Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rise in Cycling Deaths...cop had a DUI record?

Part I: Rise in Cycling Deaths

This is the most posting I've ever done in 3 straight days. I felt really grief-stricken yesterday; knowing they could've been my friends (and in many ways, they were; the cycling community is close, and I know that Matt was a friend of friends), knowing that could happen to any of us at any time, whether we are top racers or the average joe on a beater bike - I feel really compelled to keep up on this topic and ultimately become a better bike advocate as a result. I want to be involved with Yield to Life and I really want to join the Sonoma County Bike Coalition. Even if I can raise awareness with one driver and one cyclist at a time (cyclists need to know how to be safe, too!), perhaps I can join in the movement toward a safer road for everybody.

In any case - more was written in the SF Chronicle today (click here for full article). They had a report on how the number of cycling deaths has actually risen in recent years, while the number of cycling-vehicle related injuries has decreased:

The number of bicyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles has increased 28 percent over the past decade - from 18 to 23 deaths per year, according to a Chronicle analysis of data collected by the California Highway Patrol.

That increase is despite a 22 percent drop in the number of regional bicycle accidents between 1997 and 2006, the last year for which complete statistics are available for the nine Bay Area counties. The number of bicyclists injured in accidents over that period declined by a similar amount.
-SF Chronicle

So what you're saying is...less people are getting hit overall, but those who are unlucky enough to be hit have a higher chance of getting killed.


Hm. That's not good. Essentially, the number of urban accidents has declined and when they do happen, they usually happen at slower speeds (good ol' urban traffic) so the injuries tend to be more of the minor sort. Speed is the prime factor in whether the accident will likely result in death. Makes sense.

Sigh. TWENTY THREE PEOPLE DIED LAST YEAR FROM BEING HIT ON A BIKE IN THE BAY AREA ALONE!!!!!!!!!! Statewide that number was up to 155 in 2006 from 113 in 1997. Wow.

Seems like it's just getting scarier. I just really hate how much hostility exists between motorists and cyclists. I don't understand why I've got guys revving their engines as they go past us, why people flip us off, or why some cyclists flip off cars without even being provoked in any way. It is a two-way street (no pun intended). Some cyclists provoke cars. But let's be honest - it is often the cars that provoke us first. It's frustrating that I've lost count for the number of times some jack@$$ got pissed at me for no good reason. I was riding on the side of the road, doing my best to abide by the laws. So WTF?

The other thing I think is funny (as in, weird funny not ha-ha) is that when other motorists make traffic violations, sometimes people get pissy and flash a finger or lay on the horn, but overall, they just get over it. Yet when it's a cyclist making a traffic violation, somehow they are more deserving of every epithet and bad word out there. Or is it just because the motorist knows the cyclist can actually hear them, so they let it all out? Maybe that's it.

Okay, so I could (and many others could) go on with this topic forever. It's a moot point in some ways; the real thing to discuss is how to move forward. I honestly don't know; I keep having visions of these guys in big monster trucks zooming past me, knowing they're really wishing they could run me down (yes, that was a stereotype but I have experienced it), and wondering how to reach out to that population. We're opposites; they like big manly trucks and I like bicycles. Is there a way to reach a middle ground? That we can agree to disagree on our respective interests but still share the road? I hope the answer is yes.

Part II: Cop had a DUI record...

The SF Chronicle wants to keep us readers satisfied so they're digging for more info. I suppose that's the business of news. But since they posted it, so will I. I don't know what to make of it - I'm just delivering the updates. I guess I still want to refrain from speculating and finger pointing. We don't know the details and we won't know for awhile. There's no point in being angry at the guy without the facts. It's a useless outlet for hurt and frustration and I'm choosing not to go there. So many people have commented on the Chronicle's stories, saying angry things about the cop, about the 'special treatment,' about cyclists, and lots of hateful words being exchanged; it's pointless. The media doesn't even know half the story, so who are we to judge right now? For all we know, he really did honestly fall asleep (somebody made a good point about how there's a rise in the number of accidents the morning after Daylight Savings Time change; I found this quote from a researcher who actually studied it:
Psychologist Stanley Coren, Ph.D., from the University of British Columbia reported his research last year in The New England Journal of Medicine showing a seven percent increase in traffic accidents the day after Daylight Savings Time and a seven percent decrease in accidents in the Fall when the clocks return to Standard Time. "We're all sleep deprived anyway so that extra loss you experience is enough to lead to an accident," says Dr. Coren.
...so maybe he really did without any influence of alcohol, as people are making their leaps to conclusions).

Still too early to tell. I am curious how he was hired with that misdemeanor on his record, and if the fact that his father was a police officer has anything to do with it (I can hear all you cynics saying "DUH!" but I'm still of the watch-and-wait stance), but whatever. He's only 27 and that was 7 years ago...so uh...he was 20 or 21...boys are still pretty dumb at that age (sorry, boys).

The full article from the SF Chronicle is below:

(03-11) 12:23 PDT CUPERTINO
-- The Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy who struck and killed two competitive bicyclists Sunday was charged in 2001 in Los Angeles with drunken driving and engaging in an exhibition of speed, court records show.

The two drunken-driving charges against James Council - one count for allegedly being intoxicated and one for having a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 percent - were dismissed by the Los Angeles city attorney's office in a plea deal during the arraignment process, the prosecutor who handled the case said today.

Council, now 27, pleaded guilty only to engaging in a speed exhibition, a misdemeanor. Commissioner Gary Bindman sentenced him to 24 months of probation and fined him $713, including court costs, said Deputy City Attorney Larry Shelley. Shelley said he did not recall the specifics of the case.

According to Shelley and court records, Council's violation occurred Sept. 15, 2001. He was charged Oct. 1 of that year and pleaded guilty 28 days later.

Council was hired as a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy 18 months ago. On Sunday, he was 4 1/2 hours into a scheduled 12 1/2-hour shift when his cruiser crossed over the center line on Stevens Canyon Boulevard in Cupertino at 10:25 a.m., striking three competitive bicyclists head-on and killing two of them.

Two men who came upon the accident scene a short time after the crash said Council had said he must have fallen asleep at the wheel and didn't know what had happened.

Council is on paid leave from the Sheriff's Department while the California Highway Patrol investigates the crash.

Sgt. Don Morrissey, a spokesman for the department, said Monday that he could not legally comment on whether the department had tested Council's sobriety after the crash because it was a personnel matter. However, Morrissey said, "In incidents like this, we take blood (for drug and alcohol testing). That's our policy. And we're to the letter of our policy right now."

Council did not return a telephone call Monday seeking comment, and an older man who answered the door at his Santa Clara home told a reporter to leave.

The crash Sunday killed bicyclists Kristy Gough, 30, of San Leandro and Matt Peterson, 29, of San Francisco. The third cyclist, 20-year-old Christopher Knapp of Germany, was hospitalized at Stanford University Medical Center, where a spokesman said today he was "doing well."


Anonymous said...

I am so very sorry for the loss of another biker. My 14 year old son was killed back in 2003 { while on his bike}for the past 4 1/2 years all I see is the rates of deaths for bikers going up NOT down. My prayers go out to the family & friends.

Sarah said...

I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your son. :( My heart goes out to you.

It's really scary how those rates just keep getting higher. I hope we can change that...