This section of Bicycling in Austin details two separate
- Around half of serious car-bike collisions are hit-and-runs.
- Drivers who hit cyclists often receive light penalties, or
none at all.
I mostly gave up on updating this part of Bicycle Austin
because it was too depressing, especially because things never
seemed to get any better.
It's hard to accept the fact when I look out over a sea of
cars, that half the drivers, if they hit me, are quite willing
to leave me for dead. And even among the minority of
motorists who do stop, probably many of them would flee if they
thought they could get away with it. Think about that one
for a minute.
Patrick Goetz related two incidents of hit-and-runs in March
2005 against people he knows, that occurred in a two-week
period. He writes "Given the large numbers of commuter
cyclists in this town (ahem) the fact that I personally know two
involved in hit and run accidents in just a two-week period
makes me wonder just how often this is happening in the Austin
area." Our guess is: A lot. I've been hit &
run'd four times myself.
Put this into perspective the next time motorists
complain how cyclists won't get respect until they start
following the law. Hit & running someone
with a motor vehicle is far more illegal than a cyclist rolling
a stop sign, but when was the last time anyone suggested that drivers
as a class don't deserve to be on the road until they start
And in fact, research suggests that drivers
are at-fault in 90% of car-bike collisions.
Even in cases in which the motorist
doesn't get away, the motorist often will often face no
charges, and may be acquitted in the event that they DO face
motorist who was at-fault for hitting Devorah Feldman wasn't
cited, the driver who ran over and killed Tom Churchill was
no-billed by a grand jury, and the drunk driver who killed
Andrew Turner and crippled Heather Sealey had two trials, both
resulting in a hung jury. Of the 180 local cases in which the
police noted motorist-related crash factors, citations were
issued to motorists only 35% of the time. (1994-96) For example,
in the 39 cases in 1998 where drivers caused or contributed to
bike collisions by failing to yield the right of way, citations
were issued in only 14 cases. (source)
And people wonder why cyclists are upset? It time we hold
motorists accountable for their actions.
The flipside of this issue is that
cyclists often get arrested for minor traffic
infractions, even when they don't hurt or kill
somebody. In other words, it seems that it's easier to go to
jail for riding a bike on the sidewalk than it is for running
over and killing a cyclist with your car.
Here's our coverage of this
Why is there no justice?
An article detailing the lack of prosecution of at-fault
motorists, and why that happens.
The Table. A table of the major
local cases, showing whether the case was a hit & run, what
(if anything) happened to the motorist, and other items.
Details of the cases listed
in the table.
Overview of the justice process.
We explain what's involved for a motorist to actually face
charges and how long it takes.
do if you're hit or harassed by a motorist.
How to Not Get Hit by Cars.
If all this is scaring you, then be sure to check out our guide
on how to not get hit. Of course, these tips assume that
motorists are trying to avoid you. If they want to hit you
intentionally, there's little you can do to prevent it.
Examples of cases like these
outside Austin. We don't have the resources
to cover these issues outside of Autin in any detail, but here
are some examples.
Harassment from Motorists.
Besides motorists injuring and killing us, sometimes they just
threaten and harass us.
Statistics. Here's our large section of
Police Criticism. Some
of the injustice we suffer is at the hands of the police, who
frequently arrest and send cyclists to jail for minor traffic
offenses like riding on the sidewalk, while at the same time
they fail to cite at-fault motorists who kill or injure us.
Media Criticism. Some of
the injustice we suffer is at the hands of the local media,
which shifts the blame for collisions onto cyclists even when
the cyclists weren't at fault (maybe incompetence or bias, or
both), or which simply fails to report real news -- such as the
fact that motorists often face little or no penalties for
Referrals to Attorneys. The
only bicycle injury attorneys we know of are listed on
do if you're hit..." page.
Who's usually at fault:
This isn't easy to quantify for at least two reasons.
First, the police often don't even bother to write up a report
if the cyclist or bicycle isn't seriously injured, so the data
is woefully incomplete. As Preston Tyree told us in Dec. 2000,
"Most of the statistics for bike injuries are severly
undercounted. In Texas for instance, the DPS only gets reports
of crashes that involve motor vehicles and in which the motor
vehicle sustains enough damage that it has to be towed.
(Fatalities do get reported even if the motor vehicle isn't
damaged.) While I've spent time in the hospital from crashes on
at least three occasions, none of those show on the DPS
statistics. However, they do show on the lesser reported TDH
statistics only because they were in Travis County where the
hospitals report emergency room visits."
Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition says its
group's 2001 study concluded that police neglect to report
bicycle incidents. Out of about 40 injury cases called in to
the coalition's hotline, officers refused to file reports
one-third of the time. (source)
Also, when the police do write a report, the report
can suffer from their anti-bike bias. If anyone doubts that
such a bias exists, look through this site at all the cases
where at-fault motorists fail to get properly ticketed for
injuring or killing cyclists. The NYC group Right of Way says:
"After NYC cycling fatalities increased twofold in 1999,
police rushed to cover their, er, reputation by claiming
(without analysis or supporting data) that cyclists are to
blame in 75% of cycling deaths. Right of Way took a closer
look. Surprise! The truth is just the reverse, as listed in
our report, The
Good Cyclist (PDF)."
According to Right of Way, over
of cyclist deaths in NYC are the fault of drivers.
Please don't write to ask for "more
information" about any of these cases (or cases not listed).
If we know about it, it's already here on the site. If it's not
on the site, we don't know about it. On the other hand, if you
have more information to provide, we would appreciate
hearing about it.
Articles on other sites:
Most at-fault motorists who kill cyclists and
pedestrians get off the hook. A study
the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition shows that three out
of four at fault drivers were never even cited
for hitting and killing pedestrians. 22% of fatal pedestrian
crashes involved hit and run drivers, yet, none of the runaway
motorists were found or charged.(2003) In New York, 70-92% of
drivers were at-fault in killing pedestrians and cyclists, but
74% didn't even get a ticket. (RightOfWay.org,
1999) Only 35% of at-fault Texas drivers get cited when they hit
a cyclist. (DPS,
City of Austin) The Statesman reports that murdering
drivers getting off with only slaps on the wrist is
Motorists usually at fault. Drivers are at fault in
almost 90% of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in New York. In
over 90% of pedestrian fatalities, the driver is male. (RightOfWay.org,
Chronicle's article on the lack of justice. The Austin
ran a big story, reporting in car-bike collisions when
the police noted that the motorist had committed a moving
violation, half the time they didn't even bother to write the
motorist a ticket. (Nov. 2006)
Drowsy. More than half of Americans admit
to driving while drowsy. Is this really a problem? Hell yes!
Many fatalaties are caused by motorists who fall asleep at the
wheel. And when sleeping drivers injure or kill cyclists, and
then often don't face any penalties! (For example, see the
case of Jason
Boardman & Cameron Cooper, also listed in the table.)
their bikes for riding without a helmet.
That's the threat by Holliston, MA police. But will they
confiscate cars from motorists who aren't buckled up? Of
Database. Search the local police
department's database of collisions.
Assault with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors are often
reluctant to consider a vehicle a deadly weapon under the
"assault with a deadly weapon" crime. But a
driver in Portland who two cyclists was successfully
prosecuted, with his vehicle deemed a deadly weapon.
Explanation of cases listed
above in which cyclists received harsh penalties
Cypress Sigman. Cypress was stopped for biking on the
sidewalk (late 90's) , and when she asked the officer for
clarification regarding the law against biking on the sidewalk,
she was arrested. FYI, Austin prohibits biking on the sidewalk
in a "business district", which is defined as certain parts of
downtown an the drag. More on the law.
Tommy Eden. After Tommy was nearly sideswiped by a
police car, he caught up with the police officer, whose window
was rolled down, and told the officer that he'd nearly hit him,
and asked him to be more careful. The officer ignored Tommy, so
he repeated himself. The officer ordered Tommy onto the
sidewalk. Tommy complied, then asked the officer for his badge
number. The officer ignored him, so Tommy kept asking. The
officer kept ignoring him, until he finally got out of the car
and arrested Tommy. (mid 90's)
Reed Murray & Fred Meredith. Reed and Murray were
legally cycling side-by-side on a 5-lane roadway. Another
cyclist passed them on the left, so for a split second they were
three abreast. An officer gave all three cyclists tickets. I was
behind them, and witnessed the whole thing. (1994 or 1995)
Bicycling without helmets. During the year that Austin
had a helmet law for adults (1996-97), we lost track of how many
adults got arrested (not just ticketed, but arrested) for not
wearing helmets. The law was amended in 1997 to apply only to
those 17 and under, but now the problem is that nearly all the
no-helmet tickets given to kids are given to black and Hispanic
on the helmet ordinance.
Bernadette Noll & her husband. Noll wrote an article
her experience in jail after for the Austin Chronicle.
Brendan Guilfoyl. Pretty straightforward. Elliot was
being arrested (for biking on the sidewalk, I think), and when
Brendan asked why Elliot was being arrested, Brendan was
arrested. I may have gotten the victims backwards (Elliot may
have asked why Brendan was being arrested), but I do remember
seeing the police videotape of this incident. (1993 or 1994)
Shaun Stenshol. A bike officer ordered Shaun to pull his
bike over, for no apparent reason. (I witnessed the whole
thing.) Shaun started to comply, but evidently not fast enough,
and the officer plus another one tackled Shaun to the ground,
then dragged him to a police van by his hair. (October 1994)