Monday, March 10, 2008

Car Head?

Tucson Bike Lawyer has a piece on Car Head, the all-too-common attitude that motor vehicles rule the road and the rest of us had better step aside. It rears its ugly head in those 'blame the victim' stories that pop up after any widely reported cycling fatality.

The two deaths near Cupertino on Sunday are no different. Bike Lawyer takes the Mercury News to task. I came across this:


Bike accident a reminder to respect the center stripe
By William Brand, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 03/10/2008 10:17:40 AM PDT

OAKLAND _ A crash like the one that took the lives of two Bay Area cyclists near Cupertino Sunday is a tragedy that should serve as a warning to both urban bicycle riders and motorists to respect the center stripe on a street, road or highway, the head of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition said this morning.

...The accident at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino took the lives of Matt Peterson, 30, of San Francisco, and Kristy Gough, 31, of Oakland.

One thing bicycle riders, those who commute by bike or just like to tool around the neighborhood, can do is learn safety skills, Raburn said.

Thanks to Measure B, the bond issue passed by Alameda County voter, the coalition is offering a series of "street smart" classes free in coming months in Oakland and around Alameda County. Each class is taught by League of American Bicyclists-certified instructors.

There's no mention of the driver's role in this crash, and he's the one who crossed the centerline, plowed into a group of people and killed two of them. No, the focus is on cyclists themselves. We're responsible for our own safety, apparently even when an out-of-control SUV comes at us head on.

If you read CycleDog regularly, you know that I'm a strong proponent of bicycling education. Normally I'd welcome an article focusing on the role of the League's BikeEd program, but in the context of this crash, the article reeks of blame-the-victim. If I recall right, there isn't a 'dodge the veering SUV' drill in any of LAB's material.

One story said that the sheriff's deputy may have fallen asleep at the wheel. That's something that will be checked in depth - I hope. Like any crash, the root causes should be fully investigated if only to find ways to avoid similar crashes in the future.



Blogger Jennifer said...

That's just unacceptable. I can't even think of what else to say.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Kerry said...

I saw the story about this tragic event and posted about it today on both the St. Louis Bike Fed list and STL Biking forum. I picked up the bias right away - it's just enfuriating.

The other thing that was hotly debated was the term "accident" used throughout the article. Personally, I hate that term as, in my eyes, it denotes something that is unavoidable. Falling asleep at the wheel is no accident.

The other thing I found interesting was the article on the "Good Samaritan" ( A CHP spokesman said there was non evidence that the patrolman fell asleep at the wheel. Are you kidding - what evidence would there be besides a possible slobber stain on the shirt or an admission? He says that there shouldn't be any "speculation." Here we have an admission to a bystander, and it's speculation?



8:24 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I'm sure that in aviation there's always a thorough investigation after any crash or incident. It's also standard procedure to do drug and alcohol screening on anyone involved. I imagine the police follow a similar procedure. It may be some time before any results are known - if they ever become public.

But if the deputy fell asleep at the wheel, we have to wonder why. Was he working a double shift? Does he work another job in addition to the sheriff's department?

Crashes have causes. But using 'accident' implies the event was unavoidable, an act of God that none could turn aside. I don't buy that, so I prefer using 'crash' too.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

The officer started work at 6 a.m. and it was not a double shift.

I have a lot of friends who cycle in Stevens Canyon and when I first heard the news I wondered if it was anybody I knew. I don't believe I've met any of the involved cyclists but the news is still heartbreaking to learn.

EBBC is a very fine group of people -- I know a few of them and I doubt very much that they're playing "blame the victim." The fatalities are front page news here in the Bay Area for two days now and EBBC probably are using the opportunity of the crash to get the word out that bike safety crashes are available. True, there's nothing to do about the freak circumstances of Sunday's crash, but most cyclists can manage many of the risks through education.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Edit -- " safety crashes..." should be " safety classes..." Whew, big differences.

In spite of the "car head" bias in the original reporting, the Merc News and the San Francisco Chronicle have both done a very good job of reporting since. See, for example, this story.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Fritz...thanks for the followup and the link. As the sheriff points out, it's probably best to avoid speculating about this incident. It's heartbreaking all around. Let's hope that everyone involved (and that includes the deputy) recovers from the horror, both physical and mental.

We'll know more about this after CHP completes their investigation.

5:41 PM  

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