Friday, June 26, 2009

What's your experience with filing police reports?

You get into a scrape with a motor vehicle. Maybe there's some damage, maybe not. Do you call the police?

Long story -> short: I usually don't even bother anymore. More below the photo...

Tuscon Bike Lawyer writes about the typical cyclist experience following a bike vs car collision:
A cyclist gets hit by a car, and is lying in the pavement dazed. Assuming the cyclist is not suffering a serious injury, the officer will then try to determine fault. As I have written many times before, “carhead” tends to point toward the cyclist being at fault.

If the officer determines the cyclist was at fault, he will then often give the cyclist a choice: you can leave here and forget about all this, or you can stay and get a ticket. Which do you pick?
I've never been threatened with a ticket, but the first time I called the police, the motorist was very clearly at fault: she completely blew through a stop sign without slowing; I escaped with my life because I did an emergency swerve but I still got a glancing blow and a damaged bike.

I was riding completely legally on a residential street with almost no traffic, but witnesses and the responding police officer all lectured me about my bike riding, and the cop made it very clear that my call was a huge imposition of his time.

This was in 1987. In the three times I've been hit by a car since then, I only called the police on my latest incident, but that was a hit and run and I hoped the driver would get caught. I know the advice to call the police -- I even give that advice here -- but like cycling attorney Erik Ryberg observes, "I don’t care how many times you have read this and other bike safety blogs, if it happens to you, you are not going to be thinking clearly."

Law enforcement's reticence prompted Colorado cyclist advocates to lobby for a law requiring law enforcement agencies to take bicycle accident reports.

What do you do when a car scrapes up against you? Do you file the police report? Or do you usually let it slide? And what does this underreporting do for bicycle crash statistics?

Photo: Delta Mike.


Anonymous said...

I was involved in an accident about 5 years ago in Palo Alto. The motorist got me with a right hook and drove on without stopping.

Bystanders called 911 and within minutes an ambulance, the police, and my wife were all on the scene. At least one bystander was interviewed. The police stopped by the ER a while later to take my statement too.

I wasn't cited for a ticket, and I didn't detect any institutional bias against bicyclists. Granted, this was in Palo Alto which is relatively bike friendly.

Kate said...

I have been harassed by motorists on two separate occasions, one time by someone claiming to be a police officer. I reported both incidents with no follow up by police officers. Local police view these as the lowest priority and never follow up.

My answer to this....Hero Cam.

gazer said...

As you know, I take pictures and post them to Flickr. And write editorials to local papers.

I will call the police when I deem the driver's actions to be well above any sense of reasonableness. For me, this is actual contact or specific verbal threats.

Just had to do it in the new hometown of Cleveland, and was pleasantly surprised by the courtesy I received from the responding officer.

Having your act together and remembering things such as license plate numbers helps a lot.

I don't expect much to come from the reports (I've never had any damage to claim), but I'd really like for the driver to be a little scared by a follow-up visit from an officer of the law.

If the police don't at least talk to you, follow up with a letter to the local commander and elected officials. That can be amazingly effective.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing but praise for the way the police do their work.

I recently had my bicycle stolen. My friends told the police that it was gone. Law enforcement went right to work.

They poured a lot of resources into finding it. They made it so well known that the Law was pursuing my bicycle, that the guy who bought the fenced bike eventually turned it in.

I just assume they work this hard for all bicyclists.

My name is Lance Armstrong.

bikesgonewild said...

...kate...fritz showed me his 'hero cam' down at sea otter & i wasn't joking on an earlier post in saying that that ultimately might be a way to offer certifiable proof of the idiocy & danger we, as cyclists put up with...

...of course, a lotta cyclists would have to clean up their own acts but that should happen anyway...if we're gonna be taken seriously, we have to show our own responsibility... can't justify one's own neglect or stupidity by using the actions of others as an excuse...

...but hero cam ???...hey, why not ???...

Major Taylor said...

This is great information for recreational bike riders like me! Thanks for the article.

yikes ID said...

I was hit by a car a few years back and was knocked out. When I awoke I was told the ambulance was on its way while all I wanted to do is stand up to see what hurt. I didn't file any thing against the driver but his insurance paid for my bike and gave me a hush fee which was more than I expected.
Accidents happen. Last year on the 4th July holiday ride, a motorist allegedly slammed on his brakes sending one of our riders through the rear window. This is another reason why I created yikes ID. Motorists don't always take precautions nor do the police want to enforce any laws but are now cracking down on cyclists because motorist & residence are more vocal. Cycling is fun, it's healthy, it's competitive. But again, accidents happen - carry a visible identification and more importantly, one that you don't have to worry about putting on every time you ride. IDs designed for cyclists by cyclists.

SiouxGeonz said...

when I've had scrapes... I have not wanted to bring in the police. Not for logical reasons... its just how I reacted ... not sure why, but I think exactly the same line of "reasoning" that makes a person *not* want to Go To THe TEacher About A Bully. Teacher / cop too likely to side with said victimizer (hey, bullies and cars *are* the ones with more power; it's human nature), and teachers and cops can't be there all the time. Oh, and I grew up in PG County.
When a driver having an argument with her daughter clipped my friend's back tire off, then took off the mailbox across the street... I'm not sure we'd have brought in the constabularies had not another rider come by shortly afterward and admonished us that of *course* we needed to do that, no matter what insurance was doing what.
I am pretty good at grabbing license plate numbers (tho' that time the kid rear ended my car and I called it in and described truck and then gave the license ... small town, the dispatcher said, "No, that's not the license plate number. I'm sure he'll turn himself in." The kid worked at the car dealership and repaired my truck himself...

Yokota Fritz said...

I really need to get a HERO CAM post out, don't I? A few of my friends looking at it on the bike have said similar things about how useful it could be in fault determination.

HockeyRocker said...

bikegonewild, yes i can vouch for Kate. She is an excellent, confident and responsible cyclist. The two situations she refered were at low speed roads where she took the lane legally to turn left. There are some folks or motorists out there that believe no one is watching. Also, these folks may be highly unwaware of the laws, rights, and responsibilities of bicyclists. So next steps for Kate, since police will take a report but have other priorities, a HEROCAM. It can serve as a witness at best in the event someone attempts to harass her while cycling. BTW Kate and I live and work in Santa Cruz, a silver level Bicycle Friendly Community. They acheived stars in 3 of the 5 E categories. One each for Encouragement, engineering, and education. None for Enforcement nor evaluation. Shocking on the enforcement part!

Yokota Fritz said...

Here's a dramatic helmet cam view of a motorcycle crash. The motorist was clearly at fault, but he initially tried to blame the motorcycle rider, but the rider was able to show the video to the cop.

Anonymous said...

Last summer, a moton tried to kill me by pulling directly in front of me and slamming on the brakes. He did it twice, on an open, two lane highway. Then he buzzed me, trying to force me off the road.

Back in town, I found an idiot LEO standing around. I said, "someone just tried to hit me with their car!"

He laughed, and said, "Looks like he missed!"

I turned around and walked away. If I hadn't done that, I would have decked the idiot.

I subsequently went to the state police to file a complaint, whereupon I got a lecture about how not to antagonize motorists by, like, riding on the road and stuff.

Idiots. Every single one of them.

Yokota Fritz said...

Anon 5:19 - I've heard of those kinds of stories before, and it's very disheartening to realize people can get away with that kind of stuff. Where was this at?

GeekGuyAndy said...

I called the cops once after minor harassment. I was honked at repeatedly and the motorist speed past only to park a block later. To have anything official, I had to go to the station and write a report. However, the officer puts the report in their words (they did the typing and paraphrased everything) so it barely sounded like the motorist was to blame. Then I got a lecture about how riding a bike is dangerous and I should stay off the roads... sigh