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53_10_crash.jpgI think it was the tree. Photo: Fourbyfourblazer/Flickr

Last Sunday, a cyclist was forced off his bike when trying to avoid colliding with a car that raced out of a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard. The cyclist went over his handlebars, while the vehicle sped off.  Another cyclist, who did not know the victim, raced after the driver and photographed their plates and the driver herself before returning to the scene.  Eventually, the driver did as well; only to find the LAPD didn't seem interested in the crash, or the driver fleeing the scene and refused to even write a report.  Naturally, there was some outrage.

You see, while people refer to the law about leaving the scene of an accident as a "Hit and Run," it's actually about fleeing the scene of an "accident."  In this case, the driver who caused the accident should have been cited under CVC 2001 (a) which reads:

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

It's not like this code is a secret or some hard to remember loophole.  Fast forward five days and the LAPD is citing that very code in a crash involving a slain pedestrian in North Hollywood.  The LAPD is still looking for information on the driver who caused the crash, but are clear in their language that he fled the scene.

Two different crashes.  Two wildly different approaches to the law.  While some argue that the LAPD is chronically understaffed, these two incidents, just as the wildly different approaches to pedestrian safety we see in Mid-Wilshire and The Valley, highlight how difficult it is to really bring change to an agency with roughly 10,000 employees.  Remember when the LAPD discontinued its bike licensing program?  Remember a couple of months later when a cyclist was cited for riding without a license?

The good news is, that the Downtown Headquarters seems to be getting the message: a taskforce of cyclists and the LAPD are meeting regularly and bike racks have finally been installed at the new headquarters.  The bad news is that actual policy change has been slow coming, and that once those changes happen it's going to take even longer for the messages to saturate down through all of the divisions.

Sadly, the LAPD is too large an agency for any sort of reform to happen easily or quickly.  Even if the Working Group downtown brings rapid policy change, which seems unlikely, it could be years before the policies work their way down to the street.  In the meantime, cyclists, pedestrians and all road users need to know their rights.

If you're involved in a crash, make certain the responding officers write a report or make a trip to the local HQ and file a complaint.  As much as we'd like to think we can count on the LAPD when someone is wronged on the road; there's no guarantee that the the cops at the scene will have a full grasp of the law.  If we're not sure that the LAPD knows the law, then it's up to the users themselves to be prepared.

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