Category: Crash

What’d You Say?

What’d You Say?

OK, I’m not starting with a quote. “But wait, you always start with a quote!” I’m not starting with a quote because what’s most important here is one word: “accident.” I was inspired to write this post having read an article about language, and how it shapes our understanding…Here’s the reference.

TL:DR – The way we talk about crashes is changing. There are few accidents but many crashes.

“What’s the difference?” you may ask. The word “accident” has a certain connotation. When we hear that word, we believe that it “just happened,” that nothing could have been done to prevent it. The reality is that there are VERY FEW “accidents.” There are literally MILLIONS of crashes every year in the United States alone. In virtually all of them, one (or more) of the operators involved could have done something to avoid the crash. And there’s been research to show that the way we talk/hear/write about a crash has a dramatic impact on our perception of the event.

We read about the bicyclist who was run over by a truck making a right turn in front of a bicyclist…and the article says that the bicyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. Yes, let’s pretend that a helmet would have prevented the death of a person who was run over by a vehicle weighing up to 80,000 pounds. Let’s forget that the truck driver unsafely turned right in front of a bicyclist legally traveling in a bike lane. The bicyclist WASN’T WEARING A HELMET. As if that would have made a difference!

But that statement changes our perception of the crash…blame is shifted to the bicyclist instead of the truck driver who failed to yield to the bicyclist; who did not merge into the bike lane prior to turning; who did not adequately check for traffic around the vehicle perimeter. No, the bicyclist shouldn’t have been there.

Or how about the motorist/pedestrian crash where the pedestrian is crossing the street in a crosswalk. And the reporter says that traffic is snarled in the whole area while the investigation continues. Subtly, we process that as though the pedestrian was the cause of all the tie-ups. The reality is that the pedestrian had the right-of-way, and the motorist ignored the law (and the person in front!) or “didn’t see the pedestrian” (were you looking…really looking?). But it sounds like all the motorists are being inconvenienced because the darn pedestrian went and got himself run over…

And then there is the official spokesperson for the law enforcement agency, who almost always makes sure to include that bicyclists should always wear helmets and conspicuous clothing…but never mentions either the rights of the pedestrians and bicyclists or the responsibilities of the motorist to be aware of his/her surroundings.

I have one request…and then I will end my semi-rant. Please pay attention to language when you read (or hear or write) reports of crashes. Be sure that the report accurately represents what happened. Try your best to approach it with an unbiased eye/ear. And be sure that the language does not force you to accept a view of the event that may be inaccurate.

This is changing, but very slowly. Crash investigators I have talked to seem to be more aware of the issue; they typically don’t call incidents “accidents.” They call them crashes. But there’s a lot of noise out there. We see road signs (even on some automated signs from state highway departments!) talking about accidents. News reporters talk about traffic accidents. Insurance companies and trial lawyers do the same. We need to do better.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these: “Losing my balance…and finding my calling,” “GET OFF THE ROAD!,” “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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Losing my balance…and finding my calling?

Losing my balance…and finding my calling?

“There is no reason why a man on a smooth road should lose his balance on a bicycle; but he could.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

There was no reason that I should have lost my balance; but I did. At least that’s what they tell me. I “wasn’t there.” My body was there, anyway. I don’t remember anything about what happened. Retrograde amnesia, I guess. The only thing I do remember about the time before my crash is being down at the southern end of the island and starting to head north. The only thing I remember after is thinking, “Wow, I’m in a helicopter.”

I don’t remember the medevac helicopter ride (what a shame, that would’ve been cool). I don’t remember much from the next couple of days. That’s probably because of the drugs they gave me to keep me from being in pain: my face was kinda scraped off. I broke multiple ribs in multiple places. Tore a bicep, and a rotator cuff. Broke a thumb. Road rash on both arms. Chest bleed. Brain bleed (not subdural, subarachnoid: a potentially serious one).

Why am I telling you this at all? Two reasons.

The first is to talk about “crashes” and “accidents.”

All accidents are crashes. But very few crashes are accidents. What difference does it make? A lot. An accident is “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.” But a crash almost always has a cause. The drunk driver, who hits another motorist or a person riding a bike or someone walking down the street, chose to drive after drinking. The bicyclist who runs a red light and gets hit chose to ignore the law. The pedestrian who ran into the sign or fell into a fountain (yes, you’ve seen videos like that!) chose to stare at the phone instead of where he or she was going. And sometimes, more than one party in a crash could have made different choices that would have changed the outcome. Like the motorist who decides to rush past a bicyclist and then make a right turn in the bicyclist’s path. The motorist could have waited the few seconds to let the bicyclist go through the intersection. The bicyclist could have scanned the traffic more frequently, or used a mirror, to see the approaching motorist sooner, and slowed or used an evasive maneuver to prevent the crash.

Doctors ran tests on me in the hospital. They weren’t able to find a cause for my crash, so maybe it really was an accident. Or not. Maybe I did (or didn’t) do something that may have changed what happened. Or not. Maybe mine is one of those outliers. Or not. If not, I don’t know what I might have done differently that day.

But usually we choose to do things, though sometimes the choice is not well-thought-out.

And now the second reason why I told you all this: because I think He isn’t done with me yet.

I was already committed to teaching others about safe road use. But if I had ANY doubts whether this was what I was supposed to do, they were certainly put to rest then. Since then, I started working towards educating potential educators. First, I became a coach for the League of American Bicyclists – training new instructors nationwide so they can educate others. And then, I found a real groove: working with some of our most influential educators: law enforcement officers.

Some people think of police as “enforcers,” as the “strong arm.” Yes, they are that, sometimes. But more often, they are educators. The stop you because a taillight is out. They direct traffic to help you avoid a dangerous situation. They respond when a crash happens, and, often, someone gets a ticket. Are these “punishments?” Perhaps, but these are also powerful educational moments…More often than not, just a discussion with an officer is sufficient to cause a change in behavior. The authority given these men and women puts them in a unique position to educate. That’s what I hope to tap into. If I can change the perspective of police officers, so that they see the world as it appears from the saddle instead of from behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, then they can better understand (and change) behavior of the citizens they encounter, both in cars and on bikes.

So maybe there was a reason I lost my balance. Maybe there’s a reason I had time to think about the next step. And maybe I’ve figured it out. But maybe there’s more…He hasn’t told me yet.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these: “GET OFF THE ROAD!,” “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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GET OFF THE ROAD!

GET OFF THE ROAD!

Two recent incidents prompted this post. I had to wait a bit to write about the first one because I was so angry. And then the second one came up…It’s still a somewhat angry post, but please read it.

Well, at least neither one blamed anyone for the crash. But wait. Let’s get into the articles:

Regarding the Tennessee crash, the reporter says, “According to a fatality report by Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Curtis Smith, (David) Abney was distracted while using a cellphone before striking McCurry, who was not wearing a helmet.” So Abney, who “traveled outside his lane in a 2005 Chevy Tahoe and struck Cletus McCurry,” was distracted, left his lane, and killed a man on a bicycle. But the reporter felt it was critical to say that the bicyclist was not wearing his helmet. Was the motorist wearing a seatbelt? Or a helmet (data show many brain injuries occur as a result of car crashes, too)? How about saying that Mr. Abney wasn’t controlling his 5,000-lb lethal weapon!?

But wait. By implication, Mr. McCurry shouldn’t have been on the road. The article goes on: “Meanwhile, Loudon County commissioners voted 6-3 to draft a resolution asking Loudon County Sheriff’s Office to enforce traffic violations for bicyclists.”

“Our hope is that enforcement of existing state laws will discourage bicycle riders from riding their bicycles on Loudon County roads that are far too narrow, winding and dangerous and will improve the safety and welfare of the traveling public on Loudon County roadways,” the resolution reads.

The county commissioner introduced the resolution. His bias is clear: Bicyclists just need to get off the damned road!

“Bicycles on roadways are just always going to be at a disadvantage in any accident,” Shaver said. “Bicycles on the roadways are going to be very hazardous to folks on bicycles and automobiles. Highways and roadways are not the place for people on bicycles.” So the bicyclists in the county are a danger to the 5,000-lb. hurling metal boxes, are they? Apparently, they are. God forbid a bicyclist should hit a car and kill the occupant. That would be just terrible.

Now let’s move on to the idiocy in Florida:

“A long-time cardiologist with Orlando Health was killed in Maitland Monday morning when his bicycle was hit by a car.” Apparently in Florida, vehicles can move about on their own. How the cardiologist might have died is unclear, since his bike was out for a ride, and was hit by a car. I don’t know whether either vehicle’s owner knew they were out on the road or if the vehicles had permission to go out on their own, unsupervised.

OK, I said that to make a point. Obviously, the doctor was riding his bike and a person driving a car hit him. But the motorist who killed Dr. Dalton is never mentioned!

What’s the implied bias in this case? Exactly the same as the stated bias in the Tennessee case. That the bicyclist was somehow at fault, and that we should shield the poor unfortunate motorist who was involved in this tragic accident. It was no accident. Crashes happen because people make choices, and sometimes those choices are bad. In this case, someone’s choice was fatal. I don’t know whether the bad choice was Dr. Dalton’s or the unnamed motorist’s.

Regardless, the bias, overt or implicit, in these articles is clear. And the words we use frame the way we think about things. And what do we take away from these two articles? That those poor unfortunate motorists had the misfortune of hitting a bicyclist…who shouldn’t have been there anyway.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these:  “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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No. NO!

No. NO!

Two crashes in Louisiana. Two people riding their bikes. Two fatalities. Two opportunities to get it right. Two times they got it wrong. This is a long post, but please read it. Yes, it’s a rant, to some degree, but it’s also a plea to get it right. Knowledge is key…for everyone.

One: On August 17, KLFY reports that a man was riding his bike at 6am (before sunrise) near Baldwin, LA. According to Louisiana State Police, he was riding near the centerline. He was struck from behind by a motorist. Trooper Brooks David reported that as the truck approached the rider, David Maxie, the front of the truck hit the bicycle and Mr. Maxie.

THE FRONT OF THE TRUCK DIDN’T HIT ANYTHING. The driver of the truck, Tyler Sultan, ran into Mr. Maxie. According to the state police, Mr. Maxie did not have the required front and rear lights. So we can all agree that he was not as visible as he should have been. The trooper also noted that Mr. Maxie was not wearing a helmet. [Let me digress for a moment and say that I will not get on my bicycle without wearing a helmet. I think everyone should, whenever they are on their bikes. But there is no legal requirement for adults to do so.] In this case, with a hit-from-behind crash, it is unlikely that wearing a helmet would have made a difference. In this type of crash, there are typically multiple internal organs damaged by the impact of the vehicle or as a consequence of being thrown forward onto the road at high speed.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. Trooper David continues: “Louisiana State Troopers wish to remind bicyclists to never assume a motorist can see you. Simple precautions such as wearing an approved bicycle helmet, reflective materials and avoiding distractions are key to avoiding crashes and preventing injuries. Louisiana law requires bicyclists remain as close to the right of side of the roadway as possible and obey all traffic laws.”

Let’s restate that: how about also reminding MOTORISTS to never assume the road in front of them is clear. Simple precautions such as wearing a seat belt and avoiding distractions are key to avoiding crashes and preventing injuries.

And by the way, Louisiana law does NOT require bicyclists to remain as close to the right side as possible. It, like the law in all 50 states, requires bicyclists to remain as close to the right side as practicable. That’s an important difference. Practicable means “safe and reasonable.” So if Mr. Maxie needed to move left to avoid debris, or if the shoulder (was there one?) was in poor condition, he was within the letter of the law to do so. But he’s not here to give his side of the story. The law also states that Mr. Sultan was required to yield to other traffic on the roadway and to allow three feet of space when passing a person on a bicycle. Yeah, There’s blame there, too, perhaps.

Two: Lerry Theriot was a bicyclist riding in New Iberia, LA on Tuesday morning at 530am. He was struck and killed by a motorist: hit from behind. In this case, the bicyclist had both front and rear lights as required by law when riding at night. So how was this one reported? State police say they’re investigating whether the lights were visible at the required distance.

Where was Kerry Theriot riding? Near the fog line (as far right as possible in the roadway). What happened then? An SUV hit him. Nope. A person driving an SUV ran into him from behind! What was that person’s name? We don’t know. It’s not reported by KATC. So apparently, an SUV without a driver ran into a man legally riding his bicycle on a roadway. Was it a self-driving car? I doubt it.

The reporting on this one included a reminder from the State Police that motorists should avoid distractions when driving, and suggested bicyclists be aware of the rules when riding between sunset and sunrise. Umm…from the information presented in the news report, Mr. Theriot WAS following the rules. And now he’s dead.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these: “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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It was a crash…it was no accident!

It was a crash…it was no accident!

“The problem is that you can be wounded in your mind as well as your physique.”

— Marco Pantani

 

Yeah, a bike crash can do that. The body (usually) heals just fine, thank you. But there’s a mind game going on, too.

I’m thinking about this again because a friend of mine was recently involved in a bike crash. The husband and wife were riding on a trail. At a road crossing, motorists stopped to let them cross the road. Someone in a car in the line decided that he wasn’t going to wait. So he swung out onto the shoulder on the right side of the lane and accelerated past everyone else…right into the husband on the bike.

The collision was at 40mph. Had the bicyclist’s right foot been a little further in the pedalstroke, the front bumper would have hit him in the leg. He probably would have lost his leg, given the speed of collision. Thank God that didn’t happen but of course, there are multiple other wounds now. After shattering the windshield and flying through the air before hitting the ground, he has a broken scapula, tears in both knees, tingling in his hands from the blow when he hit the ground on his head, a hematoma in his hip that will take 8 months to heal, damage to rib cartilage that allows his ribs to just pop in and out of place. Those are the ones they know about now. He’s still going from doctor to doctor so they can figure out if there’s anything else going on!

Think that’s all? Nope. His wife, who was riding right behind him at the time, got to watch him fly across the hood, smash the windshield, go airborne, and land on his head. She’s wounded, too. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally she’s having a hard time.

And the motorists who watched the whole scene play out in front of them? I’m sure some of them keep seeing it over and over, too.

And why did this happen? Because an egocentric, impatient motorist COULDN’T WAIT A FEW SECONDS to get through an intersection. He felt entitled to ignore the rule of law, normal caution and common courtesy because everyone else was in his way.

I hope he replays that day and that moment, too. I hope that the hurt he caused teaches him a little bit about awareness, about compassion, and makes him realize that he is NOT the center of the universe. If even just a little of this happens, then something good may yet come out of this.

I’ve been helping out the couple, being an ear when needed, bringing dinners when I can so there’s one less thing for them to think about. I know how the presence of friends and the outpouring of love, prayers, and thought can change things. I know how much the little things can mean.

I pray for their recovery. I pray for a change of heart in the motorist who did this. I pray that everyone who was there during and after is changed for the better. It’s a lot, I know, but I won’t stop caring.

I’ve talked about crashes in an earlier post. If you’d like to read on, try this one: “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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I just crashed! (hypothetically)

I just crashed! (hypothetically)

OK, so you’ve gotten into a crash with another vehicle. It was NOT an accident. Someone or something caused it. What should you do now? Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Memorize (or photograph!) the license plate number of the other vehicle.
  • Call 911 to report the crash. DO wait for the police.
  • Get information about the other driver: vehicle information (you should already have the license plate number in case the other driver decides to leave the scene), the driver’s name, vehicle owner’s name, names and contact information for any witnesses, and insurance company info.
  • Take pictures. Virtually all phones can do this – photograph the crash scene, the other vehicle, your bike, the road, the sky…anything and everything that could be used to document what happened.
  • Contact the other driver’s insurance company. Give them notice of claim, but DO NOT volunteer a lot of information. They will use anything you say that might exonerate their customer or minimize their payment responsibility.
  • If the condition of the road had a bearing on the crash, file a claim with the municipality.
  • PRESERVE ALL EVIDENCE!!! Your helmet, your torn-up bike clothes, again, anything and everything that could be used to document what happened.
  • Do not give a statement to anyone other than a police officer. Anything you say will come back to haunt you…

To help collect all this information, I found a cool app. It’s called Bike Crash Kit and is available for Apple and Android. It’s free, and looks to be an excellent app. Look for it in the App Store or Google Play.

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