Paul Andrews

Carnage on the Roadways: Be safe out there!

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes on August 8, 2009 at 9:11 am

A 26-year-old male cyclist hit a car which was turning left into a driveway on the south side of Northeast 45th Street in Wallingford (Google street view here). The cyclist was taken to Harborview with life-threatening injuries. The Seattle Police Department is investigating.

As someone who rides this route nearly every day, some thoughts:

The rider was eastbound on a section of N.E. 45th fraught with peril. At that particular point the rider would typically be traveling very fast. It’s at the end of a medium-length downhill which, although not particularly steep, will put speed on a bike fairly quickly.

There are numerous traffic hazards from cars doing all sorts of things, including pulling out from Dick’s Drive-In. There also are stoplights at the bottom which usually are green (for 45th St. traffic), but cars typically want to make free right turns on red. Finally, it’s just plain busy along here all the time.

The police report suggests the colliding driver was waved through on a left turn by a stopped vehicle. This is a real legal hornets’ nest. Drivers acting as traffic cops can be legally liable when their actions cause accidents. In Seattle, you see a lot of this, and it endangers other drivers as well as cyclists.

In any case, this is a tragedy that gives all cyclists pause as we consider how often we narrowly miss this kind of accident every day.

Until full details are in, it’s a bit sticky to blame the driver of the colliding car at this point. That driver was responding to the yielding driver’s actions and undoubtedly did not think about needing to yield to a bike as well.

Whether negligence is a factor here or not, though, Erica C. Barnett’s points on Publicola about vehicular assault are well-taken. Police need to take bike accidents far more seriously and issue tickets on the same basis as if a car were hit instead of a bike. It’s pure insanity that drivers are not prosecuted for hitting and/or killing cyclists simply because they didn’t mean to. By that logic, no traffic tickets would be issued.

David Hiller, Cascade Bicycle Club’s advocacy director quoted in Erica’s story, notes the club will try (I assume he means once again) for new legislation in Olympia that would force the legal system to take bicycling accidents more seriously. A Vehicular Assault bill failed to make it out of committee earlier this year.

To correct the comments queue in Erica’s piece, there are decidedly NO bike lanes on N.E. 45th St. There are fading sharrows, but at BikeIntelligencer we think sharrows are next to worthless, a sop to the cycling community that has no effect whatsoever on actual traffic conduct.

Cycling accidents are up this year. If the cyclist dies he will be the fifth killed already in Seattle; in 2007 only six cyclists were killed for the entire year in the four-county Puget Sound region (3 in King County). Undoubtedly the surge in cycling’s popularity contributes, with more trips and less experienced riders on the road adding to the mix. But the fatality statistic alone begs the need for stricter laws and better enforcement of the laws already on the books.

[Although not in response to this accident, Michael Snyder at SeattleLikesBikes makes a similar case.]

And at Cyclelicio.us, Richard notes there are enlightened drivers out there.

Meanwhile, the carnage continues nation-wide.

Stanford University law profession, 72, “family members have said the nature of his injuries may indicate a hit-and-run.”

Baltimore man, 67, “got tangled in the rear wheels of a truck.”

Pennsylvania woman, 68, RIP.

Texas lawmaker will fight Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of “3-feet-please” law, which Perry was encouraged to do on grounds it would give cyclists “a false sense of security.”

Ride safely!

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  1. Looking at Google street level, it appears that the street is one lane in each direction. The implication seems to be that the cyclist was passing on the right in a one lane area. This seems to me to be a dangerous move for the very reason illustrated in this occurrence.

    Where is the liability in that situation?

    • Liability is for the police to figure out, but the cyclist is doing nothing wrong or illegal in passing on the right. Many more cyclists would die if bikes could only ride in the same lane as cars. Generally in law governing vehicular traffic, the turning vehicle in a collision is always at fault, as any Seattle police officer could confirm. But let’s hold judgment till all the facts are in and the police complete their investigation.

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