Friday, September 25, 2009

Boulder, Louisville, and press coverage of crashes

Thanks very much to the readers from Boulder and San Francisco who commented on my most recent post. I haven't passed through Boulder in many years, so I can't comment from personal experience about bicycling conditions there. I find it easy to accept their assessment that Boulder has not reached perfection, either in its bicycling environment or in public attitudes toward bicycling. We all agree, too, that Boulder has a leg up on Louisville on both counts. This shouldn't surprise anyone, given that the League of American Bicyclists has awarded Boulder a rare Platinum Bicycle-Friendly Community award while honoring Louisville at the Bronze level.

Getting away from the inter-city comparison, I have a wish list for reporters who cover traffic crashes. I will focus on crashes involving bicyclists, but this list probably applies to other crashes as well.

First, get the details right and show as complete a picture as available information allows. For example, the August 5 Hardin County newspaper report of the horrifying car-bike crash in Radcliff, KY that killed one bicyclist and injured three others said that the bicyclists were "sharing" the left of two eastbound lanes with the car that hit them, and that at least one of the bicyclists was thrown onto a concrete median by the crash. A later report in the same paper, based on interviews with family members who came to the scene, said that the riders were "pedaling along the median..." Did the car climb a concrete curb to hit the bicyclists? The Google Street View of the scene (Lincoln Trail Boulevard between Lorraine Street and Congress Drive) shows a grassy median at street level, with no curb or elevation above the road. A motorist straying onto the grassy median to hit three bicycles in a row sounds to me like gross negligence, though not so egregious as if he had driven over a concrete curb to do it! If the bicyclists were on the pavement, at twilight, on the left edge of the left lane without lights or reflectors, the driver might have little fault in the crash. Someone on the scene shortly after the crash should have been able to determine whether the bikes were on the pavement or on the grass median when hit by the car.

The early article noted that the crash took place at about 9 PM, and speaks of the need for bicyclists to use lights and reflective gear when riding at night. On August 1, sunset was 8:51 PM. Kentucky law (KRS 189.030) requires bicycles and motor vehicles to use lights beginning 30 minutes after sunset. I find this law much too lenient and advise bicyclists to use headlights and taillights starting well before sunset. Nonetheless, the law stands. If the crash took place before 9:21 PM, the bicyclists were within their rights (though foolish) to ride without lights or reflective gear aside from the mandated white front reflector and red rear reflector.

Acknowledge that both parties may have contributed to the crash. The Hardin County reporter eventually did a good job of this, though over the course of the two articles six weeks apart. The first noted that the bicyclists had not made themselves visible with lights and reflectors and the second noted that police said that "driver inattention was likely the cause of the wreck." I realize that the reporter might not have had all of that information at the time of the first article.

Sometimes, though, important information about the causes of a crash never make it into the media. In the case of a Wisconsin state legislator running a red light and hitting a bicyclist in Madison, WI, a video recording made from a transit bus clearly shows the legislator's SUV running the red light and striking the bicyclist. (Don't watch this news clip if you don't want to watch this crash video repeatedly!) Madison TV news coverage shockingly ended with a statement that an eyewitness told police that the crash had been the bicyclist's fault. I was outraged, until I heard from a bicycle advocate in Madison who made that statement understandable. The bicyclist evidently had come down a hill toward the intersection and passed to the right of the transit bus using a right-turn-only lane. Legally, the motorist still bears fault for having run the red light. The cyclist, though, could have avoided the crash by slowing to stay behind the bus in the through lane once the light turned green. The eyewitness might not have understood liability law, but did notice something important. Unfortunately, news viewers never got that information.

Third, interview a bicycle safety expert familiar with the crash. This is the person who can interpret the evidence and help the public learn what to do to prevent crashes like the one that just made the news. Usually, both the motorist and the bicyclist(s) could have taken steps to make the crash much less likely. I'm an idealist, and I believe that the news should help us learn from other people's experience rather than merely satisfying a desire for gore and scandal. Giving a thoughtful, well-informed person a few seconds to comment on a crash can help the news serve an educational role.

Not everybody who plays football in a rec league is a football expert, and not every avid bicyclist is a bicycle safety expert. Most cities and every state have some legitimate authorities on bicycle safety. To find them, one can search for League Cycling Instructors or the leaders of bicycle advocacy organizations that belong to the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Unfortunately, any media market in the US will have many injury bike crashes and occasional bike fatalities, so the bike crash story of the moment will certainly not be the last. Establish a credible source for bicycle safety information and give them a chance to share their knowledge with your readers or viewers or listeners when crashes happen.

Finally, routinely address common misconceptions. A reader commenting on the online edition of the first Radcliff story noted his shock that the police officer said that bicyclists are not allowed on sidewalks and are allowed on roads. This comment is utterly predictable, and the reporter should have a quotation or source available to address why this law is appropriate. Articles on bike crashes should routinely deal with the frequency of fatal or injury bike crashes, to blunt the common argument that bicycling is soooo dangerous (which it is not). They should address the limits on police power to charge a person in a crash not witnessed by the officer, and the legal rights of bicyclists relevant to the given case. A single sentence can usually take care of each of these concerns. Lacking those sentences, articles about bike crashes tend to stir up lots of ill-founded anti-bike and anti-law sentiment that does nothing to improve conditions on the street.

17 comments:

JoeTally said...

Barry, well said.

Thank you,
Joe Mizereck
joe@3feetplease.com

James Graves said...

Thanks for that Barry. Very sobering.

Court said...

Hey Barry. I'm an Engineering Physics student at Murray State University. I was riding to campus to take my Statics final when I was struck from behind by a motorist. Miraculously neither I nor my ride suffered any damage. I got the motorists name and number but didn't have time to wait and give a police report. Since there was no injury has the motorist committed any crime?

錢靜怡錢靜怡錢靜怡 said...

很用心的部落格 路過留言支持 ............................................................

李秀迪彭恩依 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

lowe施cole鈺man駿 said...

人生就像一顆核桃,必須敲破它,才會顯出他的內容。.......................................................

李吳俊其彥柏 said...

缺少智慧,就是缺少一切..................................................

靖婉亞心 said...

良言一句三冬暖,惡語傷人六月寒。......................................................................

吳沛黃以富民 said...

一個人的價值,應該看他貢獻了什麼,而不是他取得了什麼....................................................

家唐銘 said...

從來愛都不知它的深度,非得等到別離的時候..................................................................

信陳定 said...

加油來給你灌水 ..................................................................

王辛江淑萍康 said...

一棵樹除非在春天開了花,否則難望在秋天結果。............................................................

麗王王珠 said...

原來這世上能跟你共同領略一個笑話的人竟如此難得......................................................................

孫邦柔 said...

世界上沒有本來就應該的事,因為老天爺也沒有劇本..................................................

惠NorrisBradwell041花 said...

這一生中有多少人擦肩而過?而朋友是多麼可貴啊!......................................................................

江仁趙雲虹昆 said...

文章雖然普通,但意義卻很大~~^^~~ ..................................................

ghulam said...

thanks barry for sharing such a nice post

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