Monday, April 26, 2010

"Hit & Run" vs "Fleeing the Scene"

A cyclist riding west in the Sunset Blvd. bike lane hits his brakes hard to take evasive action to avoid being hit by a motorist who races out of a strip mall parking lot and acroos the bike lane, causing the cyclist to flip and land hard, injuring his shoulder. The cyclist is dazed and still on the ground, the motorist continues down Sunset Blvd.

21804. (a) The driver of any vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any public or private property, or from an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all traffic, as defined in Section 620, approaching on the highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that traffic until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.

There are two separate witnesses to the incident and they both get the motorist's license plate. One by writing it down and the other by chasing the motorist on a bicycle and photographing the license, the motorist, and the passenger.

The cyclist who pursued the motorist told the motorist to return to the scene of the incident, the motorist and her passenger vehemently deny responsibility, pointing out that they didn't hit the cyclist.

An LAPD patrol car cruises by, the cyclist yells for help, the LAPD continue on their way. Another LAPD patrol car cruises by, this one stops and gets the information, returning to the scene of the incident.

Ultimately, the motorist returns to the scene but the LAPD decide "no report, no crime."

This is where the real "incident" begins. The LAPD failed the injured cyclist.

1) The motorist violated the cyclist's right of way.

2) The violation of the cyclist's right of way caused the cyclist to take evasive action resulting in injury.

3) The motorist left the scene of an "incident" that was her responsibility.

"Hit & Run" is a bit of a misnomer. The actual violation (CVC 20001 "Duty to Stop at Scene of Accident") doesn't refer to contact but merely states responsibilities. Cause and responsibility get determined by investigation but the basic obligation is to stop, not flee.

I hate the term "Accident" and prefer the more neutral "Incident" but nevertheless, the term used is not collision. It does not require contact but merely refers to causality. The person causing an "Accident" is not free to simply leave the scene because there was no contact. They are required to stay and exchange information and/or render aid.

20001. (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004.

So it was that the cyclists of Los Angeles spent another Sunday afternoon tweeting each other for advice and beseeching the LAPD to step up and to protect the cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles by enforcing the law. Of course, this requires the LAPD to know the law.

On Sunday, two LAPD officers on the street refused to act in support of the downed cyclist. The Watch Commander of the Northeast Division supported the position of the LAPD officers on the Street. He also called the Watch Commander of Central Traffic and was again supported in the "no report, no crime" position of the LAPD.

To make things worse, the two officers on the street informed the protesting witness "This really isn't any of your business." The witness insisted that it was his business. The LAPD responded "It's not a hit and run. We're not going to do a report."

At the first meeting of the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force, one of the recommendations presented to the LAPD was that they approach "cyclist down" scenes as potential crime scenes. Too often, cyclists on the losing end of an encounter with an inattentive or aggressive motorist are left with less than sympathetic investigators, such as the officers, the supervisors and the Watch Commanders who err in favor of the primacy of the motorist on the streets of Los Angeles.

That needs to change.

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights holds that:

3) Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement.

4) Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure, or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law.


Ross H. Hirsch said...

This bike lane on Sunset in the Silverlake area is a widely used and very popular bike commute route (and mine, too) connecting West Hollywood, Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silerlake, and even the valley, to points east, including Downtown.

It's disappointing to learn that some LAPD officers that patrol this area--one traveled by so many commuters each day--appear to have so little regard for the rights/needs of cyclists.

What's the status of LAPD's bicycle education program they've touted as instituting? Is there a standardized "What to Do in the Event of a Bicycle Incident" component? Without a comprehensive "What to Do in the Event of a Bicycle Incident" policy/procedure, and one that has been released to the public, LAPD officers will likely respond very differently each time.

What's the big deal of a police report? Sure, some statements could be inadmissible hearsay in court come time of a trial, but more than the evidentiary value, it's a document, prepared by a third party (LAPD), that has all the necessary contact, insurance, and witness information. Memories fade, scraps of paper get lost, and it can come in pretty handy when you get out of the hospital or back on your feet and faced with the task of trying to get your bike fixed, meds compensated, or damages recovered.

But, really, what could be their real motivation for refusing to write a report--especially on the urging of the victim/witnesses?? Some LAPD Paper Reduction Act? Perhaps they've written enough reports during the month of April and have already fulfilled their quota for the month? Of course I jest, but I don't see what LAPD's motivation would be to refuse to prepare a report–especially where there were injuries.

LivableBay said...

This is an unfortunate incident, no doubt. Although I rarely ride my bike to work, when I drive, I always change lanes to give room to cyclists or, if that's not possible, I don't even try to pass them. That being said, I see many drivers who don't share the road.

In the Bay Area, I've noticed very few cyclists signal, or even stop at stop signs. Less than five percent of the cyclists I see follow these road rules. In fact, a few days ago, I was at a stop sign when another car approached, and then a cyclist--who was the last to arrive--flew straight across the intersection in front of both of our cars.

Anyway, after hearing your story, I decided to post about it on I gave some more examples of what I'm talking about. I'm curious about your views on many cyclists not following the rules of the road.

danceralamode said...

Dear LiveableBay,

I am a cyclist who obeys the laws of the road. If a cyclist needs both hands to handle the crappy roads in the state of CA, they do not have to take a hand of their handlebars to signal. Furthermore, your less than 5% statistic applies to EVERY SINGLE MOTORIST I encounter. Less than 5% actually come to a stop at a stop sign or red light. Less than 5% use their turn signals. Less than 5% drive beneath the speed LIMIT. So stop using traffic violations by cyclists as an excuse for motorists to run them down and avoid responsibility, which would be the only reason you post such a nonsequitar argument on a post about a hit and run.