When You and I Collide…We Probably Won’t Report It.

A bike with a damaged rim convalesces at USC. (photo: sahra)

“Shut up, bitch!” the injured African-American cyclist snapped at the Latina woman on her phone sitting next to him. “You talk too much!”

“Hey!” she protested, giving him a dirty look.

He shifted his leg, grimaced in pain, and let out a big sigh.

The Latino gentleman hovering over the cyclist and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, wondering how ugly this was going to get.

I had come upon the scene shortly after the cyclist had been hit. He had been knocked down as he left the sidewalk and crossed 78th St. (southbound) by a driver turning right to head north on S. Figueroa. He was still sitting in the street, glaring angrily up at the driver and the female passerby when I saw him.

I crossed the street to ask if the cyclist was OK and how I could help.

The cyclist kept grumbling and cursing to himself, and nobody seemed to know what to do next.

I checked out his leg to see if anything was broken and then suggested that we get him up out of the street so that he didn’t get hit again.

Relieved to be able to do something, the Latino man reached out to help him up.

But the cyclist would only take my hand.

“Come on, guy,” the driver said. “Let me help you.”

The cyclist clearly did not want his help and refused to touch him.

Only after realizing that I couldn’t lift him on my own did he allow the driver to help him up. But it wasn’t pretty. Much cursing was involved.

Together, we helped the older gentleman hobble his way over to the curb and tried to figure out what he needed.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to go the hospital. And when another passerby realized what happened and offered to call 911, the cyclist cut him off mid-call and said he didn’t want anyone to come to the scene. Yet, he was clearly in pain and wasn’t ready to get up and move anywhere on his own. And, he couldn’t really ride anywhere even if he wanted to — the front rim of his cruiser was pretty warped and scuffed up.

“I’m really sorry,” the driver continued to apologize, even as the guy waved him off and cursed at him. “Let me help you.”

The driver was now getting frustrated.

“Look, I didn’t go anywhere. I’m right here. I’m going to help you with your bike. We can put it in my truck. Let me take you to the hospital so we can make sure you are OK.”

Finally, they reached some agreement and we helped the cyclist up. The driver thanked me and began walking toward his truck with the hobbling cyclist.

Just as I moved to get back on my bike and head off, I heard someone yell, “hey!” at me.

I turned around to see the cyclist extending a hand in my direction.

“Thank you,” he said, taking hold of my hand and squeezing it.

“Let the driver help you,” I said, watching the driver run down the street to retrieve the truck from where he had moved it. “He seems to be a very good man.”

“I know he is,” said the cyclist. He lowered his voice, “I think he is illegal and that is why I didn’t want anybody to call the cops. I didn’t want to get him in trouble. But my knees are a mess from playing football and basketball…I am afraid that things are messed up bad.”

Squeezing his hand in return, I said, “Well, you are a good man, too. I hope everything turns out OK.”

He nodded and hobbled off in the direction the driver had gone.

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Although these kinds of collisions are quite common in South L.A., they are the ones we tend to know the least about because they go unreported.

More often than not, Stalin Medina (owner of the Watts Cyclery) says, the driver and the cyclist will come to some agreement and come into his (or another nearby) bike shop together so the driver can get an assessment of the damage and pay for repairs. They do so even in cases where it is clear to Medina that the cyclist was at least partially at fault for the collision.

Medina’s shop is also sometimes the first place people stumble into after having been hit by a driver that took off. Thankfully, hit-and-runs are much less prevalent, says Medina. At least, during the hours that his shop is open.

Regardless of whether the driver stays or runs off, unless the victim’s injuries are severe enough that they need to be transported to the hospital from the scene, people tend not to notify the police. And, although a victim may eventually find a way to a hospital or clinic on their own, they likely won’t file a police report.

The under-reporting of collisions is problematic for a few reasons.

For the parties involved, the lack of an official police report documenting injuries and damages opens the door for one to try to take advantage of the other, claiming more (or less) damage or injury was incurred as a result of the collision. It is not unheard of, Medina admits, for him to be asked to write a letter assessing damage done on a driver’s behalf because the cyclist is suing the driver in small claims court, claiming prior damage to the bike was the result of the accident. In Medina’s experience, immigrants are most at risk for being taken advantage of. In such cases, people seem to expect immigrants won’t fight back, or won’t know how to push back, so they try to get what they can out of them.

In the grander scheme of things, non-reported collisions also constitute missing data.

Reports of collisions are helpful in determining the extent to which interventions or improvements to streets are needed and where. Without that data, it becomes harder for communities to advocate on behalf of slowing traffic down in a particular area. And, it is harder for cyclists to argue that they find themselves at the mercy of distracted or careless drivers as often as they do. More data means more ammunition in the fight for stronger penalties for those that maim or kill cyclists.

It would also just be nice for cyclists to know how often incidents occur and where. Even if data is collected in police reports, it can’t be accessed easily. Several months on, I’m still waiting for the LAPD’s data collectors to get back to me about the number of hit-and-runs they’ve recorded over the past year.

Some aggregate data is available from the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS), beyond what appears to be the significant under-reporting of bike collisions in South L.A., some important data about what prompted the collisions does not appear to have been captured. Cyclists seem (per my observations) to be most at risk when traversing intersections — either when moving from sidewalk to street without looking (and a car is trying to execute a right turn) or when riding against traffic and a vehicle parallel to them tries to make a left turn. For the data to be more useful for outreach and education purposes, we need to know more about the riding patterns of cyclists in the area. You can find more specific data in Traffic Division fatality reports (i.e. the South Traffic Division’s 2010 log), but these only detail incidents involving fatalities, not injuries.

It would be wonderful if there was a crowd-sourced central location cyclists could send their near-miss and collision information to in the vein of the pothole app or the US Geological Survey’s “Did You Feel It?” crowd-sourced earthquake page. A number of efforts have been made to collect and aggregate data informally in the past (see Bikeside’s page), but maintaining them or getting the word out so people know to contribute their information has proven difficult.

So, in the meanwhile, if you do have an incident that results in an injury that causes you pain (apparently not property damage, unless it is over $1000 or City property?), is perpetrated by someone under the influence, or the driver has fled the scene, you should report it to the LAPD. It is best to do it at the time of the incident, but they can also be reported after-the-fact. More information about who to contact and how to do that is here.