As a certified bicycle safety instructor, I always ride vigilantly, and I am hyper-aware of the dangers of side-paths with multiple driveway crossings. But, all my training and experience was still not enough to keep me from being hit by a van crossing the Hank Aaron State Trail. Yes, it can happen to any of us! Like many crashes in urban areas, the low speed of impact resulted in only minor injuries (sore back and neck) and little damage to my bike. My safety training helped minimize the impact and helped me almost completely avoid the crash, but the driver was so inattentive, he did not stop before hitting me even though I shouting and banging on his passenger window. To add insult (and criminal behavior) to injury, he stepped on the gas and fled the scene!
Crash Details: I was biking eastbound on the Hank Aaron State Trail where it runs along the north side of Canal Street. The trail is a “sidepath” here, serving as a sidewalk and trail along Canal Street and as such, it crosses a number of low volume driveways. By law, the operator of any vehicle crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or driveway from a highway shall yield the right−of−way to any pedestrian, vehicle or conveyance on the sidewalk or in the alley or driveway [346.18(7)b]. Too often they don’t stop until they cross the sidewalk, then they stop at the street and only look to their left for oncoming motor vehicles. The designers of the Hank Aaron State Trail addressed the potential for crashes at these driveways by installing stop signs and curved mirrors at the exits and high visibility ladder-style crosswalks where the trail crosses the driveways.
I was in the marked crosswalk when a van began pulling out of a driveway to make a right turn. The driver did not stop before the crosswalk as required by law. Knowing this was a potential crash situation I waived and shouted to alert him to my presence, the driver continued to move towards his right while only looking to the left for traffic on the street. I then stopped and continued to shout and wave, but the van continued forward and even angled more to the right, directly toward me. As it got right next to me, I banged on the front passenger door and window while shouting just before he hit me. Even after I was banging on the door, the driver continued forward, and hit my front wheel, knocking my bike out from under me. Then, the driver stepped on the gas and took off! Luckily landed on my feet and seemed to be uninjured except for a sore neck and back, so I called 911.
“Even after I was banging on the door, the driver continued forward, hit me and hit my front wheel, knocking my bike out from under me.”
The driver seems to have broken a few laws (failure to yield at a crosswalk, failure to properly check for traffic before turning, and failure to remain at the scene after striking a person). Thank goodness there was a witness who, coincidentally a driving instructor himself, got the plate number and remarked how negligent that driver was. This good samaritan even followed the van and took a picture of the license plate. Thank you, kind sir!
Normally I suggest people call the police non-emergency number if there are no injuries and only call 911 if there are serious injuries. In this case I called 911 because the person who hit me fled the scene. Either way you should make sure a crash report is filed. The police officer who responded told me that because I was not sure that I was injured nor was there any property damage , he could not officer file a report. He did try to call the company emblazoned on the side of the van repeatedly but they did not answer. He instructed me to call him if I did seek medical attention to call him and he would file. It must have been a busy night in the 3rd District because my three calls to the station went unanswered. Because I was still shaken after the crash, I didn’t argue and insist that the officer write tickets and submit a crash report.
I woke up the next morning calmer, but still sore, so I made a few calls to a doctor to get my back looked at the police department to try and get the report filed but, since the officer at the scene of the crime is on a 10 day vacation, I will have to wait until he gets back. I will have to follow up with the reporting officer when he returns to encourage appropriate tickets and crash reports are filed.
I hope to update everyone 10 days from now! In the meantime, we can all learn what to do following a minor crash like this:
First, assess yourself for injuries, but recognize that adrenaline and the shock effect, will dampen your ability to notice injuries for the first 15-45 minutes. I was apparently unhurt, having landed on my feet after my bike was knocked from under me but later realized that I had moderate neck and back pain once the adrenaline wore off. If there are serious injuries, call 911 and do not worry about anything else. Do not move anyone with possible neck injuries. In serious crashes, the police should take care of getting all the contact info for the driver and any witnesses. Call the police for any crash involving a bodily harm or property damage or other criminal action (including hit and run). While both this crash and most adult bicyclist/motorist crashes are most often the fault of the motorist, there are many things we can do when riding to reduce our chances of being in a crash and/or it’s severity:
- Take a free class with the Bike Fed, like Choose To Commute in Madison or Savvy City Cycling in Milwaukee
- Ride where others ride/encourage others to ride
- Advocate for road designs that support all kinds of travel
- Buy and put up our “3 Feet is the Law” yard signs
- Ask your local television stations to air our PSAs
- Watch for turning vehicles at every intersection
- Invite a Share & Be Aware Ambassador to teach or do outreach in your community