Call the Cops!

Last week I received the following e-mail:

Hope things are going well. I am a Bike Fed member and we have chatted and corresponded a few times. I am looking for your help in how to address a scary incident I had this afternoon.

At about 12:20 pm today, Saturday the 15th of September, my wife and I were headed south on Boundary Road in Milwaukee, just south of County Line Road, headed to Dretzka Park. We were doing a ride with the Cream City Cycle Club. A semi had been going east on either Donges Bay Road or County Line Road, and then turned right (south) behind us, where the road is called Wausaukee Road. Just around where there are a couple sets of railroad tracks, south of County Line Road, he went past us. Not only did he see us before he made his turn, all lines of sight were clear on that section of road. No curves, no meaningful hills. He knew we were there. (I will have to go back and scout distances. I only know now that he was behind us for a while, and that he saw us before he made his turn).

When he passed me, I could not believe how close he was. His cab may have been a foot to my left, but his trailer was nowhere near that far away. I asked my wife how much space she thought the driver had given me. She said, “The same as he gave me – about six inches.” This is where we stopped for a light at Brown Deer Road, where we went straight be the semi had already turned left (east) on Brown Deer Road.

This section of road is rough, and there is not much of a shoulder. I managed to hold my line, as did my wife. There was not much traffic headed toward us north on the road, so the driver could have easily moved several feet to his left. I have zero doubt this was intentional. I’d say six inches is a generous guess as to how much room the truck gave us.

I think I have his license plate number, though he passed at a high rate of speed, and I was a little shaken. I tried to repeat it to myself often enough and write it down when we finished in Dretzka Park.

My thoughts are to contact the Milwaukee police for that area as well as the business who owns the truck. I’d like to get your advice before proceeding.

Here’s my response:

I’m very sorry to hear about this scary incident. Yes, please call the police as soon as possible and file a report (you may need to go to the station). Going to the police is the best first option.

Let me know how it goes.

A few days later I received this e-mail:

I thought I would update you on the situation.

It took me a while to figure out who to call, because I was on the border of two jurisdictions. Based on the side of the road (west), it was Menomonee Falls (vs. Milwaukee). I talked to the Menomonee Falls PD, and also called the business owner. The police told me they could not match the plate number, but a couple of days later a manager from the truck’s owner left a message saying the company was taking disciplinary action against the driver.

I just spoke to the manager, and he was very apologetic and said the company takes such incidents seriously. He was reacting to a call from the police, not from me. This manager was able to identify the individual driver based on the trailer number I gave the police. He combined the number with the time of day and street location and was able to definitely narrow it down to an individual. He said people should always call, because whether it’s one of their employees or a contractor, they don’t want anyone associated with them driving like that.

The police officer did emphasize calling quickly. Now that I have done so once, I know a little more about what I am doing. Hopefully I won’t have to do so again.

When it’s a truck, I guess you have to differentiate between a trailer license number and a vehicle license number. You’d think the police would know that, but that was part of the mixup.

Here’s to better and continued riding.

Yes, here’s to better and continued riding! Thank to this member for sharing his story. If you are ever in an incident like this remember to capture as much information as possible about the vehicle and always contact the police immediately.

Ride On

About Kevin Hardman, Former Executive Director

Kevin is the former Executive Director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed. He lives in Wauwatosa with his wife and three daughters. Kevin is happiest on a bike, any type of bike!

8 thoughts on “Call the Cops!

  1. As a former truck driver and manager of a dedicated fleet of drivers with a large (top 5) trucking company. You don’t need the license plate number. In fact, the number that you have – unless it is from the front of the truck, will be the plate from the trailer.

    Get the name on the trailer and the trailer number – there vary by size of the trucking company: 1 or 2 digits for small companies, 6 for large companies. Some companies (like Schneider) preface the number with letters – these are needed too if you can get them. Then call and make a formal complaint to the company’s Corporate Safety department. Not a local office.

    Believe me, they can track down the specific driver as long as you know when and where, and either the truck or trailer number (license plate not needed) of the incident. The better description of the indicent the better. To many incidents (my company was 3) and the driver was terminated.

    Even with only one incident, I was required to review the entire incident – including getting in to the GPS tracking and if it was a ‘team’ drivers, I had to pull their logs and verify which driver. They received formal counseling (company policy) over the incident, were formally written up and required to take additional safety training.

    Any decent trucking company takes these reports to heart as not doing so opens them to very, very large settlements if the driver is involved in any kind of accident and the company is sued. They are also required to keep a record of complaints and the Fed DOT will review them during regular inspections.

    Do a little web searching and find out the companies DOT number and you can also file a complaint with the USDOT. They having a rating system that complains, tickets, inspections and accidents go in to. Get a bad record and DOT can and will shut the company down.

  2. YES, call 911 and at the beginning of the call say the tag # if you think you will forget it – that way it is on the recording. And always call the trucking company to report incidents, but remember to do the opposite too – if a truck is EXTREMELY cautious, considerate, etc – call and report that too. That way they can do a positive email to their drivers and that lets them know that people are watching. “Yes, they are supposed to do that all the time, but my theory is if you would call to complain you should also call to compliment – it goes a long way towards them respecting us. We have someone locally that calls to complain on EVERYTHING but when officers/detectives went out of their way to recover items and solve a crime, she wasn’t the least bit interested in sending in the compliment letters she had offered to send, nor even forward the one form the other victim that WAS written.

    yes, trucks and trailers have to be run differently – so if you say truck vs trailer – it won’t match.

  3. It is also important to report incidents with other types of large vehicles. My wife and I were riding one Saturday morning and we were squeezed by a Transit Bus as we were riding along a 4-lane city street. When we recovered our composure, we noted the time and location of the incident and continued our ride. Upon arrival at home, we contacted the Transit Authority and they determined who was driving the bus and indicated to us that they put an entry in the driver’s file and would require the driver to take a remedial class on safety which includes instruction about passing non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians. The point of this story is that the authorities do take this seriously and will follow through on actions to help prevent recurrence. If we do not report incidents like this, they will not know and therefore cannot take those actions.

  4. I have called the police in Milwaukee on a couple of occasions when a person was particularly dangerous. Once when I was passed on the right, through a signalized intersection and once when someone purposely bumped me and flipped me off. On both occasions I had the car plate as well as a description of the car and driver. The police followed up with me and the drivers. I would not do this for the typical careless driver, but when it is over the top dangerous behavior, I think we have a responsibility to report it.

  5. Purple Girl, I agree thanking those who recognize us on the road is a great way to spread the word. Cyclists are human, great job.

  6. This was great, bike riders do not have much protection if any vehicle gets too close. However bike riders need to remember that drivers need to avoid pot holes or other things in the road. Also when people drive they should not be “on the phone” this not only makes dangerous for bikes but for everyone on the road. In the round abouts everyone needs to be very carefull especially bike riders because not every driver signals so if a bike gets in front of a driver that does not signal yes the driver made the mistake however the bike rider will be hurt more than the driver.
    So safety is important for everyone if we all want to keep the number of deaths down from careless drivers or careless bike riders.

  7. I am glad to hear that the truck company apologized for this dangerous situation. Last year I was almost hit by an Outagamie County Sherriff’s car on an empty 4 lane road. I was riding in the right lane as close to the curb as possible when the squad car passed me in the right lane within 6 inches of hitting me. I called a filed a complaint with the supervisor on duty with in 10 minutes. As of today I have not heard back from the department.

    • Hi Brian,

      Sorry to hear about your close call. If it were me, I would make another call and ask what has been done regarding your complaint to the Sheriff. I might also follow up with my elected county official on this. Finally, most county sheriff departments have a formal method of requesting information online. That is based on the Freedom of Information Act and primarily intended for arrest reports, crash reports, etc., but it can also be used for complaints.

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