by A.P. Smith
The Accident Investigation Squad
Last month, Council Member Stephen Levin put forward legislation, paired with an open letter to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, that would require the NYPD to follow the state law requiring cops to investigate collisions involving bicycles that result in serious physical injury. Currently, the NYPD is only mandated to investigate collisions where the police believe “death is likely.” In addition, the Accident Investigation Squad (AIS) employs only 23 officers who are responsible for investigating fatal accidents citywide. Levin’s proposed legislation would increase that number to 380.
The proposal comes after a series of tragic accidents involving motor vehicles and bicycles where no investigation was conducted, or the investigation was botched by non-collection or withholding of evidence. That was the case in the recent death of Mathieu Lefevre, 30, an artist who was killed in Williamsburg by a truck driver who left the scene of the accident and who did not face criminal charges.
A year earlier, cyclist Michelle Matso, 30, was the victim of a hit-and-run in Greenpoint that critically injured her, and her boyfriend who was also struck by the car. Matso’s skull was fractured, her spine broken, and her lower left leg shattered. No investigation was conducted because the NYPD AIS determined that Matso’s injuries were not life threatening.
Needless to say, these two cases exemplify extreme tragedy. As a bicyclist in NYC, they have been a wake-up call for me and have sent me on a research binge to determine what rights and responsibilities cyclists have in this city—and around the nation.
For instance, by law, motorists in New York must carry no-fault and minimum liability insurance. So it is most likely that a bicyclist involved in an accident has at least medical coverage from the motorist to treat her or his injuries, regardless of whose fault the accident may be.
Another piece of information to keep in mind is that, when in an accident, or shortly thereafter, your injuries may seem insignificant, or you may feel just fine. But symptoms of internal injuries can take hours, or even days, to show up. Our bodies are delicate, and even minor injuries to ankles, knees, hands, or wrists can become impairments if not cared for properly.
Please be safe and cautious on your bicycle. While the city and the NYPD may not be eager to help you, there are bicycle advocacy groups like Transportation Alternatives (TransAlt.org), BikeBlogNYC.com, BikeNewYork.com, and BikeSafeNYC.com that can be excellent resources for New York City cyclists.
The Bicyclist’s Accident Report
The Bicyclist’s Accident Report is a business card–sized pamphlet that every NYC cyclist should have. Conceived by Josh Zisson, a bicycle lawyer from Boston, the card was designed by Tim Jacques and distributed in NYC by Article an artistic publishing house creating art zines, apparel, albums and films. Visit ArticleMethod.com for a list of brick-and-mortar locations carrying the card.
Zisson started his Boston law firm just over a year ago to practice bike law. “It’s sort of an awkward situation when you’ve just been hit by a car,” he says. “No one really knows the protocol when you’re on a bike. The idea that you need to get the driver’s information at the scene immediately is what I wanted to convey to cyclists. Thinking about the accident reports that AAA gives you to keep in the glove box of your car, I thought it was a good idea to make one for bicyclists that you could keep in your wallet.”
While Zisson has always been an avid cyclist, what really brought his attention to Massachusetts state bike law was when a friend of his got doored. “I was the first person she called,” he says. “She was at the scene, she didn’t know what to do, and I did my best to talk her through it.” Zisson then referred the case to a personal injury firm he had worked at. And while he didn’t have his own firm at that point, he was able to work on the case. This was in 2009, only a few months after Massachusetts passed the 2009 Bike Safety Law, which Zisson describes as “some of the most comprehensive bike laws in the country—really fantastic, well-drafted, and it provides unparalleled protection for cyclists.” It was then that Zisson knew he could build a practice around bike law.
Since initially publishing the Massachusetts Bicyclist Accident Report cards, Zisson has developed a network of distributors in over ten cities, with over 80,000 cards in circulation, and growing. He is putting finishing touches on cards for Hoboken, NJ; San Luis Obispo, CA; and Chicago. “We’re rolling them out as quickly as we can put them together,” and says he will visit NYC in May, for “Bike Month,” with a focus on distributing cards.
Each card is tailored to the unique bike laws of its state and city, and includes a toll free number for injured cyclists to call for legal referral: 1-800-564-BIKE. When cyclists call the number, they are connected with a bike-law specialist who records the details of the crash and refers them to a qualified bike lawyer in their city. “The attorneys in the Bike Safe referral network are carefully vetted to ensure that they are not only competent and experienced, but also committed to biking and bike advocacy,” says Zisson.
You are not alone! Please join the Bike Safe Network and support bicycle advocacy nationwide. If you’re ever in a bike accident, take down all the information you can about the vehicle, the driver, any witnesses (including phones and addresses) and call 1-800-564-BIKE or visit BikeSafeNYC.com
Cards are included with all online purchases on his website, and can be found at the following locations around New York City:
453 Graham Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
171 Park Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
195 Morgan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11237
476 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215
278 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11201
244 & 250 Lafayette St.
New York, NY 10012
If you would like to distribute The Bicyclist’s Accident Report, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bike Laws NYC
A sampling of laws—some common sense, others not…From the New York City Department of Transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner
§ 4-02 (a) – Compliance with and Effect of Traffic Rules
The provisions of NYC Traffic Rules are applicable to bicycles and their operators.
§ 4-12 (e) – Driver’s hand on steering device
Driver of a bicycle must have hand on steering device or handlebars.
§ 4-12 (p) – Bicycles
Bicycle riders must use bike path or lane, if provided, except for access, safety, turns, etc. // Other vehicles shall not drive on or across bike lanes except for access, safety, turns, etc. // Bicyclists may use either side of a 40-foot-wide one-way roadway.
§ 19-176 – Bicycles operation on sidewalks prohibited
Bicycles ridden on sidewalks may be confiscated and riders may be subject to legal sanctions.
§ 375 (24-a) – Equipment
Rider cannot wear more than one earphone attached to radio, tape player, or other audio device while riding.
§ 1236 – Lamps and other equipment
White headlight and red taillight must be used from dusk to dawn // Bell or other audible signal (not whistle) required // Working brakes required // Reflective tires and/or other reflective devices required.
There are roughly one billion bicycles in the world, about twice as many as motor vehicles.
Americans use their bicycles for less than 1% of all urban trips. Europeans bike in cities a lot more often—in Italy 5% of all trips are on bicycle, 30% in the Netherlands. And seven out of eight Dutch people over the age of 15 have a bike.
The first bike path in America opened in Brooklyn in 1894.
According to Transportation Alternatives (TransAlt.org), 10% of New York City’s work force (approximately 65,000 people) commute by bicycle.
More people are killed in traffic accidents than by guns in New York City. According to a study by the city’s Department of Health, someone died in city traffic every 29 hours, on average, from 2005 to 2009.
The NYPD issued more summonses to cyclists than truck drivers last year: truckers got 14,962 moving violation summonses and 10,415 Criminal Court summonses, while cyclists got 13,743 moving violation summonses and a whopping 34,813 Criminal Court summonses.
According to the city Department of Transportation, driver negligence is responsible for more than 60% of all crashes in which pedestrians or bicyclists are killed or injured.
Drivers killed 241 pedestrians or cyclists last year. Only 17 of the drivers responsible faced criminal charges.
A study found almost three-quarters of fatal crashes (74%) in NYC involved a head injury, and that nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet. Helmets have been found to be 85% effective in preventing head injury.
Only 13 states have no state or local helmet laws at all: Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.