Bikes Vs. Cars - Who's To Blame?
May 23 - KGO (KGO) -- The battle on the roads between drivers and bicyclists has been heating up the past few weeks, after several well-publicized clashes during Critical Mass rides. That got us thinking -- who's most often to blame in collisions involving cars and bikes? It's an I-Team investigation we first did 10 years ago.
No matter how much bicyclists try to blame drivers for problems on the road, here's the headline -- in collisions involving a bike and a car, the cyclist is most often at fault.
Chalkhead, courier: "The last three times I've been hit, all three times the people said, 'Oh, I never saw you,' and two of those times, they hit me from behind."
This San Francisco bike messenger knows how dangerous the streets can be. He blames inattentive drivers.
Chalkhead, courier: "I've been almost killed so many times by people talking on their cell phone that never even noticed me. I'm just like, if i could catch up with them, I'd be like, 'urrgh.'"
But drivers tell us bike riders often put themselves at risk. It's a common perception.
Steve Robinson: "Oh, they're totally aggressive. I mean I can't get away with that in my car, running through red lights."
John Georgette, driver from Martinez: "Out in the valley where I live, they think they own the whole road, and there's traffic coming all over. It's just a matter of time before one of them gets wiped out."
Bicyclists began demanding an equal share of the road when they started Critical Mass 15 years ago. The monthly rides have spread from San Francisco to many other cities and the battle between bikes and automobiles has intensified with several incidents.
The most recent? Ten days ago in Berkeley. (Read this story/watch video of incident)
Cyclists claimed an elderly couple tried to run them over. The couple says it was a set up, a mob out of control, and that the cyclists had no reason to shatter their windshield.
The I-Team wanted to cut through the emotion and get to the cold, hard facts. Who's responsible for most of the problems on the road? Is it drivers or could it actually be bike riders?
Michael Wright, CHP Golden Gate Division: "All that data, where the collision happened, why it happened, time of day, all the factors that were part of that collision go into a big database."
The I-Team obtained the CHP's database of collisions involving cars and bikes that resulted in injury or death, from the nine Bay Area counties the past five years. The conclusion?
Michael Wright, CHP Golden Gate Division: "Bicyclists are at fault in 60 percent of the collisions."
Out of 11,456 collisions, bike riders were at fault almost 7,000 times. The CHP database also shows the cyclists' top mistakes that led to accidents:
Chalkhead, the courier, admits breaking traffic rules is common for those who ride bikes for pleasure or for work.
Chalkhead, courier: "As a messenger, we have to do, you know, go up streets the wrong way, we have to get stuff across town on time which doesn't always mean doing it legally."
There's another surprising fact in the CHP data on those who cause car-bike collisions. Cyclists are nearly three times more likely to be under the influence of alcohol, compared to drivers.
The executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was surprised by that statistic, but Leah Shahum says overall, the CHP data is flawed.
Leah Shahum, S.F. Bicycle Coalition: "I think there's a real problem with underreporting."
Shahum points to the coalition's study from 2001 that concluded "police neglect to report bicycle incidents." Out of about 40 injury cases called in to the coalition's hotline, the study says officers refused to file reports one-third of the time.
Leah Shahum, S.F. Bicycle Coalition: "And I think there may be an issue with the police quite frankly not fully understanding bicyclists' rights and responsibilities, sometimes assuming who's in the right. I think that's something we need to work on."
The CHP argues their data is accurate and that officers handle car-bike collisions fairly.
Michael Wright, CHP Golden Gate Division: "There's no bias. An officer comes on the scene, he investigates a collision, the evidence on the scene, talks to witnesses if there's any, the parties involved in the collision and generates his conclusions based on that evidence."
There is evidence from the CHP supporting the bicycle coalition's long-standing complaint that drivers aren't sharing the road. In the 39 percent of collisions that are the drivers' fault, the number one reason for the crash by far is the driver failing to give the right of way to the bicycle.
Beyond the issue of who's to blame, the new CHP data shows that in terms of sheer numbers, Alameda County had the most injury accidents -- nearly 3,000 over the past five years. But when you adjust for population, Marin County comes out on top as the most dangerous county for car-bike collisions.
We've posted all the CHP data on the I-Team blog, as well as the Bicycle Coalition Study. Read the I-Team blog here.
Have a tip on this or another investigation? E-mail the ABC7 I-Team or call 1-888-40-I-TEAM.
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