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Hit & Run on
Michael Passman

by , March 11, 2004

Below Michael Passman tells the story of his being hit & run'd, the easy identification of the vehicle and the driver, and being blown off by both a police detective (who said that the motorist wasn't at fault because he didn't see Passman) and the driver's insurance company, Allstate (who said that Passman was partially at fault simply because he was riding a bicycle).

Both positions are not unusual, but they're still disturbing if true. Of course the motorist didn't see Passman, that's why he hit him. But if you run a red light because you didn't see it that doesn't mean you don't get a ticket. Apparently being an inattentive driver only gets you off the hook if you injure a cyclist as a result. -- Ed.

I'm a cyclist. I ride 50 to 100 miles a week. I don't own a car, so therefore, the bike is my only means of transportation - whether that's for grocery shopping or getting to work. I've also been an active volunteer at the Lance Armstrong Foundation for the past three years. As a cyclist, I know and exercise the rights and responsibilities that I have on the road. I always come to a full stop at stop signs, I ride farthest to the right of the road when permissable, use turn signals, a front headlight and rear blinker at night, and I also always wear a helmet, gloves, and glasses for eye protection.

On January 27 of this year, I was involved in a collision. I was riding south in the bike lane on Guadalupe in between 23 and 22 street. A young man in a truck in the car lane adjacent to me came into the bike lane to turn right, which forced me to take evasive action and move over towards parked cars to my right and slow down since the driver was about to turn right. Unfortunately, he never passed me enough to get completely in front of me, and I had no path to avoid a collision. He hit me while making a right in front of me while he was still to my left. This is commonly called a clip or a right hook. Because he obstructed my right of way to the left and front, and if I went further to the right, I would have ended up in front of him while he was turning, I braced myself for impact since I had already slowed down to avoid him hitting me. The collision resulted by him hitting me on the left side of my bike while he was turning right. The bike swung around and behind me to the right, falling on its left side. Since I was trying to put as much space as possible between me and his truck, I was leaning backwards during the impact, thus falling forward, feet first, and landing on my rear end.

The driver slowed down after making a right onto 22, then continued. I yelled for someone to get his license plate. Nobody did, even though there were at least 10 people at the intersection. I got back up as quickly as I could and proceeded to chase him down. He turned right again onto San Antonio and drove a block up, where he parked at the University Coop Bookstore. Someone who witnessed me flying through the air, but not the collision, followed before me and spotted his truck. We found it, then he called the police, who came, looked for the driver, then towed his car since it was a hit and run accident.

Because I knew initially that the driver was going to make a right turn after infringing into the bike lane, I slowed down and moved to the right in order for him to pass. Because I was going so slow, the collision left merely a scuff mark on the SIDE of his rear bumper. The officer investigating the potential hit and run told me that he thought the intial collison took place between my front tire and his rear passenger side tire, thus causing my bike to fall on its left side, while the impact of my handlebars on the bumper forced the bike to swing out from under me more.

I called off the investigation of hit-and-run after a week because the investigating officer told me that he strongly felt the driver did not see me nor feel any impact. Since then, the driver's insurance company, Allstate, started an investigation. The driver denied a collision ever occurred since there was only a scuff mark on his car. He didn't make a statement to Allstate for over a month. Allstate concluded that a collision occurred, but that was over two weeks ago. They are yet to accept liability. However, they have concluded that their insured broke no laws.

How could that be? He came into a bike lane, for starters. They concluded that he never did. The bike lane inbetween Guadalupe and 22 extends to about four or five feet before the stoplight going south, and the collision occurred while I was in the bike lane. How could he NOT have been in the bike lane if I was hit by him while in the bike lane?

Furthermore, the bike lane is a restricted use lane only for bicycles, not a dual use lane. Had he stayed in the car lane until turning while I was still adjacent to him, I would have had no time to take evasive action, thus the resulting injuries would have been worse. He turned in such a way that the side of his car was in front of me at an angle, thus violating my right of way, which is another offense.

At this point, his insurance company has cleared him of the two above offenses based on their investigation. The driver was unscathed, with just a rubber scuff on his car. My bicycle, which was less than 3 months old at the time, was dented. Because the majority of the frame is aluminium and that element is light and stiff, the frame is now ruined. As a result of the collision, I suffered a bruised sacrum, coccyx, left heel, and bursitis in my left shoulder. My costs have totaled over 5600 dollars for injury and damages so far.

Allstate has yet to take liability. As was said, they cleared their insured of any wrongdoing. Furthermore, because I do commute and ride on city streets, I have had an alarming number of car collisions - 4 in the past year alone. I was hit by an uninsured driver exactly three weeks before the presently mentioned accident and went to St. David's via ambulance, in fact. At the time, I had my shoulder, legs, and spine x-rayed, but all I suffered from was bruises. The injuries were not serious enough to require treatment. At the time of the present accident, I was in perfect physical condition, and the bike was recently tuned up only two weeks before by my shop. The only damage on the bike was a paint chip, which was touched up.

Allstate is disputing my claim due to my accident record. Which, although of serious concern, the accidents over the past year have occurred in broad daylight, two involved motorists making a left turn in front of me while approaching from the opposite direction and one involved a right hook. I was riding on a bike route or in a bike lane during all times, and the motorists were cited for failure to yield right of way when witnesses were present.

The simple fact is that it's dangerous to ride in Austin. Lance Armstrong said that a few years ago. In my collisions, the motorists always said they never saw me. That's a simple fact. Even though a bicycle is legally a vehicle entitled to the same rights and laws of the road, people don't see you, regardless of the time of day, unless you have four wheels and weigh at least two tons. This is even more saddened by the fact that the city of Austin wants people to commute via bus, carpool and bike to work. There's even a city ordinance stating that all building built after 1996 require bicycle parking for 12% of all spaces.

My injuries from this accident are still being treated for. I don't have insurance, so I'm paying out of my own pocket. My new bicycle, which costs 2100 dollars, is ruined, along with 1400 dollars in other equipment that was damaged or flew off he bike from the impact, such as the computer and heart rate monitor. Even my clothes were ripped from sliding forward.

A huge part of my life has been taken away from me. It is not my fault that an accident occurred. Nor is it my fault for previous mishaps. I'm over cautious and obey every letter of the law as a cyclist. I'm still taking vicodin for my injuries and I cannot ride since it's been damaged. This occurred over six weeks ago and Allstate has not accepted liability. In fact, an agent told me today that I was partially liable because I was riding my bike. Does that make any sense to you? How am I liable if someone infringes into a bike lane with a car, while I'm next to him? Not behind or in front, but next to him? I took evasive action while he did not even see me, so how am I liable in the least?

My mobility, independence, financial well being, and especially, my confidence in exercising my legal right to ride a bike within legal confines of the law are compromised since if I ride and still obey all laws, Allstate has determined that I have no rights and that I'm somehow liable for someone hitting me as a result of violating my right of way or coming into a bike lane, which is restricted use, for bikes only.

This prejudgement and obvious prejudice affects me greatly, but it affects cyclists in Austin and statewide, too. If insurance companies don't recognize the rights of a cyclist, then they have no protection if hit. In fact, statistics show that motorists are almost never cited locally in bicycle car collisions.

I did nothing wrong. I rode as a defensive driver, obeyed laws, did not put myself in a dangerous situation other than the fact that I was riding a bicycle on the road, where I had every right to and where I should be. I'm still suffering from my injuries and have tremendous losses. Allstate has not accepted their responsibility. Not only that, but if my injuries were more serious, I would not have been able to find the person who hit me. My rights have clearly been violated. I'm suffering while the person who violated my rights is being protected by Allstate. It seems that simply because I'm a cyclist and not a motorist, I don't have rights. I'm invisible. Allstate is making it seem that I'm at fault just for cycling on the road, even though I'm in a bike lane. Based on their judgement, a bike lane is simply a suggestion, not a law. The implications of this story for Austin are quite broad considering the popularity of cycling here.

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