What to do when you are hit by a truck (like I was)

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.

This Google Streetview image shows what most people do when pulling out of a driveway. They should stop and look down the trail before exiting and crossing the path.

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.”


Note the driveway where I was hit has both a crosswalk warning sign AND a stop sign prior to the ladder-style crosswalk.

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:

14 thoughts on “What to do when you are hit by a truck (like I was)

  1. Been there, done that. I recommend continuing to call the company in question, in my case, the company monetarily reimbursed me for damage (plus some), and promised to discipline the person they believed to be the driver (based on the direction and time of travel), as “they are driving around in a billboard for our company so we don’t tolerate bad driving.” Madison police filed a police report, but since I didn’t get a license plate (and nobody else stopped in the busy intersection) they couldn’t ticket anybody.


  2. hmmmm, no report filed. Officer on 10 day vacation? Hmmmmm

    Gave you bad information about not being able to file the report.

    I hope he/she gets in trouble for not doing their job.

    Glad you are OK Jessica. Watch out everyone. I’ve been hit too and it’s never fun.

    • Ditto, Nick, for similar paths in Madison. I’ll travel in the street because:
      1) many of the paths have stop signs at each cross street while the city street does not.
      2) even when they don’t I have to slow down and be careful because people blow the stop signs or pull out of driveways.

      And, yes, I missed that before, but that’s an either lazy or uninformed officer. Odds are he was going on vacation and didn’t want any more paperwork before he left. It was a hit-and-run, a criminal misdemeanor in Milwaukee that at all levels of damage has significant fines and jail time attached.

  3. Wow, this officer did not know what he was talking about! Damage (and subsequent replacement) of a bike, plus minor injuries can easily exceed $1,000, not to mention it was a hit-and-run! “Sure a crime happened, but sorry, not enough money was involved.” Ugh. Very sad to see this happen to such a good community member. I’m pretty sure you don’t need a recommendation for a bike lawyer, but let me know if you do.

    I have nearly been hit by a car in those same crosswalks. I was 99% sure I was about to head to the hospital, but thankfully the driver noticed me at the last possible minute and slammed on the brakes. It’s disappointing to see this wasn’t an isolated incident.

  4. I have commented several times on the poor planning of the Hank Aaron Trail there. Drivers (not just on trails) usually don’t stop at cross walks and drive through to get better visibility of cross traffic. In those situations, drivers almost always look left only especially if they intend on turning right.

    Normally most drivers don’t see this as a big deal, because pedestrians are very slow, and can stop in case of a car pulling out very quickly. Bikes however, because they travel faster don’t have the same opportunity.

    Yes, the driver should have stopped ahead of the trail. However, it is still poor planning to put an “off road trail” in such a place where these types of things can commonly occur. That is the primary reason why I refuse to use that section of trail on the sidewalk portion, and always ride my bike on Canal Street with the flow of traffic.

  5. I’ve observed the same phenomenon, namely the driver looking left while turning right. People I. Cars look out for other cars. We don’t show up on their radar. Drivers I talk to complain about bikes not stopping. But every biker I know has had something like this happen to them.

  6. Glad to hear you are all right. I ride here all the time as well and I have learned never to get close to crossing until I have made eye contact with that moving vehicle. That being said most (98%) of the drivers are courteous and do stop and will even wave you on.

  7. Of course no police report means no statistical tracking which means less evidence of a problem. Seems crazy considering the circumstances. Glad you are insisting on getting a police report filed! My dad was hit by a car while biking one morning and he initially let the officer on the scene talk him out of having a report filed. He thought about it and called back later to insist on one. Makes you wonder how good any of those accident statistics can be…

  8. Pingback: The Drop Bag: Vintage bikes; bike polo; and how to handle being hit by a truck | The Active Pursuit

  9. Yikes! Jessica, I am so glad you are OK. That is so wrong. Keep us posted of how this plays out. I wonder if the Milwaukee police department knows this incident is being blogged and followed publicly, and whether that would make a difference in how they handle it.

  10. I have followed the rule suggested by Bob (7.) for years: I assume the driver and I will have an accident unless he/she and I have obvious eye contact. Most of my riding is not in big cities, but I have been free of such an accident for more than 30 years. Only 1-1/2 hours ago, as I was biking about 22 mph, a driver pulled out right in front of me from her stop sign. I saw she had never looked well enough to see a biker coming. No eye contact so I assumed there would be an accident; therefor I prepared to stop, and almost had to even come to a stop to let her pass by. She never, never, looked my way. Not even as I gave her a few words.

  11. It is very poor planning to have any trail “serve as a sidewalk also especially near the casino”. The part of the Hank Aaron trail in West Allis is much better because “it is a true off road trail”. Even that part of the trail or trails like the New-Berlin trail can be dangerous when you cross a street and “need to answer the phone then the person is on the phone and not watching for vehicles that are legally crossing the trail on a public street”. It is not nice however if the bike rider/pedestrian thinks that the phone or “headset or music or……….
    ” is more important then there will be accidents and bike riders/pedestrians will always be hurt more than the person in the motorized vehicle”. Drivers should not be on the phone either. So yes, the bike rider did get hit however you can have millions of signs and if the driver or bike rider/pedestrian is on the phone or
    “listening to music on headphones” then the signs will not mean anything because no one is reading them.
    I was very close to getting hit on this very unsafe part of the Hank Aaron trail near the casino the driver was going very fast “to get into traffic and never looked for anyone on the trail (sidewalk) or bikes on the street
    if I did not stop when I did I would have been hit”.

  12. Glad you weren’t hurt too badly Jessica. As others have noted this type of situation hap where the driver looks to their left for MV traffic but doesn’t look to their right for cyclists on sidewalks, happens a lot. 15% of all reported crashes in Madison happen this way.

    Just because a driver looks toward you doesn’t mean they see you- that’ why I ” Wait for the Wave” from the driver to make sure they see me.

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