Monday, March 24 2008 @ 05:12 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
By Erin McCormick, San Fransisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Bicyclists were twice as likely as drivers to be at fault in the nearly 2,000 collisions that killed or severely injured Bay Area bike riders in the past decade, an analysis by The Chronicle shows.
Bicycle and safety advocates say the deaths two weeks ago of two cyclists hit by a Santa Clara sheriff's deputy's cruiser should serve as a call to improve relations between cars and bikes on the roadways.
The advocates say large numbers of cyclists fail to follow the rules of the road, running stop signs and red lights, and drivers are becoming more aggressive.
"There is a juggernaut out there - the tension between the cyclists and the drivers is so high that it's become a war," said triathlon coach Marc Evans, who is starting a campaign to get the cycling community, drivers and motorcyclists to put more focus on avoiding deadly collisions on the roads.
The Chronicle's analysis of the 33,000 Bay Area collisions involving bicyclists since 1997 shows that, in the most serious accidents, the driving behaviors of bicyclists often were blamed for the crashes. Data collected by the California Highway Patrol show that bicyclists were deemed at fault in 1,165, or nearly 60 percent, of the 1,997 accidents that killed or severely injured cyclists; drivers were blamed only 520 times, or 26 percent. In most other cases, no one was listed as being at fault.
Suspicion of bias
Bicycling advocates said the statistics might in part reflect a bias among police officers, who they say often "blame the victims," especially because cyclists might not get to tell their side of the story as they are being carried off on stretchers.
"There is a prevalent perception among police officers that bikes don't belong on the road," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Yet even the most staunch cycling advocates acknowledge that some cyclists give others a bad name by failing to obey traffic laws.
"When I see a rider run a red light, I cringe," Shahum said. "Not only is it totally unsafe, it makes me and all other cyclists look bad."
As for drivers, the data suggest their behavior is getting worse by the year.
The number of serious Bay Area crashes in which cyclists were at fault has hovered at about 100 per year for the past decade, but the number in which motorists were blamed has steadily risen - from 38 in 1997 to 61 in 2006, the last full year for which data were available.
In addition, the number of accidents involving drivers hitting cyclists and then fleeing has spiked in recent years. Hit-and-run drivers killed four cyclists and severely injured 26 others in 2006 - significantly more than any other year in the past decade.
"The majority of cyclists obey the rules, and the motorists, too, but then you get these outlaws," George said. "It's an ongoing battle, and in recent years the tensions have gotten worse."
According to the data, when drivers were at fault in an accident, the most common type of violation cited was not giving cyclists the right of way. For bike riders, unsafe speed was the most dangerous violation, followed by riding on the wrong side of the road.