So 80% of my bicycle commute is off city streets. The remaining 20% is still in the car-o-sphere, as I discovered this evening when a woman with no insurance (of course) hooked a sudden left in front of me. Half a second to react, and I was looking at a horizontal Honda in my path. That quick pang of inevitability before my front wheel hit her flank and I went sailing over the trunk. Right wrist and forearm took most of the impact, back and ribs caught some too.

What pissed me off was the way she started yelling that she didn’t see me, as if that somehow made it my fault. It was broad daylight, the sun was at her back, and she wasn’t on the phone. So then… what? Why are bikes so damn invisible to cars? As she continued her stupid defensive rant, I lay on my back halfway on the sidewalk and told her about Matthew, and how that driver “just didn’t see him” either. It started to sink in and she started to cry.

A very kind woman (a theology prof) gave me a ride home. Turns out she was connected to Matthew as well. Eerie.

Spent the rest of the evening in the emergency room. Two fractures in my right forearm/wrist. In a splint and sling for the next long while. I feel a monstro cars/bikes rant coming on — the one I’ve supressed since Matthew’s death — but typing one-handed is too slow.

Music: John Fahey :: Knott’s Berry Farm Molly

29 Replies to “Accident”

  1. Ouch! It almost seems that two-wheeled vehicles don’t like you.

    As to the invisibility of bikes: bikes have a very small cross section when viewed from the front (or back), which makes it hard even for careful drivers to notice them or judge their speed. Apparel in bright garish colors helps.

    But listening to music while biking (or for that matter, running)? I’m sorry, but that is one of the worse ideas in my book. Not only is music distracting, you also cut out one important sensory channel. It wouldn’t have mattered in this case, but in general it is an invitation for avoidable accidents.

    Anyway, I hope your arm doesn’t take too long to heal!

  2. Thanks for the good words Lars. But I don’t think listening to music on a bike is any more dangerous than listening to music or radio in the car. I use open air headphones that let virtually all of the ambient soud in (otherwise I’d be using much better sounding in-ear phones).

    What I am ging to do is start wearing an orange safety vest.

  3. I’m glad that you’re okay in the major sense — it’s always tense seeing the mention of a rider getting in an accident with a car. It seldom turns out well for the rider, as you know. :(

    In Toronto, they recently passed some kind of change to the bylaws/laws that make it illegal for a driver to cut off a cyclist. I have no idea what the exact implications of this are. My suspicion is that this makes it viable for police to arrest someone for doing so, but I’m not positive. I keep meaning to investigate that further.

    Do you find that music deprives you of a good deal of spatial / status information while riding? I have never listened to music during my ride because it seems that I would want all of my senses attuned to what’s going on around me. I see people wearing earphones and wonder how that affects their awareness.

  4. What a bummer!

    I hear that in Amsterdam the law considers that in an accident involving a motor vehicle and a cycle the motor vehicle is ALWAYS the one at fault, this results in motorists being really careful when around cyclists.

    Wearing something bright and reflective is always a good idea, along with a headlamp or strobe. When I rode my motorcycle in London I always wore a flourescent yellow Sam Brown belt.

    On listening to music while driving/riding there’s a recent piece here:

    I guess it all depends on how much you get into the music.

    Get well soon!

  5. Ummm…

    A car vs. bike rant? Why not start a men vs. women rant. It’s equally topical. ;)

    The meat of the topic here is her total lack of insurance. So she hit a bicyclist. Lucky for her. A bicyclist travels solo, and usually at a fairly slow rate of speed. What if her inattention had caused her to plow into a crosswalk of children? Or a schoolbus? Or your car with Miles and The Amy in it?

    Dude, get this woman off the roads. Her inattention was only the final indicator of her total disregard for others. The real issue is her insurance. In CA, it’s illegal. Ride that issue while you’re off your bike. :)

  6. Good idea to get bright clothes.

    I was once hit at dusk in GG park by a single
    mother with no insurance. We were both
    going the same direction and I was on the
    rightmost side of the street when she made
    a quick right, directly in my path, and I
    flew through he air and landed a bit less
    gracefully than Jakie Chan would have. :-)

    She was a nurse and I got to see her apartment
    as she bandaged my road burns. She had a crib
    in her bedroom with a crying baby (she was trying
    to buy food quickly after work – no baby sitter,
    so that is why she was rushing). I recall she
    had a small bland kitchen table and old
    mismatched chairs and a B&W 14″ TV. And curtains re-sewn from old sheets. And a bunch of nursing books, and I recall seeing an older GED study
    book. She was an entry level nurse, and also
    worked as a part time waitress.

    After seeing that she was poorer than most
    in my family, I stood up, thanked her for
    the bandages and split, still bleeding a bit.

    I went down to SF general and ate the bill,
    also my bike was trashed.

    Funny. When I entered the apartment I was sure
    I was going to sue her for all she was worth,
    but then I mellowed when I saw that all she
    was worth was barely enough to care for her
    and her child….Odd day for me.

    Anyway, two David Rovics songs come to mind

    “The bicycle song”


    “If I die tomorrow”

    Check em out.

  7. philm, i love this idea that the car is always at fault, although that law woild seem to excuse really stupid bicycling.

    The peice on mental complexity as defining factor in distrsction sums up what i’ve suspected — things aren’t as cut and dried as “phone / ipod bad.”

  8. mneptok, totally agree about making sure this woman gets insured or off the road, but not sure i want to punish her — may try and strike a bargain — i won’t report her if she shows me insurance in a week. Although starting to get the feeling im getting the runaround… May file a report tomorrow, we’ll see.

  9. Irfon, no, I wouldn’t say I feel deprived of sensory status much. Headphones no different from the car radio in that respect. It’s about how much attention you give it (see philm’s link).

  10. It’s not so much the ‘getting into the music’ which concerns me, but that the music masks out other, weaker sounds.

    Just this friday I avoided crashing into dirt biker on a mountain singletrack because I heard him coming a second before I saw him – and with all the vegetation and rocks in the way and my own bike rattling, his engine’s noise was rather faint.

    Besides – what’s the point of biking outdoors if you can’t hear the birds? :-)

  11. Scot,

    Glad to hear you’re OK – get well soon.

    In the UK it’s illegal to drive a motor vehicle without insurance. What’s the US situation?

    In contrast, cyclists here aren’t required to be insured, which does lead to some ‘really stupid bicycling’, e.g. cycling on pavements, the wrong way down one-way streets, through red lights etc etc.

    I used to do some of the above, but as a driver (and IMHO a pretty careful and responsible one at that!) as well, I decided that I couldn’t possibly rant at ‘stupid cyclists’ while doing some of the same things when I was on two wheels rather than four.

    So, I’d like to see (a) cyclist insurance, as car/bike accidents are not always the fault of the car driver; (b) the police cracking down on the stupidity I described above; and (c) the police cracking down on car driver stupidity, of which there is plainly more ;)

    I drive, walk and cycle. It gives me a rare perspective on these sorts of issues.

  12. Damn… only now came to the site since last week… ouch… hope you get back to 100% ASAP Scot :(

    Here’s to a speedy recovery.

  13. Just to add that, when i was in Belgium (back in April), it was great to see the drivers respect the bycicle riders, in a way that would have never been possible here in Portugal.

    Though your case was different, since she didn’t see you.

  14. i don’t entirely buy the spanish study. phone talking just seems qualitatively different to me than talking to a passenger (for the most part). the other thing that is never mentioned is the conversational dynamics of driver passenger conversations as opposed to phone conversations. the passenger is right there with you, often acting as a second set of eyes, and usually as attuned to traffic conditions etc as the driver (ie, a bit more likely to still the conversation when necessary than someone on the end of a phone). you are in a much more similar experiential space with each other than the participants of a phone conversation.

    always more extenuating circumstances and subtleties to argue both for and against this position i’m sure.

  15. i really don’t think we can expect certain strategies that work in other cultures (eg, the dutch strategy) to work here. too dissimilar of starting points.

    all i can think of are the people in my neighborhood who routinely jaywalk regardless of what traffic is oncoming. would they do that if CA didn’t have a law giving pedestrians the right of way at all times? maybe if a few of these guys got whacked by cars who by any other standard would have right of way, and had no legal recourse against them, word would get out that you should NOT walk into oncoming traffic.

    as scot mentioned, give people the right to do it on bikes too and then watch the fun begin.

    i wish we lived in a society where something like this could work (though still not sure that it strikes me as fair to motorists.)

    out of curiosity, does anyone know how litigious the dutch tend to be?

  16. knowing what we know about our invisibility (as bicyclists and motorcyclists) the only way to survive is this: make it your responsibility to not get hit. live that and make it permeate your brain. get rid of the ipod and and let it be your commuting mantra.

    lest anyone think i’m provocative for the sake of it, pick up a copy of Profficient Motorcycling (David Hough) and I believe it’ll be stated in even stronger terms: he would argue that in this case, you should have had every opportunity to avoid this accident had you been riding as if your life depended on it (and….it does). keep your focus a block ahead, scan everything, second guess every driver that is in range of harming you, assume nothing.

    but i’m just glad you didn’t get really nailed. (and i hope you’ll follow the above advice in the future).

    indignancy about a bicyclist’s right of way does very little to mend bones or make drivers see you any better.

  17. the biggest impediment to bicyclist safety: inertia. (and i don’t mean the inertia that cars maintain [though that too]; i mean the inertia that cyclists strive to maintain)

  18. to continue my comment re: the profficient motorcycling book: everything the described attitude mandates re: motorcycles should go double for bikes: you’re half the size, with much less in the way of lights (head, tail, brake, turn); you don’t have the benefit of a high-performance exhaust to announce your presence; you don’t have 85 HP available at the twist of a grip to get you out of a tight spot.

    double the previously prescribed diligence for the pedal-powered.

  19. There are way too many bike/auto accidents lately. Just recently up here in Portland, OR, a guy who hasn’t held a driver’s license in 17 years (nevermind insurance), plowed into and killed two cyclists at once. Oh, and did I mention, HE WAS DRUNK! Hope they nail his ass good! I’m glad you fared better than this, Scot!

  20. Sorry to hear about the accident, but glad you’re more-or-less OK. My only major bike accident was also when I was driving hard-and-fast, and a minibus which thought it had overtaken me moved in to the left and wedged my handlebars between itself and the stationary car on my left – cue somersaulting bike and me thrown off between the queues of cars.

    Have a quick recovery :)

  21. ouch, ouch, good thing you are ok, Scott (relatively). The part about her yelling at you might be the most upsetting. Got door about a month ago, some how landed with only superficial injuries and was extremely happy that the perpetrator was a very sympathetic bike rider. Not sure how I would have been able to deal with an angry ignorant. Get well soon!

  22. John, don’t forget the recent news of the priest (or deacon?) who killed in a hit and run! Seems carelessness and self-centered driving ae everywhere lately.

  23. No insurrance, is this legal ? I know that where I live it’s not. Can’t drive a car ifd not insured and you have to put an insurance sticker on the front window.

  24. Yeowch! Geez, I go off for two weeks and everything changes. :) Glad you’re not more injured than you are, Scot, but I’d definately file the police report against the woman. If you’re feeling charitable, don’t sue her, so her lack of insurance only gets her licence suspended. IMHO you have to be insane not to have car insurance in California, the lawsuit capital of the nation.

    Also, when you get back in the saddle, you might check out these ultrabright LED lights they make for bikes. I had one on the back of my bike when I still rode (lo these many years ago) and I think they make them in clear/white too for the front. Also, a survival mechanism: ride on the sidewalk. Yes, you may get a ticket. But they hurt less.

    Hope you get well soon.


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