She was in her early 50s, I’d guess, with salt-and-pepper hair, glasses, and a right hook that left me laid out and bleeding in the street.
I’m not talking boxing here. I’m talking driving. This woman pulled up alongside me one day in late July as I was riding my bike home from work at Grist’s Seattle HQ, and she decided to turn right — right through me. The first thing I saw was her front bumper out of the corner of my eye, then her front right tire, her passenger-side door, closing in fast. Then it was all pavement and sky.
I’ve been biking to work, on and off, for more than 20 years. I like to think I’m a smart rider. I take calculated risks, sure, but my main objective is to stay the hell out of everybody else’s way. It can be scary out there, riding on the streets with all the crazies in their two-ton machines, but while I’d fallen off my bike of my own accord a few times, I’d never been hit.
The result: I had no idea what to do.
My first reaction was all instinct and luck. I slid and rolled and managed to stay out from under her tires. That much was good. But then the adrenaline took over. I jumped to my feet, grabbed my bike, and jumped around in the street, bleeding and yelling “What the fuck?” as my assailant gaped in horror. Then, satisfied that I’d made an impression, I jumped back on my bike and went home.
In the video above, you can see what Seattle Police Detective Drew Fowler thought of my antics. (Hint: Not impressed.) I also spent some time with attorney Bob Anderton of Washington Bike Law, whose specialty is representing injured cyclists and the families of people who are not as lucky as I was. Then I poked around the interwebs to see what other wisdom I could glean.
The result: A handy list of five things you should do if you’re ever unlucky enough to be hit by a car while riding your bike.
1. If you can, get yourself out of the street. It sucks to be hit by a car. It sucks even more to be hit twice.
2. Do a quick systems check — on yourself, not your bike. I know you love your wheels, but really, fuck your wheels. You’re most important right now. Are you bleeding? Is your helmet cracked? (You WERE wearing a helmet, weren’t you?) Any other signs that you may have serious injuries? Deal with those first. Everything else here is gravy. Well, except the next thing.
3. Stop screaming and call 9-1-1. I know, you’re not feeling any pain right now. You’re feeling PISSED. Some jerk just tried to flatten you while you were minding your own business, trying to do your health and our fast-warming planet a favor by choosing not to drive. But chances are good that said jerk wasn’t trying to run you over (though granted, he may have been). And once the adrenaline wears off, you’re gonna feel pain. I promise. It’ll be nice to have a paramedic handy when you do. Also a cop.
4. Get the driver’s name, address, and insurance information (verify these with their driver’s license and insurance card), then get names and contact info for anyone who saw the accident. With all due respect to the police, they don’t always look out for the interest of cyclists the way they should. This information could be your key to getting a fair hearing in court, and from the insurance companies should you need to replace your bike or your left elbow.
5. Chill. Find a safe place to sit down and wait for help to arrive. Repeat Step 2. And alright, now it’s OK to look at your bike. But don’t even THINK about jumping back on it and riding home until everything else is cleared up, and you’re sure that the bike still functions properly.
Easy, right? Good. Maybe you’ll do better than I did. And for extra credit, here are five other tidbits that might come in handy:
– Don’t tell the driver that you were responsible for the crash, or that it’s just a flesh wound. According to John Duggan, another Seattle attorney who specializes in bike law, saying that you were at fault, or minimizing your injuries or the damage to your bike, could work against you later in court or at the insurance office.
– Get your bike checked out by a mechanic. Once you’re sure that you’re OK, but before you ride your bike again, have a pro look it over for cracks or other damage that could cause another crash. As is true with your body, problems with your bike are not always obvious at first glance.
– There may be hope for getting insurance coverage for injuries or damage to your bike even if you ignored every word that I’ve written to this point. Anderton says that you have up to three years to make a claim — and even if you failed to get the driver’s information, your insurance may cover some of your losses.
– Don’t assume the cops are right. It’s not uncommon for police to ticket bicyclists who have been hit, according to Anderton. But laws and regulations vary from place to place — and the police may or may not be versed in the particulars. It’s not necessarily wise to challenge a cop on the spot, but you could have a lawyer look into the question after the fact. Which brings us to …
– Consider hiring a lawyer. There are plenty of people out there who, like Anderton and Duggan, specialize in bike law. Like most personal injury lawyers, they’ll probably consult for free, and charge a percentage of the winnings — if there are any.
And finally, keep on riding! When it comes down to it, you’re a lot less likely to be killed in a bike accident in this country than you are in a car — and cycling is great for your health and for the planet. And if there’s one sure way to make the streets safer for cyclists, it’s to get more cyclists out on those streets.
Need some tips for riding safely in the city? We made a video for that. It’s right here: