The Impact of Near Misses and Perceived Risk on Cycling

Community leaders know a key to attracting businesses and creating community prosperity are active and healthy citizens yet the total number of American cyclists has dramatically declined since 1995 resulting in the closure of scores of independent bike shops across our country.  A 2015 bike industry analysis documents that 38% percent of independent bike shops had gone out of business since 2001 and 37% of Americans stopped riding bicycles since the peak in 1995.  Academic research, cyclists, Bike Shop owners and the Governors Highway Safety Association tell us that the perceived risk of cycling on our roads is the most important factor limiting the potential cycling population.  We analyze the issue and propose a unique partnership between cyclists, law enforcement and government.

The recently released Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report  “A Right to the Road Understanding & Addressing Bicyclist Safety  concludes that “While engineering solutions are key, states and communities simply cannot build their way out of the bicyclist safety problem; roadway improvements must be accompanied by education and enforcement to be most effective.”  The report goes on to state “the number one reason why people do not ride a bicycle is because they are afraid to be on the road with motor vehicles.”

Cincinnati TV station WCPO just ran a series on cycling safety which featured an avid cyclist and GE Engineer, Fraser Cunningham, who engineered his bike to light up like a rolling Christmas tree.  Fraser also rigged a thin, flexible, 3 foot pole with a bright red led light and a red flag at the end.  The pole extends three feet from his bike to indisputably demarcate 3 feet, Ohio was the 40th state to pass a 3 feet for safe passing law earlier this year.  Whenever a vehicle comes closer than 3 feet the pole bends causing a distinct noise recorded by his front and rear video cameras, documenting every violation of the three foot law and egregious near miss.  Most cyclists just want to go out their door, jump on their bike and ride on safe shared streets.  Fraser is the first cyclist we have seen with this level of engineering skill but even his sophisticated rig doesn’t stop three foot law violations and egregious near misses.  It’s even possible that potential cyclists who see the lengths he has to go might dissuade them from cycling.  We have to ask how many of the drivers “buzzing” Fraser are repeat offenders who are habitually distracted or just don’t like cyclists on the road?  The flexible pole does not count, track, analyze, or map these near misses, or identify repeat offenders.  The video shows Fraser pedaling his bike and cyclists without his rig lying in the road after being hit by a car.

Amazingly it turns out that the vast number of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions resulting in trips to the emergency room are not reported to the police.  Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research of hospital emergency department data stated that “anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the bicycle-motor vehicle cases were not reported in official State files”  i.e. up to 60% of cyclist motor vehicle collisions are not reported to law enforcement.  Even more amazing the GHSA report documents that this dramatically underreported collision data is the only data officially reported by law enforcement and used by government for strategic traffic safety and infrastructure analysis and planning.  The reason this is the only data used and reported is because collisions are the only data currently collected.  Why don’t cyclists report motor vehicle collisions, including those that require hospitalization, to law enforcement?  What if there was another more granular data set that could simultaneously provide cyclists with a sense of agency in their personal safety and the safety of their cycling community?

 

Cyclists Stop Cycling Due To Near Misses Not Collisions but Egregious Near Miss Incident Reports Are Often Refused By Police

We have been working with the leading US and UK academics in the emerging field of Near Miss and Perceived Risk research.  Their research states that the main reason cyclists stop cycling is not collisions, but rather, near misses.  It also states, as all cyclists can attest, that near misses are orders of magnitude more frequent than collisions.  The research goes on to state that the main reason non-cyclists do not become cyclists is perceived risk which is corroborated by the GHSA’s report.

Cyclists and Bike shop owners have told us that cyclists do not report collisions and egregious near misses to law enforcement because they don’t believe the police will do anything.  Such was the case when the California Highway Patrol (CHP) refused to charge a driver in the egregious near miss incident in Castro Valley, deconstructed in this legal precedent post, even though the cyclist had irrefutable video evidence.  We have a strong partnership with the CHP but we strongly disagree at times.  We publicly indicted CHP for refusing to charge the driver but also helped CHP create their hand signed 3 Foot Warning letter that they send to drivers when a cyclist notifies them that they were buzzed by a driver.  Our two page post-mortem report of the Castro Valley incident includes twenty pages of testimonials from cyclists across California declaring that egregiously aggressive drivers constantly endanger them and demanding that CHP use cyclist video evidence to enforce the laws before more cyclists are injured or killed.  Fifty nine of the testimonials are also on our About Us page.

Another legal precedent post deconstructs another egregious near miss incident recorded by a cyclist in Glendale, just outside of Los Angeles.  When the cyclists went to submit their incident report to the Glendale Police Department desk officer she refused because there was no collision.  After cycling community outrage reached City Hall the GPD Chief assigned an investigator, an assault warrant was issued and the Glendale District Attorney prosecuted the driver for two counts of assault.   A year of court proceedings later the driver pled guilty to one count of assault.

This Glendale incident definitively proves and documents that law enforcement can use cyclist video evidence, without a collision, to charge, prosecute and convict a driver for assault.  Yet we have repeatedly seen police tell cyclists that they cannot charge a driver using cyclist video evidence such as the Castro Valley case.  We have also seen police blame cyclists for accidents even when they have video evidence to the contrary.  In the face of such obstacles it’s not difficult to understand why cyclists may feel it’s futile to report collisions resulting in injuries to the police, and if they don’t report collisions resulting in injuries they certainly won’t report egregious near misses without a collision.

 

What Is An Egregious Near Miss?

Once drivers pierce the 3 foot safety zone to 2 feet, 1 foot, or inches, they have willfully boxed cyclists into a “zero room for error zone” thereby implicitly accepting responsibility and fault for any collision that may occur due to unforeseen obstacles such as broken glass or a sewer grate in the cyclist’s path.  Add in that they are coming up from behind the cyclist at speed and you have an equation for a serious collision created by the driver.  In the penal code assault does not require a collision, just intent.  In the Castro Valley incident the driver admitted intent in the Investigation Report and his recorded revving of his engine, laying on his horn and yelling at the cyclist demonstrated it beyond the shadow of a doubt.  In the Glendale incident the driver intentionally swerved in front of the cyclist and slammed on his brakes.  Both cases demonstrate intent and therefore Assault: California Penal Code 245.  They both also demonstrate the willful or wanton disregard for persons or property and therefore Reckless Driving: California Vehicle Code Section 23103, which also does not require a collision.

Drivers are responsible for their vehicles which become dangerous weapons if the driver is distracted or intentionally wants to “teach cyclists a lesson” that they do not belong on the road as in the Castro Valley case and innumerable others since Wisconsin enacted the first 3 Foot law in 1973, almost 45 year ago.  When drivers get behind the wheel they accept responsibility for the safety of their passengers and any other persons or property that could be damaged by their vehicle.

Benjamin Franklin said only two things are certain; death and taxes.  In a collision between a bicyclist and a motor vehicle, it is also certain that the cyclist always loses, often with serious life altering injuries, and the vehicle is rarely even scratched.

Our work focuses on egregious near misses using video evidence, specifically assault and reckless driving, because they should be beyond debate.  Together, law enforcement, government and cyclists need to identify, educate, and in some cases prosecute drivers for egregious near miss incidents, before collisions occur.  It is the best use of the law to actively prevent cyclist-motor vehicle collisions.

 

Law Enforcement’s And Government’s Focus Needs To Include Egregious Near Misses

We recently held the first ever Web Conference on “The Impact of Near Misses and Perceived Risk on Cyclists.”  The California Bicycle Coalition promoted our Web Conference, “Did you know CalTrans and the MTC collect no data at all about “near misses” between auto drivers and people on bikes? How can they create safer bikeways without the information they need to understand dangerous roads? The folks at Cyclist Video Evidence are hosting a web conference on the 25th of this month on the potential for rider-submitted video in the planning process and beyond.”

Earlier we asked what if there was another more granular potential data set that could simultaneously provide cyclists with a sense of agency in their personal safety and the safety of their cycling community?  We recently launched www.CyclistVideoEvidence.com to some strong Facebook praise from the California Bicycle Coalition:  “Could video evidence deter dangerous driving? This new site could completely change how we hold drivers accountable for near misses and illegal, aggressive behavior.

The most important aspect of our site is our free cyclist Incident Management System (IMS).   Our IMS was designed to provide objective near miss data, cyclist video evidence, as well as perceived risk data based on the leading academic research in the US and the UK.  Our IMS allows cyclists to track, analyze, and map their egregious near miss incidents and search for repeat offenders, before collisions occur.   The search and analysis capability is key.  Cyclists can analyze their incidents by location, time of day, day of week, and the system is flexible enough to provide other analyses based on cyclist feedback.  Cyclists can also update their incident reports as the case status changes throughout the legal process or as new information or insights arise.  In the Glendale case the incident report was initially rejected but later accepted, a warrant for assault was issued, the driver was charged with multiple counts of assault and the case took a year to weave through the legal system.  Being able to track the incident life cycle provides valuable insight into the effectiveness of our legal system.

 

How Many Collisions Could We Prevent?

It’s unrealistic to expect law enforcement to be wherever egregious near miss incidents occur but the cyclist is always there.  Using cyclist video evidence we can begin to hold egregiously aggressive drivers accountable and educate them before collisions occur.  There is also a serious financial impact.   The GHSA report states “bicycle commuting is preventing 12 to 61 deaths per year, saving $100 to $500 million annually.”  While we have not studied this formula, the ripple effect of cyclist deaths and serious injuries across communities is huge.  We have to ask: how many collisions could be prevented if we changed law enforcement’s and government’s focus from solely on collisions to include egregious near misses and perceived risk?

 

We Need You!

Near misses and perceived risk are the main factors limiting the potential cycling population.  There is good news however.  Cyclists have told us that riding with a camera and having the ability to upload all of their egregious near miss incident reports gives them a strong sense of agency in their personal safety and the safety of their cycling community.  We have also found that riding with a rear facing combination camera and bright LED light can lower cyclist’s experienced threat level.

To begin generating near miss and perceived risk data we need you and your cycling community to always ride with a camera, an excellent rear facing combination camera and bright LED light retails for $139 and we partner with communities to further subsidize the cameras, and to submit any and all egregious near miss incident reports to our IMS.

We need cycling communities to partner with us to ensure a critical mass of cyclists across your community ride with cameras.  You can begin by downloading and printing our tri-fold flyer and distributing it across social media, to your local bike shops and everywhere you can reach local cyclists.

Cyclists just need to create a free account to begin submitting incident reports.

Wishing you safe cycling!

1 Comment

  1. bdughi on October 23, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Really nailed it with the perceived risk. I have talked to many parents, mostly moms, that are very interested in their children riding to school but will not allow it for fear of dangerous driver behavior. This stops most cycling. We need to change the culture so that drivers are friendlier to cyclists so more people will cycle. France is a great example. Roads are not any wider but drivers take pains to pass slowly with wide berth because cycling is respected there.

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