No wonder we continue to die on California streets, when CHP says killing a cyclist is just an accident

December 6, 2011

This morning I received the following email from Chris Willig regarding the tragic death of Hollywood writer/producer Carol Schreder while riding on Mulholland Hwy last Saturday.

A public spokesperson for the CHP West Valley station stated in a phone call Monday that no citation has been issued nor is there likely to be one in the December 3rd death of cyclist Carol Schreder in a tragic traffic incident on Mulholland Highway in Malibu.

He indicated that it was a “unfortunate accident” caused when a possibly inexperienced driver of a van towing a trailer applied the brakes too hard. This caused the trailer to force the van to the right in a jack-knife. The rear end of the van caught Carol who was riding on the right of the fog line severely injuring her. She later died in hospital. Because there was no “criminal intent”, charges against the van’s driver are not being considered.

Wait a minute.

Since when has “criminal intent” been a required element for a traffic infraction?

Under that standard, no one would ever be held accountable for any traffic violation in California. No tickets for running red lights. No violations for driving drunk, since it would be impossible to ever prove intent.

Not even a ticket for distracted driving, since drivers could claim they just broke the law without thinking, and didn’t really mean to do it.

You know, just one of those things.

Like killing a cyclist.

And that, in a nutshell, is why you can count the number of knowledgeable cyclists who still have faith in the CHP on one hand, and have enough fingers left over for a well-deserved gesture.

After all, this is the same organization that said cyclists are responsible for the overwhelming majority of bike-involved collisions — based strictly on their own auto-centric investigations, as well as their pronounced lack of training in the rights and responsibilities of of cyclists and the physics of bicycling collisions.

Let alone that this is the same organization that advised Governor Brown to veto the state’s three-foot passing law.

And despite the fact that it only takes a quick scan of the California Vehicle Code to find a number of violations for which the driver could, and perhaps should, have been cited.

Like the California Basic Speed Law, for instance.

CVC 22350.  No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

Even if strong crosswinds contributed to this collision, as some have suggested, the driver would have been in violation of the requirement mandating due regard for weather. And at least one other cyclist reports that the van was seen traveling at an excessive rate of speed just prior to the collision.

Then there’s the requirement to follow at a safe distance; the fact that the driver had to brake sharply to avoid the vehicle ahead offers prima facie evidence that the driver was in violation — let alone that there was a stop sign just 260 feet ahead of the point of impact.

CVC 21703.  The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.

And most damning of all is the requirement for drivers towing a trailer to maintain control of both vehicles.

CVC 41104.  In any case, involving an accident or otherwise, where any rear component of a train of vehicles fails to follow substantially in the path of the towing vehicle while moving upon a highway, the vehicle shall be presumed to have been operated in violation of Section 21711.

CVC 21711.  No person shall operate a train of vehicles when any vehicle being towed whips or swerves from side to side or fails to follow substantially in the path of the towing vehicle.

According to the standard set forth in CVC 41104, the simple fact that the collision occurred in the way it did is demonstrates a clear violation that the driver should have been held accountable for, regardless of a possible lack of experience.

And proof that the driver should have been found at fault for the collision, and the death that resulted.

By failing to hold a killer driver responsible for his actions, the CHP has not only failed Carol Schreder, her family and loved ones, but the entire cycling community.

Because we will continue to die on California roadways as long as authorities allow drivers to break the law with impunity.

And just drive away, regardless of the consequences.

If you’re not pissed off yet, maybe you should go back and read this again.

Anyone with information on this case is urged to contact the CHP West Valley Station 5825 De Soto Ave, Woodland Hills 91367-5297; 818-888-0980; maybe if they hear from enough witnesses they’ll reverse this outrageous decision.


Misinterpretation of bike safety trumps state law in Pasadena

May 29, 2010

L.A. cyclists are just beginning enjoy a police department committed to fair enforcement of the law and respecting the rights of cyclists.

Unfortunately, riders in other local jurisdictions aren’t always as lucky.

While Pasadena works to become more bicycle friendly, the Pasadena Police Department has clearly failed to grasp the concept.

In an astounding display of the department’s failure to understand either state bicycle laws or basic bike safety, a certified cycling instructor has given up after spending $4000 to fight a ticket for riding too slowly and too far out in the traffic lane in Pasadena.

Riding on a street with narrow traffic lanes, Chris Ziegler took the lane exactly as cyclists are taught to do for their own safety.

Yet the officer — and evidently, the department — seems to believe that “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb” meant riding to the far right regardless of whether Ziegler thought that would put him in jeopardy.

And regardless of whether he was legally entitled to take the lane.

That’s right. In what we can only hope is a horrible misquote, Pasadena Police Lt. Randall Taylor said that the department’s incorrect assessment of bicycle safety trumps the traffic laws of the State of California.

“Someone who has ridden a bike for more than 20 years obviously knows more about bicycling than I do,” he said. “But it comes down to common sense.”

Taylor, who is assigned to the traffic section, said safety may dictate asking cyclist (sic) to do things that run contrary to the law.

“The street may be too narrow and the law might say that he should ride in the middle of the street,” Taylor said. “But here is a 2,000-pound car and you have a 30-pound bike. Do you want to be in the middle of the street where a driver isn’t looking for you?”

Yes, he actually said that the police may require bicyclists to break the law.

Cyclists are taught that we are more visible riding in the lane than hugging the curb, and that riding too far to the right in a substandard lane only encourages drivers to pass in an unsafe manner.

In fact, the California DMV has this to say on the subject:

How Far to the Right?

Ride on the right, but not so far that you might hit the curb. You could lose your balance and fall into traffic. Do not ride too far to the right:

  • When avoiding parked vehicles or road hazards.
  • When a traffic lane is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side.
  • When making a left turn.
  • To avoid conflicts with right-turning vehicles.

Unfortunately, the PPD — and the judges who accepted their misinterpretation of the law in order to uphold the ticket — evidently never read that.

Or simply don’t care whether they violate state law and put cyclists at needless risk if it fits their concept of safety.

So for the time being, you may want to ride in Pasadena at your own risk.

………

Evidently, the publicity helped this week, as a tipster turns in the 74-year old driver who ran down 22-year old Benjamin Zelman — after the city council increased the reward by $25,0000. Now if they could just put as much emphasis on finding the killers of Robert Painter and Ovidio Morales.

………

Ivan Basso bounces back from his two-year suspension to take the lead in the Giro D’Italia, coming from 2:27 back gain a :51 advantage. And for a change, a pro cyclist is found innocent of recent doping charges, after former world champ Alessandro Ballan is cleared in an internal investigation by his BMC team.

………

In this weekend’s rides and other assorted bike activities, Bike Town Beta 3 takes place in and around the Fairfax District. Will takes riders past the high points of historic West Adams, including the site of the infamous Black Dahlia murder. The SoCal Cycle Chic Ride rolls this Sunday for anyone who “rides in normal clothes.”

Wait, you mean spandex isn’t normal?

The California Car-Free Challenge begins next week. And you’re just over a week from the 10th Annual River Ride on Sunday, June 6.

………

The great sharrows volunteer study begins, with paint on the ground promised in two weeks. Mechanically inclined volunteers wanted for BiciDigna, the community bike repair space sponsored by the LACBC, Bicycle Kitchen and IDEPSCA. L.A. Creek Freak says the answer to future oil needs is more riding, not more drilling. In Pasadena, burglars escape by bike, or try to anyway; thanks to Altadenablog for the heads-up. An Orange County man faces 25 years in prison for keying his neighbor’s car. Cyclelicious says he’ll respect motorists’ privilege to use the roads when they learn to obey the rules; amen, brother. Leave your car at home and pedal your way to the Indy 500. A budget conflict sinks this year’s Tour of Missouri. The Bike League apologizes for mentioning the big, evil retail giant in their newsletter. A Santa Cruz area father is shot at trying to retrieve his son’s stolen bike. Colorado raises the penalties for careless driving resulting in death to a level that will automatically mean loss of driving privileges. New York cyclists get a European-style right-side bike-only left turn lane. A blonde American woman bikes through the Middle East and survives to write a play about it. Cyclists offer their support to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood for his support of cycling. A North Carolina man is charged with six counts of felony hit-and-run after plowing into a group of cyclists earlier this month. A look at the bike that won the Giro for Andy Hampsten in ’88. After this week’s dismissal of the Darcy Allan Sheppard, Canadian bike messengers are officially roadkill. A Brit cycling group starts a campaign to keep Posties on their Pashleys.

Finally, Barclays buys the naming rights to London’s new bike share program for £25 million — about $36 million — which should give a hint about how L.A. could finance our long-discussed pilot program if anyone at LADOT or city hall is listening.


Bike law change #13: Require all employers to provide secure bicycle parking

October 24, 2008

Okay, so I lied. Yesterday I said I’d put up one final post in this series, for a total of 12. But this one is too important to leave off — even if it does leave me with an unlucky 13.

Because no effort to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes — not even financial inducements — will succeed unless bike commuters have a safe and secure place to put their bikes. But many employers and commercial landlords refuse to accommodate riders by providing a place to park their bikes or allowing riders to take their bikes into their offices with them.

And a simple bike rake on the sidewalk is nowhere near adequate, as anyone could tell you who has ever seen a wheel locked to a bike rack with the frame missing, or a frame missing its seat and wheels. Or worse, a severed chain or lock laying on the concrete, no longer attached to anything.

Then there’s the problem of leaving a bike exposed to the weather all day — not to mention the pigeons and seagulls that are so abundant around here.

So let’s require that every employer — no matter how large or small — provide safe and secure onsite bicycle parking for all their employees, whether in the form of bike lockers, a monitored section of the parking garage or a locked bike room. Or as an alternative, that employees be allowed to secure their bikes within their own work area as long as they are onsite.

 

Don’t forget tomorrow’s inaugural Bike Town Beta. And the Daily Breeze reports on the problems — and possible solutions — regarding the Ballona Creek bike path (thanks to Curbed LA for the link).


Bike law change #12: Turn stop signs into yields, and red lights into stop signs

October 24, 2008

We’ve all been there.

Maybe you have the good sense to take a back street through a quiet neighborhood, rather than ride on a busy, traffic-choked thoroughfare. Except then you have to stop for a stop sign on every corner.

Of course, you could do what so many other riders do, and just blow through it as if it wasn’t there — which could result in a sizable ticket if you don’t happen to notice the cop parked around the corner. Or maybe you make the same compromise I do, and brake just enough to stop most, if not all, your forward momentum, then roll through the intersection before you have to clip out of your pedals.

Or maybe you find yourself at a deserted intersection in the middle of the night, enduring a seemingly interminable wait for a red light to change — even though it should have detected the presence of a cyclist.

Fortunately, there’s an easy — and obvious — solution that’s been proven to work in the state of Idaho for over a quarter of a century.

Of course, California isn’t Idaho. And what works there won’t necessarily work here with our heavy traffic and angry, indignorant drivers. But given some very minor modifications, it could be a very effective solution for our state, as well.

So follow the Idaho solution for stop signs, and allow cyclists to treat them as if they were yield signs — slow down, look around carefully, and in the absence of any conflicting traffic, proceed through the intersection.

For red lights, just come to a complete stop, ceasing all forward momentum, though not necessarily stopping so long that you have to put your foot down. If there is other traffic at the intersection — whether cross traffic or other vehicles on the same street waiting for the light to change — remain stopped and wait for the green light.

Because frankly, too many California drivers would get pissed off if they had to wait and you didn’t. Which means either they’d go through the light as well, or take out their anger on the next rider they see.

But if you’re the only one waiting at the light, you should be able to treat it like a stop sign. And once any cross traffic has passed, continue on your way without having to sit an wait for the light to change.

 

Damien Newton has recently discussed misleading press reports that make cyclists seem responsible for accidents that their fault (here and here); the Bicycling Lawyer addresses the same theme in his most recent column. The Times’ sister publication discusses how to get back on a bike if you haven’t ridden in years. And a tribute to a fallen cyclist is held in Kentucky — as the police investigate yet another cycling accident.


Bike law change #11: Investigate and prosecute any reported incidence of vehicular assault as a criminal violation

October 23, 2008

Awhile back, following the infamous Mandeville Canyon brake test, a woman wrote to describe her experience as bicycle commuter along a major east-west thoroughfare in the San Fernando Valley.

Like many streets in this city, there was no shoulder or bike lane, so she was forced to ride in the traffic lane, as impatient drivers honked or raced closely past her. One in particular, apparently angry at being stuck behind her at a red light, revved his engine and lurched forward, actually making contact and lifting her rear wheel off the ground in what she could only interpret as a not-so-subtle threat.

Actually, it was a crime. Or if it wasn’t, it certainly should have been. Because while most of us see a car as simply a means of getting from here to there, in the wrong hands, it can be a deadly weapon.  And there is no real difference between threatening a cyclist with a car or with a gun, since both are capable of inflicting serious injury or death.

Sections 240 – 248 of the California Penal Code define assault as “…an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another;” battery is defined as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” Meanwhile, section 245 sets a penalty of up to 4 years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun.

Like a car, for instance.

Of course, there are other ways a car can be used as a deadly weapon, from intentionally causing an accident by striking the cyclist or forcing the cyclist to strike the car, as the good doctor has been charged with doing, to intentionally striking a rider with an open car door, or forcing the rider off the road or into another vehicle.

Any one of these can cause serious injury or death. Even simply throwing something at a rider from a moving vehicle — as has happened to many, if not most of us, at one time or another — can cause a rider to lose control of his bike, with potentially deadly consequences.

But just try to report something like that to the police; in most cases, they’ll say that since they didn’t see it, there’s nothing they can do. Or if they do bother to respond, usually because of an injury to the rider, they’ll investigate the incident as a traffic accident, rather than the criminal activity it is.

Yet they would never tell the victim of an armed robbery that there’s no point in investigating, since they didn’t actually see the crime take place; nor would they investigate a mugging as a simple accident. Even a report of someone brandishing a gun in a threatening manner is enough to provoke a massive police response.

But commit the same crime with a car, and you’re virtually guaranteed of getting away with it.

So let’s demand the protection we deserve. Let’s contact our legislators, and insist that they amend sections 240 – 248 to clearly specify that anyone who uses a motor vehicle to threaten, intimidate, attack or injure a cyclist or pedestrian can, and should, be charged with assault and/or battery with a deadly weapon, and subject to a prison term and seizure of the vehicle, as well as permanent loss of driving privileges.

And insist that any report of a motor vehicle being used in such a manner be investigated by the police to the fullest extent possible as a criminal matter, rather than a traffic infraction.

Because your life, and mine, may depend on it.

 

 

An elderly woman was hit and killed by a teenage cyclist on his way to band practice yesterday. Vision Zero attempts to end the body count; isn’t it time Los Angeles got on board? Green LA Girl plans on attending the LACBC’s Bicycle Road Skills Class (and early wishes for a happy birthday); meanwhile, C.I.C.L.E. is offering an Intro to City Riding for eight lucky riders, which takes place the same day as the inaugural Tour de Ballona, none of which I’ll be attending unless these damn allergies improve. Evidently, L.A. now has its own version of N.Y.’s popular Bike Snob. And finally, this is just one reason why those allergies are killing me today.

 


Bike law change #10: Assign greater responsibility to the more dangerous and less vulnerable road users

October 21, 2008

Disgruntled correctly noted that some members of the European Union — notably Denmark and the Netherlands — have recently changed their laws to hold the driver automatically responsible for any accident involving a cyclist, except in the case of particularly outrageous and illegal behavior by the cyclist.

As appealing as that sounds, I doubt something like could ever be passed, or implemented, in this country. And frankly, I’m not sure that it should, having seen the way some cyclists ride around here.

However, the rational behind the law is sound.

As the law currently stands, drivers and cyclists share equal responsibility for avoiding accidents (although that’s not always how the police see it). But cars and SUVs are, by their very nature, dangerous vehicles. And in any collision between a two-ton vehicle and a 200+/- pound cyclist, the rider will inevitably come out on the losing end. Or as the European Commission document behind the proposal to extend the Danish and Dutch laws to other countries puts it, “Whoever is responsible, pedestrians and cyclists usually suffer more.”

Simply put, no matter who is at fault, if a car hits a bicyclist — or vice versa — the car may suffer a few hundred, or possibly even a few thousand, dollars in damage. But the cyclist is likely to suffer serious, potentially life-threatening injuries.

Or worse.

So let’s amend the law to reflect that reality. And put more responsibility to avoid an accident — and therefore, more liability in the event of an accident — on the operator of the more dangerous vehicle. Not all responsibility, but enough to reflect the greater vulnerability cyclists and pedestrians face on every road and at every intersection, every day.

 

L.A.’s only Flying Pigeon dealer tells how to save 30% one your very own FP. What can I say? When the name stops making me smile, I’ll stop writing about it. LACBC plans an ice cream ride this weekend. Toronto cyclists say bike lanes make sidewalks safer. The hot look for British cyclists this year is hi-vis. And finally, thanks to Damien at Streetsblog L.A. for Tuesday’s link to this series, along with Alex at Westside Bikeside, Gary at Gary Rides Bikes, Timor at Los Angeles Rides, and all the others who’ve helped draw attention to these proposed law changes.


Bike law change #9: Require a bike lane or sharrows for any roadway with heavy bike traffic

October 20, 2008

Way back in the dark ages when I was just a fledgling rabble-rouser, my handbook of choice was the classic Reveille for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. (Highly recommended for anyone who want to learn how to leverage the system. Or just generally piss off the powers-that-be.)

As I recall, through the deep, dusty haze of memory, that was where I first encountered the story of a town struggling with a stubborn speeding problem. After trying everything they could think of to stop drivers from speeding, they finally stumbled on the one solution that actually worked.

They raised the speed limit.

Which, in a way, brings us to our next suggestion. Instead of putting bike lanes and routes where traffic planners — most of whom haven’t been on a bike past the age of 12 — think they should go, put ‘em where the cyclists already are.

Like PCH, for instance. Every day, hundreds, if not thousands, of riders brave heavy, high-speed traffic, turning cars and narrow, sometimes non-existent, road shoulders along the coast through Malibu, making this one of the most popular rides in Southern California. And yet, despite the near-constant flow of bike traffic, no one has made the slightest effort to accommodate cyclists or improve safety for riders, or the drivers they share the road with.

So lets insist that, for once, form follows function, and require that every city and county in the state study the bike traffic within its jurisdiction. And that they be required to accommodate bicycles on any street, road or highway that receives heavy bike traffic, through the establishment of bike lanes or off-road bike trails that follow the roadway wherever possible, or if not, by installing sharrows, along with Share the Road signs — or better yet, Cyclists Have Full Use of Lane signs.

 

Not unlike O.J.’s Simpson’s book If I Did It, Alex insists last week’s C.R.A.N.K. MOB did not happen, but shows photographic evidence of what might have happened if it did. A Portland State University study shows more people would ride if they had a safer place to do it. Down San Diego way, it finally occurred to someone that bike routes in different cities should actually connect to one another, resulting in a planned 500-mile network. An new Geowiki program at the University of Minnesota allows users to rate routes based on bikeability to create new user-defined bike maps. The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy has started a new campaign to double the Federal investment in active transportation — walking and biking, in other words.

Finally, it has absolutely nothing to do with cycling, but L.A.P.D. has a backlog of nearly 7,000 rape kits waiting to be tested — including at least 217 for which the statute of limitations has expired, meaning no one can be charged even if they offer conclusive proof of who committed the attack. And if that doesn’t piss you off, maybe it should.


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