have experienced it, but I think it is a good idea to encourage people to "contact an officer's supervisor when they receive particularly exemplary service."

  3. Anonymous13/8/09

    Another incident that happened on Sunday was 5 pedestrians struck in Wyomissing, 3 adults and 2 minors. It also did not make the paper and involved one auto.