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The other side of a collision

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 16th, 2008 at 10:50 am

People who use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation may not be familiar with the emotional impact that bike/car collisions have on folks on the other side of the windshield.

An example of this emotional toll comes from a comment left on this site a few minutes ago. The comment was left by someone who lists themselves as "Wife of truck driver" and it was left as a response to my coverage of the recent serious injury collision in Southeast Portland.

Given the tone of the comment I don't doubt her identity.

Here are a few excerpts:

"I am the wife of the truck driver and emotionally he is NOT ok. His concerns are only for Karl.

The truck will NEVER be a part of our lives again!! After that who could imagine getting back in.

My husband is in need of counsel as he is the type of person who could not hurt a flea. We have a Son who Mountain Bikes, We road bike and more often than not its the Car, however this time my Husband was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We Pray for Karl and hope he will mend, His injuries can be stitched or taped.

My husbands will forever be their. I picked him up at the scene, He still is in shock and can not hardly function with his daily tasks."

I can relate to these feelings based on two personal experiences.

Many years ago in California, while driving to a mountain bike ride (ironically) after a long day at work, I nodded off at the wheel. When I shook it off a brief instant later I realized I had veered into the bike lane. A chill ran through my body as I realized what could have happened.

More recently, in Portland, my wife Juli was driving our mini-van in inner Northeast Portland when she collided with a man on a bicycle. After she glanced to her right, Juli looked left at oncoming traffic and inched up past a stop sign. The guy on the bike was riding on the sidewalk to her right and he slammed into the mini-van. She never saw him.

Thankfully he wasn't injured at all, but Juli was really shaken up. She couldn't stop feeling bad about what happened (even though the guy on the bike admitted that he was likely at fault). She was a wreck when she got home and her mind wandered. What if it was worse? What if he would have been seriously hurt? Or worse?

This is not about "blaming the victim" (a term that has come up in comments when this topic has been raised in the past), or wanting to spur a conversation about who shoulders more blame or responsibility in bike/car collisions. I just think it's important to realize that, even though there is never (or very rarely) physical injury to the person in the car or truck, there are emotional injuries that can also have a lasting impact on someone's life.

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Comments
  • The Machine July 16, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I couldn\'t agree more.

    Years ago I was driving a work van and passed a skateboarder who was riding down Burnside in the right lane. Apparently he didn\'t see me and proceeded to swerve into the side of the van as I drove past him.

    Thankfully he wasn\'t hurt. I was really shaken, and I shudder to this day whenever I think about it. I don\'t know if it was my fault or not, but I still blame myself for it. It definitely made me a more cautious driver.

    That said - there are people with a conscience and then there are people like the drunk driver who\'s only care was that he has to spend a week in jail - not that he nearly killed someone.

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  • Joe July 16, 2008 at 11:12 am

    I think about this every time I ride by the ghost bike on Burnside. Of course I feel very sorry for the family of the bicyclist who was hit but I also feel bad for the truck driver who has to see the sign that reads, \"a bicyclist was killed here\" every time he goes in that area of town. I would assume he tries to avoid that intersection completely. We need to be mindful of both sides of these incidents, the majority of them, opposed to the other day, are complete accidents. No one wanted these accidents to occur.

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  • Allan July 16, 2008 at 11:14 am

    With great power (a car) comes great responsibility. These only feel worse than a near miss in a car v car because we know the cars are designed to be in crashes and have safety features. with more bikes on the roads, there are more chances car v bike incidents, near misses, and collisions. Be careful out there.

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  • Kristin July 16, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Whenever I drive I am in constant fear of hitting someone, which is generally why I avoid driving on heavily biked streets like Hawthorne between MLK & 12th at rush hour. Too scary.

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  • Ethan July 16, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I was discussing the downtown collision of a car and a wrong-way biker at a public meeting last year and the wife of the driver happened to be in the room, and shared similar experiences about how her husband was coping with being back on the road afterwards . . . I cannot imagine how I would feel if i collided with a biker in our minivan . . . regardless of who was at fault.

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  • Grant July 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I object to the use of the word victim to portray the injured cyclist.

    This article was supposed to provide a look from the other side of the windshield at a tragic event, and it was doing that until your last paragraph where your prejudices showed through by the use of the word.

    The driver is as much a \"victim\" in this incident as the cyclist.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 16, 2008 at 11:48 am

    \"I object to the use of the word victim to portray the injured cyclist.\"

    Grant,

    Thanks so much for pointing that out. I\'ve edited that line to give a clearer sense of why I wrote that.

    My intention was not to identify the man on the bike as the only victim (the entire story is evidence of that)... i was trying to get in front of how I thought some readers might respond.

    Please re-read that line and let me know what you think of my edits.

    thanks for the comment.

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  • George W Bush July 16, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Allan
    July 16th, 2008 11:14 3With great power (a car) comes great responsibility.

    and does riding a bike....

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  • scoot July 16, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    So true... I doubt the roads are safer if people are driving around all shattered.

    Another thing that doesn\'t come up much is that the roads are sprinkled with people who aren\'t used to driving in Portland at all.

    Sometimes because they rarely drive, but also there are plenty of people trying to get around who don\'t live here. A lot of people visiting from other parts of the country rarely see a bike on their home turf. It\'s crazy to expect them to have any intuition about bike lanes and general bikely behavior. I don\'t want any of them traumatized for the rest of their lives because they hit me.

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  • bahueh July 16, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I\'ll simply add that we all have families and friends and loved ones who expect us all to come home every night in one piece (physically and emotionally), regardless of how we get to and from work...I don\'t think enough people remind themselves of that fact on a day to day basis... and act accordingly....helmets, turn signals, reduced speed, stop signs....they\'re all designed to be used and to assist in that daily outcome.

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  • Klixi July 16, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Excellent points. This is why I never understood the argument that cyclists are free to run reds since bikes could never harm cars, which is very dismissive of emotional trauma which, in many instances, has a far more severe (and lengthy) impact than scrapes and bumps.

    I agree, the only victim here is the truck driver. I refuse to accept people can freely break the law then assume the role of victim when it bites them in the rear. It doesn\'t work like that.

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  • tonyt July 16, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    This is my major beef with those cyclists who just can\'t seem to be bothered to get a freakin set of lights.

    When I drive, I do so VERY carefully. But that can only go so far at night when someone is riding without a reflector or light.

    If I am doing all the right things, I hardly deserve to have to live with the guilt of having killed someone.

    Light up front, reflector in back. That\'s the law. Light in back, that\'s common sense.

    It ain\'t just you out there. Open your selfish eyes.

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  • El Biciclero July 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Somewhat off topic, but this is a very interesting statement by kristin (#4): \"I avoid driving on heavily biked streets like Hawthorne between MLK & 12th at rush hour. Too scary.\"

    Quite an inversion of the usual sentiment expressed by bikers who avoid riding on busy streets with heavy auto traffic.

    Who would have thought that this notion could go both ways?

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  • Jim July 16, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Welcome to Portland
    Please watch for cyclists

    What about a campaign to place more signs up around Portland that encourage watching for bike? What about large bike statues on bike heavy streets? We post extra signs for construction workers, both state workers and private parties. Why not place some of those safety dollars into bike awareness reminders?

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  • Whyat July 16, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    This article is an interesting juxtaposition to the one covering the homemade sign near OMSI. The comments over there are highly critical of the sign. I\'m not defending putting up illegal signs. However, I don\'t think the PDX bike community owns up to the scope of the problem in regards to bikers breaking the law. Clearly it is a problem, clearly the greater community is concerned about it, clearly bikers CAN cause emotional and psychological damage when they break the laws.

    Should I be careless with a knife because guns are more dangerous? Let\'s all be safe out there and lets stop being so selfish in our actions.

    I don\'t mean to sound negative in all my posts. I just believe that I should be held to the same standards that I hold other vehicle operators.

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  • liz July 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Last year I was hit by car from behind as I was trying to cross East Burnside at 24th. She busted my bike rim, but luckily she was only going about 5 miles an hour, so neither of us was hurt physically. When she hit me I responded without even thinking, turning around and yelling out a loud \"what the f*#k\". And then I immediately felt bad b/c it was obvious she, the driver, felt horrible. She was shaking and kept asking if I was ok. We agreed to call the police and then waited there together for 1/2 hour or so for the officer to arrive. We talked a little, but not much. A couple folks in cars who saw her hit me stopped to see if I was ok. I don\'t think anyone checked on her. She called once later to see if I was ok, and I never returned her call, mostly cause I was just trying to put the event behind me and not let it make me a nervous rider. But now I wish I would have talked to her b/c I\'ve often wondered if she is ok.

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  • travis July 16, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    i remember we were driving once at night headed south on NE 33rd. we passed over the freeway and at sandy we had a green light. out of no where a cyclist who was biking on the sidewalk zipped east to cross the street and we slammed on the breaks as his bike went under the car. luckily he jumped off the bike before he was even close to the car, but it really freaked out everyone in the car.

    ps his bike was fine! it just fell between the front wheels of the car!

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  • Donna July 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    It\'s stories like this poor man\'s that makes me shake my head in disgust when someone says the only person that can be hurt when a cyclist decides to run a red is the cyclist themself.

    Whether you accept it or not, every choice you make in life affects others. In this case, it will be affecting this man for the rest of his life.

    I pray that Mr. and Mrs. Truck Driver and their family can find peace and peace of mind, for surely they deserve to have it.

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  • rixtir July 16, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Well said Donna.

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  • KT July 16, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    I got hit by a bike 5 years ago yesterday.

    I was sitting at a stop sign at a T intersection waiting to turn Left.

    A semi coming from the right wanted to turn into the street I was on.

    A bike coming with traffic from the left wanted to pass through the intersection.

    I backed up to clear the bike lane (you had to pull into the bike lane to see around the bushes-- since cut back severely) and the semi thought I was getting out of his way.

    Bike locks up his brakes in an attempt not to die, and slides into the side of my car.

    It was a bad situation; I was freaked out that I was going to see someone die right in front of me, and then I was pissed because the truck driver wanted to shift the blame.

    The rider turned up with a separated meniscus and other joint injuries, and the truck driver\'s company wanted it to be the rider\'s fault.

    And there I was, glass in my hair, covering the inside of my car, a hugely dented door, and all I was doing was sitting at a stop sign waiting my turn!

    That\'s just my own weird story; I thought it was going to court, but apparently they all settled. :)

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  • the other steph July 16, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    thank you for this article, Jonathan. i couldn\'t agree more.

    i was hit by a car about a year ago (that dastardly right hook!), and she was so beaten up by the thought of having hurt me that i ended up needing to calm her down and assure her that it was no big thing. we hugged. i told her that my mom had had a similar experience 6 months before and that it\'s difficult sometimes to see other modes of traffic or gauge their course and speed.

    her solicitousness really made my day.

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  • scdurs July 16, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Kind of off-topic, but very related.

    This discussion reminds me of the person who committed suicide by jumping off an overpass into I-5 morning rush-hour traffic years ago in Portland. He/she landed on the hood of a car and died at the scene I believe is how it went. I remember seeing a follow-up interview with the driver of the car. This lady, even many months later, was still traumatized by the incident. I\'m sure she probably still thinks about it every day.

    I can\'t imagine trying to cope with that image replaying in your mind the rest of your life.

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  • Dena July 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    The first time I was hit by a car, the driver had rolled past a stop sign, in order to see around a blind corner. He definitely should have been more careful, but the same goes for me. While he was legally at fault, legality is only one part of the picture. The driver was as shaken up, if not more, than I was (I wasn\'t hurt, even though my front tire was crushed). I think we both learned from the situation. First, he should\'ve slowly edged around that blind corner and I shouldn\'t have ridden so fast across a blind T-intersection--right of way or not. As importantly, I got a little perspective. Sure, I initially yelled every profanity I knew, but I quickly realized that I was yelling at person, not some monster. Not so nice. We had both made mistakes and the decent thing to do was to console each other and make sure the other person was all right. (He had my bike fixed as quickly as possible.)

    The next time I got hit, a few years later (again, no injuries), I did my best to skip over the anger part and went right to the being a decent human being part. I\'d like to think that by not getting all irate, I may have had a stronger impact on the future behavior of the driver (dude, driving with thick plastic taped over your driver\'s side window--not a good idea).

    I guess I\'m writing this as a reminder (to myself, even) that no matter who is at fault in any accident, maybe everyone involved ought to begin their interactions with a goal of achieving the most positive future outcomes. Let\'s all play nice--even when mistakes are made! :)

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  • Matthew July 16, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Every year 30,000+ americans die because of car crashes. That\'s a Vietnam Wall Memorial full of names in about two years.

    That\'s not because of bicycles.

    When two thousand pounds of metal, glass, plastic and rubber come into contact with anything other than the wind and the road the results are typically catastrophic.

    Take all bicycles off of the road, and the car fatalities would continue, undiminished.

    I\'m sorry to be divisive, but it is logical common sense (though not conventional wisdom) that driving is a violent and dangerous activity.

    If you believe it is our god given right to drive a car, then you and I fundamentally disagree.

    One day, in some unknown number of years, I believe students will read about this era of personal automobile transportation and ask eachother \"how could they have _driven_ everywhere, didn\'t they know it was wrong?\" Then they\'ll reassure eachother that they would never have done such a thing. Not unlike the discussion of this country\'s history of slavery we had in my high school history class.

    We\'ve a long way to go until then. Today even those who love to bicycle are so oppressed by the reigning insanity as to urge compassion for the person who intentionally undertook a violent and risky behavior, when that decision resulted in the unintended yet predictable consequence of another person\'s direct harm.

    -M

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  • Fran July 16, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    scdurs-

    My sister had a friend who had a very similar experience. An elderly lady walked right out into the path of his car. She was killed. The police ruled it suicide.

    Sean was never the same. He died in a motorcycle accident (single vehicle, drunk) a few years later. He just never got over the trauma, even though everyone, including the elderly lady\'s family, tried to assure him it was not his fault.

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  • Aaron July 16, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    I want to say that I very much appreciate the comments here. Everyone who drives should feel this way about the huge responsibility that comes with driving.
    However it should be kept in mind that the type of people who are, shall we say, less concerned about the effects of their driving are not going to be reading or posting on this site. There are many people who will make dozens of excuses for driving and blame the unenclosed road user if a scary situation happens.

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  • JM July 17, 2008 at 6:03 am

    Every time a rider makes a choice to not follow laws, rules of common courtesy or sense, they endanger their own lives and the lives around them. I don\'t care what \"vehicle\" someone is operating it is just not cool to be intoxicated (=poor judgment) or cross in front of another vehicle in an intersection without at least making eye contact. In my case, I could have been a pedestrian, another cyclist, a blind person, whatever...the rider willingly chose to go in front of me, knowing that I did not see him-that\'s poor judgment. Darwin has a law about this sort of thing....

    BTW #24 I don\'t feel entitled to drive or ride or walk. I feel grateful that I can. I am also thankful that I\'ve lived through some bad choices but I would never blame someone else for harming me as a result of my bad decisions. Why is it ok to blame me, or for me to live with the results of others bad decisions? If the concern is about doing harm to one another, we should all just walk...really because bad judgment will cause harm no matter what vehicle we are operating.

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  • Sasha July 17, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Matthew,

    Freedom is an inalienable right. That includes the freedom to chose your mode of transportation as you see fit. If you are free to earn a wage, spend it on the mode you choose, be it car, shoe, or bike -- then so be it.

    You have no more of a right to ride a bike than you do to drive a car. But you do have the right to make that choice.

    S

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  • Ryan July 17, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Sasha,

    What about when your Freedom of choice impacts the freedom of other people? The freedom to choose to drive a car, and the majority of the people picking that freedom, essentially removes my freedom to do a lot of things I\'d like to choose to do too. Like walk the most direct route to my destination. Walk to that destination without fear of being hit or harassed for holding up traffic, etc. Even though it may sound ridiculous, what about the freedom to stumble home drunk without fear of being killed? I\'m not doing any harm to anyone, but I lose that freedom because people choose to drive.

    I think the laws enshrined to allow car drivers right of way on the majority of our land is confusing the issue of freedom. You are basing the choice on the freedom to drive a car under the premise that roads are 100% written in stone to be used for transportation under specific circumstances. But in reality, that\'s just the rules that are being forced on us. Its not a natural fact.

    Ivan Illich\'s essay on Energy and Equity is a good read related to this.

    -ryan

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  • Jeff Guard July 17, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Some fresh perspective ...

    At the incident scene this morning at Broadway and Wheeler, there were 2 victims. A bicyclist with road rash, lacerations, and possible other injuries. A driver in his personal vehicle who was emotionally upset and distraught.

    I witnessed this same situation at the fatality scene at Interstate and Greeley. A dead cyclist and a very visibly distraught truck driver.

    I heard testimony from a city employee who had a bike/vehicle collision downtown who as of 7 months later, still could not face driving that city vehicle , especially downtown.

    As a safety professional, I can guarantee you nobody sets out each day to hurt someone. We are human beings and we make choices based on what we observe and what value we place on the risks that are present. Sometimes we make a wrong choice. Sometimes we do everything right and something happens. Take the time to consider the emotional well vbeing of anyone involved in an accident, including witnesses. It is a devestating experience and we should be providing counseling for all parties involved.

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  • Russ July 17, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I\'m lucky I don\'t have this kind of emotional sensitivity.

    A few years ago, I was turning left in my work vehicle onto NW 3rd St from either Davis or Couch (can\'t remember which) and as I inched up into the crosswalk to see the traffic on 3rd, one of two guys on road bikes who were using the sidewalk to race, slammed into the side of my car and flew over the hood, then into the street. He was bloody and hell and got to take an ambulance ride.

    Can\'t say I missed a minute of sleep over it. Call me callous, but my main problem was him denting up my work car, taking up productive time I needed to get things done, and being part of the 10% who use 70% of health care costs in a given year, thereby helping run up my health insurance bill.

    I don\'t have a clue if he recovered or not, and I can\'t say I really care.

    On the flip side, I gunned it on a yellow as it turned red once on my motorcycle and nicked a woman who was crossing the street in a crosswalk. It still makes me sick thinking about it, and I kept in touch/wanted to make sure she was ok. It changed my behavior on the road, and it\'s sad that it took someone else\'s shattered wrist to get it through my thick-ass 22 year old head.

    Culpability matters. If someone uses my employers car as a battering ram for their head, and I wasn\'t at fault, it\'s not gonna ruin my dinner plans.

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  • Ian July 17, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    I agree with Ryan (post 29) and Matthew (post 24) lets do away with cars. That way all the people in Portland starve because most of the food they eat comes from outside the city... real well thought out posts. Its easy to point out problems, a little more difficult to contribute meaningful solutions.

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  • Ryan July 17, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Last time I checked, cars don\'t transport food into the city.

    First step is to admit there is a problem and not act like its unchangeable.

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  • Ian July 17, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Yeah it all gets biked into the city? Do trucks not use the same infasrtructure? Come on.

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  • Russ July 17, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Ian, you made me scroll up.

    #24 is pretty laugh out loud funny.

    Thank you Miss Fleming, you\'ll call me when the shuttle lands.

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  • Ryan July 17, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Ian,

    My point is you strawman\'d both arguments. I wasn\'t even talking about removing cars from the road, but was pointing out that saying its a purely a matter of \"freedom of choice of transportation\" is fallacious because of over simplification. Matthew also didn\'t say anything about removing commercial transport of goods such as food.

    Now you are saying that cars are necessary for a shipping infrastructure to be in place that brings us food?

    Just because trucks use the roadway infrastructure right now to bring food in doesn\'t mean that\'s the only way it can be done, or has to be done. And because food is brought in by motorized transport also has nothing to do with personal, private transportation.

    One of the over-reaching points of this whole situation is that car-culture breeds car-culture. Using cars and moving everything further away causes cars to be necessary.

    -ryan

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  • ae July 17, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I think it\'s totally understandable that this woman\'s husband is suffering. However, it is really weird to say that the cyclist will get stitched up and be fine whereas her husband will suffer forever. Um? I think there\'s going to be plenty of physical and psychological pain to go around.

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  • Ian July 17, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Well why didn\'t you say that in the first place? And personal automobiles do transport a lot of the food you see at farmers markets (don\'t know if you have ever been to one, you should check it out if you havn\'t). There\'s a lot of problems and not a lot of solutions... at least your trying to think. Peace.

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  • Steve July 18, 2008 at 12:00 am

    Re: Matthew post# 24.

    This is the most narrow-minded post in this thread. If I follow the logic, you are saying that because automobile accidents (which include all motorized transportation – including freight & delivery vehicles) cause many deaths, they should be outlawed. So it appears you want to use statistics to drive your thinking. Did you know that you are more likely to die in a bicycle accident than in an airplane, on a train, by alcohol poisoning, or by electrocution? Maybe we should all fly instead of ride bikes or drive cars.

    Wake up! We are in a global economy, whether for good or bad. We depend on the shipment of staple goods from around the world, just as they depend on the goods that we produce. This would not be possible without undertaking what you would term as “violent and dangerous activity,” whether from motorized transportation or motorized equipment to load the cargo.

    People do have the right to make choices. People choose to follow others or go their own route. If your post truly reflects your feelings, why don’t you move to the middle of eastern Oregon or some other remote area, carrying everything with you on several trips on your bike. You can buy a very large area of land and only allow bicycles as transportation. There are remote tribes in the Amazon and other areas that choose to live undisturbed by technology, you could create your own. Just know that the rest of the world is moving forward, whether you like it or not….

    PS – given your thinking, many people die in fires and by downing each year. Does that mean that all things that include fire or water are “violent and dangerous”? Maybe we should avoid using any fire or water? Why don’t you start by doing that to avoid being “violent and dangerous” and see how long you last?

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  • Steve July 18, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Oh and Matthew, out of curiosity, I wonder where your bike and bike parts were made and how they came to be in your possession? Where did the material to build your house come from and how did it get there? Wonder if your house or bike were built without the use of electricity (another “violent and dangerous” invention). Take away all motorized transportation and I believe you might be missing a few things…

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  • Steve July 18, 2008 at 12:43 am

    One other clarification, my statement that you are more likely to die riding a bike than in an airplane, on a train, by alcohol poisoning, or by electrocution does not include any deaths of bicyclists that are involved with a motor vehicle. So you can not say that it is because motor vehicles are causing the cyclists\' deaths. This is taken from statistics by the National Safety Council, so I am not just making this up or using my own conjecture.

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  • Matthew July 19, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Steve, Ian, and your ilk,

    Please don\'t conflate personal automobile use with trucks doing productive work in society. I don\'t take issue with work trucks. Roads with just bikes and work trucks would be incredibly safer.

    If you bought it, a truck brought it.

    I find truck drivers on the whole to be skilled professionals, and I fear being killed by a car driver (or SUV, or muscle pick-ups), not a semi.

    You are effectively trying to justify your driving behavior by extrapolation my critique of a car culture to a 100% rejection of all of industrial society.

    Nice try.

    It is possible to use internal combustion engines responsibly, to move things that we\'ve decided need to be moved. But to move people\'s large fanny\'s hither and tither, whilst risking my life in the process is down right foolish.

    My views on industrial society have not been stated, and from your assumptions, I don\'t have a lot of confidence that you would accurately predict them.

    -M

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