Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hit from behind crashes

Posting this here to save space on the LCI list.

Hi, Tricia

As a New Mexico resident, its a little frustrating to hear that we are to "avoid high speed roads" when in some parts of the country, there ain't a whole lot of choice.  In most if not all of New Mexico, even the secondary roads, when they exist, are high speed roads once you get out of town.  Commuters face that issue in Los Alamos. If you live in White Rock and work at the National Lab, you have a choice of two, 55 mph routes to work.

Once outa town, main NM state routes often are blessed with shoulders (complete with rumble strips) but with speed limits as high as 70 mph while lesser state routes are usually posted 50 mph or higher with two, 11 foot lanes and no or badly paved shoulders. There are blind curves, short sight line rises, and other goodies on minor routes that REQUIRE driver attention and make taking the lane on a bicycle problematic (operationally and politically) if a motorist is coming over a short sight line rise at 55 mph. The two (count 'em) roads out of Los Alamos county, NM 502 and NM4, are of the "main" and "lesser" type, respectively. 502 is a wide, fast four laner with clear sight lines. NM4, on the other hand, is an exhilarating little road for a cyclist with good descending skills through high speed switchbacks.

I cannot think of too many 100% effective defensive solutions to the class of hit from behind crashes where the root cause is driving while distracted, or too fast for conditions, etc., on a high speed road. One cannot, as John Allen once said regarding bike boxes, drive (a bike in this case) with one's eyes glued to the back of one's head. I think that attitude would just burn people out. Its supposed to be enjoyable, right?

This is a political issue and I think a lot of us are glad that the League is working with Ray LaHood (and hopefully the AAA) on this topic. The good news is that thankfully, we only get one or two cyclists per year hit this way in NM. I'll take that risk because its small and the alternative, giving up cycling on the open road for the first time in 32 years, would probably kill me first.

I guess my message to other LCIs is that we can ask cyclists to mitigate risk using the various techniques that Tricia, Preston, and others have suggested (operationally and fluidly defined proper lane position, bright clothing, 360 degrees of situational awareness, pay attention to visibility conditions during adverse times of day or weather, proper lighting at dawn/dusk/night, etc.). Those will greatly cut down one's odds, hopefully. But if distracted driving is increasing, the answer for that is to tell cyclists to work with their advocacy organizations on legislation that combats bad roadway behavior. That's not in TS 101, admittedly, but its one of those unpaid services that is time well spent.

LCIs who can stomach the political world should be active in pushing for higher standards of motor vehicle operator safety as well as teaching cyclists to ride correctly. Andy Clark, Ray LaHood, BCNM, BikeABQ, the New Mexico Motorcycle Assn., and the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation need all the help they can get.

Khal Spencer

-----Original message-----
From: Tricia Kovacs xxxxxx@xxx.net
Date: Tue, 19 Apr 2011 06:19:07 -0600
To: lci-group@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: [LCI Group] Question regarding bike crash statistics

 Dear Khal,
One of the avoidance techniques suggested by Mionske in Bicycling and the Law is to avoid high-speed roads, in particular rural roads at night or  at dawn or dusk when motorists may be blinded. I do teach that these  roads under these conditions can increase the likelihood of hit from  behind, but I don't think cyclists should have to avoid them. We also  teach that cyclists who ride in adverse conditions (rain, darkness) have
 lower crash rates than fair-weather riders. Mionske also suggests not to drive a bicycle drunk. Well, that's a given.

I also use a mirror and recommend that other cyclists use them, but the  reason I said "I won't go there" is because I didn't want to bring up  the mirror discussion again.

I do agree with you that driver distractions seem to be on the rise, and  that's why I have been interested in learning whether these types of  crashes are increasing. Recently, on several occasions I have noticed motorists drifting left of center when approaching me from the opposite direction, and when I look at them while passing, I see that their eyes are on their laps. I read somewhere that distracted driving laws (or
bans on texting while driving) have actually increased crashes because motorists are hiding their phones in their laps. Steve Magas here in  Ohio (and co-author of Bicyling & the Law) is doing a study of all bicycle fatalities over several years to determine the cause and fault of each crash, which should be very interesting.



Eli Damon said...

When it comes to crash statistics, I would really like to see rear-end collisions broken down into finer categories.

1. Motorist drifts into shoulder or bike lane.
2. Cyclist veers out of shoulder or bike lane.
3. Direct hit on reasonably visible cyclist.
4. Direct hit on unlit cyclist under low visibility conditions.

(1) and (2) bolster the case for assertive lane positioning. (3) either bolsters the case that cyclists should "stay out of the way", or the case for cracking down on distracted and impaired driving. (4) bolsters the case for the importance of lights and other visibility aids, but implies nothing about lane position.

I suspect that (1) and (2) are much more common than (3) and (4).

Ordinary Bob said...

There are many challenges in trying to improve crash statistics. First, in order to determine if a driver was using an electronic device, they police would need to spend more time and resources to get an order written to get the information from the cell carrier for the driver. Also, the police report would need to include more fields to capture more detailed information.

I use a mirror at all times, and without one, I'd be pretty freaked out. I don't understand the mindset that keeps people from using them on bikes. Of course I don't get the mindset of people who ride without fenders either.

Tricia Kovacs said...

Ordinary Bob said...
Of course I don't get the mindset of people who ride without fenders either.
A man after my own heart.

Did anyone hear the NPR car talk episode where a guy calls up and asks Tom & Ray for advice on adjusting his roof mounted TV and his rear view mirror so he could watch TV while driving? Think that would qualify as distracted driving? Thankfully, Tom & Ray told him to get that stupid thought out of his mind.

Khal said...

Mirrors on cars or motorcycles vs. mirrors on bikes are apples and oranges. Normally, traffic is only slowly overtaking you (or you overtaking them) when driving a car or moto. By contrast, on a bicycle, one can have a 35 mph overtaking velocity. One has to, as John Allen once said, almost have your eyes glued to the back of your head if you are using the mirror as a means to avoid being hit from behind.

I use one too, esp. on my commute ride, both to check other vehicle position if I am about to change my riding position and also to sometimes check for following driver position. But its not a substitute for people minding their lane and can easily become an obsession if one is tracking every overtaking vehicle out of a fear for the rear.

Allen Muchnick said...

Regarding Eli's comment, I'd like to see a 5th category of rear-end crashes; namely side-swipe collisions, where a bicyclist is hit from the side by the side-view mirror or right side of an overtaking vehicle. The incidence of such crashes might indicate the relative importance of safe-passing laws, but either lane control or riding farther right might be an effective cyclist countermeasure under various conditions. Thus, it would be helpful to know whether a struck cyclist was practicing lane control and whether riding farther right was practicable in each instance.

Ordinary Bob said...

Using a mirror on a bike is real easy. I am constantly scanning 360 degrees. It is part of situational awareness. I pay special attention to the rear as I approach an intersection. I can see if a car is approaching, and make a decision as to when and if I will take the lane to avoid the right hook. I use a helmet mounted mirror, which I find to be the easiest to use (when adjusted correctly).

I offered to do a bike commuting talk at work. The concern was that there are only two lanes in each direction, without space for a bike. I laughed, and pointed out that it is safer because there are two lanes. One for me, and one for the cars.

Khal said...

I too use a mirror to check overtaking traffic when entering an intersection or when considering moving to a more assertive lane position when its strategically warranted, such as moving from a bike lane to the travel lane on a fast descent (to avoid left crosses, right hooks, and FTY errors by motorists entering from side streets). But I also do a scan over my shoulder when dealing with negotiating into other traffic in the hopes that the head motion also gets the attention of the other traffic.

Having said that, a motorist is advised to check the mirror every five to eight seconds. That is impractical for cyclists if the worry is overtaking vehicles. Five seconds, at a speed differential of 30 mph, is 220 feet or more than ten car lengths. A lot can happen. So, yes to general situational awareness and intersection control. Not sure about tailgunning.

Khal said...

Link on last post.