Understanding the cause of bicycle fatalities in the U.S.

Lately, a lot of reports have surfaced regarding increased bicycle use and the number of bike related incidents.  But the League of American Bicyclists believe that the numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are not capturing enough details.

According to a Consumer Advisory on the NHTSA site.

NHTSA statistics show that in 2012, 726 bicyclists were killed and an additional 49,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes, an increase of 6 percent from 2011 (682). The average age of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes was 43. The vast majority of these deaths occurred in urban areas (69 percent) and at non-intersections (60 percent) and involved mostly male riders (88 percent). About half of these fatalities (48 percent) occurred from 4:00 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.

Interesting. But according to a Vox article, the League of American Bicyclists’ own data sets reveal even more telling information:

Rear-end collisions cause a huge number of cyclist deaths

League of American Bicyclists data reveal more about bicycle related fatalities

League of American Bicyclists data reveal more about bicycle related fatalities

One key takeaway is that rear end collisions with bicyclists don’t make up a huge chunk of bike collisions.  However, this category of incidents are more likely to result in serious injury or death.

Driver error account for many more deaths than cyclist error.

Most common factors in bicycle related deaths are due to driver error.

Most common factors in bicycle related deaths are due to driver error.

For those of you bicyclists, please check out bicyclesafe.com which provides a wonderful and detailed guide that will help you avoid getting into a range of different types of collisions with cars. We at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan have seen too many of our bike accident clients horribly injured due to driver error.

Good News for Seattle Cyclists during Bike-to-Work Month

Projects like the Puget Sound Bikeshare are helping grow the number of cyclist commuters,

Projects like the Puget Sound Bikeshare are helping grow the number of cyclist commuters,

Seattle cyclists have something to look forward to this month. We at SKW are thrilled to see anything that may reduce the number of injured bicyclists. Cyclists whom we’ve represented were all skilled on their bikes. However, they sustained serious injuries because of either flawed roads or negligent drivers.

But cyclists in our city are undaunted. Among all of the nation’s major cities, Seattle is ranked fifth for bike commuters and seventh for walking commuters.

Aside from the fact that May is Bike to Work Month, Mayor Ed Murray just announced (this past Tuesday) that a pilot project for the 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane will be in place before the launch of bike share.

Second Avenue has been cited as an especially dangerous path for cyclists. As Rutgers professor and bike evangelist, John Pucher, pointed out last year to the Seattle Times reporter Lindblom, “I’d say [2nd Avenue is] as bad as a major avenue on Manhattan. I think it’s maybe even worse, because I think here, there’s more left and right turns, there’s more doors that are being opened, more cars that are trying to park.”

Seattle’s pilot bike lane project will hopefully provide for safer trips for those biking around downtown– whether they are on the new bike share bikes or on their own bicycles.

Part of the funding of the pilot project is from the Green Lane Project,which selected Seattle as one of six cities to receive financial, strategic and technical assistance to install protected bike lanes.

If you want to learn about the City’s effort to build protected bike lanes on 2nd and 4th Avenues and other bike-ped improvements around the City, join others at the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Downtown Policy Ride. The Policy Ride will end at a Bike Happy Hour at Von Trapp’s near Capitol Hill.

According to a recent King5,com article,  Seattle area bike commuting has risen from 1.9 percent in 2000 to 3.4 percent.  Biking to work has jumped by 60% in the U.S. over the last decade.


Bicyclists Beware!

If you like to ride your bike in Seattle, you had better take heed.

3 of the 4 bike related accidents in Seattle were fatal for the cyclist

Earlier this morning, another Seattle bicyclist was injured by a hit and run driver.  Luckily, that cyclist should survive his injuries.

But, as an article in today’s Seattle Times points out, three of the four recent bicycle-related incidents have been fatal. This past Thursday, a cyclist was fatally injured in Renton. A little over a week ago, PATH photographer, 44 year old Mike Wang was killed while riding his bike in the South Lake Union area.

In late July, a 49-year old man was killed in Kirkland.

As a driver, please remember to observe everyone around you, including cyclists and pedestrians. Too often, we see new bike injury clients seriously injured because a driver was texting or was simply inattentive.




Negligent Drivers Injuring Cyclists Now Face Stiffer Penalties

Earlier this week, Senate Bill 5326. which increases the penalties for negligent driving, was signed into law.

Now, negligent drivers, who seriously injure or kill a cyclist, will face much harsher consequences. Thank goodness, is undoubtedly the response of many of our clients and their family members, when they learn about this. SKWC handles numerous cases, where negligent driving results in seriously injured or killed cyclists.

One SKWC bicycle injury client, a UW medical student, was riding his bicycle safely with a helmet, but when a vehicle made an illegal left turn in front of him, he did not have a chance. After his bike collided into the offending vehicle, the force of the crash threw him violently to the pavement. He suffered traumatic brain injury, a broken femur, and facial lacerations.

Another SKWC client was tragically killed at 14 years old, when a Pierce County police car hit him. In that case, the young boy was riding his bicycle lawfully with his friend.

Young Andrew was killed when riding his bicycle lawfully, struck by a Pierce County police car.

The police officer did not have his siren on, and looked down to adjust his radio. But when he looked back at the road, the officer saw the two children on bicycles. The officer was traveling at about 50 mph and had no time to stop or avoid hitting the young boys. He began to brake as soon as he could to bring the car to a stop.

Time will tell how this new law will affect cases, where law enforcement agents are found negligent.

The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) explains, “A small fine is not a stiff enough penalty for killing or seriously injuring someone due to negligent driving. This bill puts reasonable expectations on motorists to pay attention to bicyclists and other non-automobile users of the roadway, and will help provide some sense of justice to families who have lost loved ones.”

Gendler v. State of WA, Dept. of Transportation

You may have heard an interview on NPR, read a blog post, or read a story in The Seattle Times about this case. In the era of media spin and 15-second sound bites, it’s more often that we are forced to make assessments without the benefit of the facts.

If you are interested in knowing the facts behind the story, read on. Make, remake, or confirm your opinion of what this case was about.


Government Liability

Washington State owns the Montlake Bridge.

Washington State has a duty to make all roadways safe for bicyclists in addition to cars/all motor vehicles. The roadway across the Montlake Bridge was unsafe for bicycles.  The State knew this, yet chose to do nothing to make it safer.

No other business or government entity was responsible for the safety of the Bridge besides the State.

The Montlake Bridge

Since 1999, the Montlake Bridge had been unsafe for cyclists (the State repaired the hazard in 2009).

Washington State started a retrofit of the Montlake Bridge in Seattle. The project included replacing the metal grate surface of the traffic lanes. The replacement grate was of a different design than the existing. The seam, formed by two abutting sections of grate, sits in the middle of the lanes of traffic.

The specifications for the Bridge deck called for a narrow seam, one that would not have posed a danger to bicycle tires. The State allowed the deck seam to be wider than the specifications called for (based on tolerances), wide enough for a road bike tire to drop into it.

1999 – Notice to the State of a Danger

During the deck replacement project, the State found out how dangerous the seam could be. A cyclist crashed when his front bicycle tire wedged in the seam and he was thrown to the deck face-first.

Concerned about other cyclists, he contacted the City of Seattle, who contacted the State’s project manager to inspect the problem.

The State’s project manager made a note about the crash in his project diary.

1999 to 2099 – The State Ignored the Danger

  • The State’ project manager does not recall ever following up.
  • The State could have erected a warning sign – it did not.
  • The State could have fixed the problem – it assumed this would not happen again.
  • The State could have closed the roadway to bicycle traffic – it did not.

Mickey’s Crash – October 28, 2007

Mickey met up with a friend to go for a ride around the south end of Lake Washington. They intersected near UW Medical Center.

Gendler's bike tire caught on Montlake Bridge deck caused catastrophic injuries.

Gendler’s bike tire caught on Montlake Bridge deck caused catastrophic injuries.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon on Montlake, not much traffic, so they traveled on the road. There was no traffic within a block’s length behind them. Mickey rode in the right lane.

Halfway across the Bridge he switched to the left lane to prepare for a left turn. As he traversed the lane, he was suddenly thrown over his front bars onto the Bridge deck on his back. His front wheel had wedged into the seam in the deck. It took two people to dislodge the wheel.

Bicycles on the Bridge

In comments to the multiple articles written about Mickey’s case, many were critical of his decision to ride on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk.

This case settled in the months leading up to the trial date, but in pre-trial motions the court determined that Mickey had the right to ride on the roadway and that Mickey had the right to travel in the left lane because he was preparing for a turn.

  • “[I]t is the ruling of this Court that bicycles are entitled to travel upon the Montlake Bridge roadway as a matter of law.” Judge McPhee, February 16, 2010.
  • “Plaintiff Michael Gendler’s operation of his bicycle in the inside (left) lane of the Montlake Bridge at the time of the subject incident was authorized by law.” Judge McPhee, May 28, 2010.

The Settlement Amount

What does $8 million mean? It’s not winning the lottery. It’s not a windfall. The settlement amount represents the exorbitant costs of the care for someone with a spinal cord injury. To learn more about Mickey’s life as a quadriplegic, read this article.