I’ve been working on a story for Washingtonian magazine about drivers in the DC-region who are afflicted with what I call Cyclist Derangement Syndrome, and use their cars to target cyclists that annoy them.
A theme in bicycle-vehicle collisions around the country, whether premeditated or accidental, is that cyclists are often cited (sometimes incorrectly) for breaking some rule, and drivers who injure (and sometimes) kill them too often cruise away with no repercussions.
It’s one of the most puzzling and frurstrating elements of current traffic enforcement culture, and the cycling community has been trying to push back and get police officers and prosecutors to try and take a more even-handed, objective look at collisions involving cyclists. My article for Washingtonian is about an incident that illustrates this problem in the Washington region, but even I was surprised to see how much worse the situation is in NYC.
According to a report by WNYC:
Last year, 21 cyclists were struck and killed but only two drivers were arrested. And about 40 percent of the time a driver is involved in a fatality – a pedestrian, cyclist, other motorist or themselves – not even a ticket is issued.
“We as a society have chosen to drive these big cars,” said Joe McCormack, an assistant District Attorney for the Bronx whose job it is to prosecute traffic crimes. “And we also as a society have chosen not to criminalize every single small mistake that just has a dramatic consequence because you’re driving a car.”
Well, I would say that when someone dies or is seriously injured it’s not really a “small” mistake and it might be time to start criminalizing the action.
You can listen to the full report:
So NYC seems to have a lot of deaths and injuries, and a pretty low penalty rate. Part of the problem is that there is often little evidence, or no witnesses, or a driver-said/cyclist-said dynamic. Regardless, it’s hard not to feel that cyclist injuries and deaths are not investigated with the same energy and persistence that other homicides get.
I don’t know for sure, but I am tempted to say that some law enforcement officers are predisposed to assume a cyclist that becomes a victim probably did something wrong, and is therefore at fault or somehow deserves what he or she got. To me, it is similar to the way in which the Sanford Police Department leaned over in the direction of George Zimmerman (no, he’s not related!) instead of investigating Trayvon Martin’s death with open eyes, and an objective attitude.
So there you have it: cycling is the equivalent of wearing a hoodie.