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« My accident, part II: Dealing with the aftermath | Main | Correctness »
Friday
Dec212007

My accident, part I: Lessons learned

A settlement has been reached regarding a claim resulting from my accident last year.

The accident happened on December 5th 2006 when a female driver in an SUV traveling in the opposite direction, made a left turn in front of me and I ran head first into the side of the vehicle.

I was wearing a helmet at the time, but still sustained a hairline skull fracture. I had multiple bruises and the worst injury was damage to a nerve in my right eye, resulting in double vision.

The double vision was severe at first but has gradually improved to slight. Every morning when I wake, my eyes are in perfect focus, but after I have been up for 15 minutes of so, my vision goes back to double. Doctors tell me the fact that my vision varies tells them that it will return to normal in time.

I am not going to talk about the settlement itself, but now the case is resolved I can write about the accident and what I learned from this whole episode.

Lessons I learned here might be of value to others, either in avoiding a similar accident, or learning what to do should you be unfortunate enough to be in one.

The accident happened on Savannah Hwy., Charleston, South Carolina. This is a busy main road, two lanes of traffic either side, with a center turn lane. The businesses on both sides of this particular section are mostly car dealerships.

I was traveling south, it was a clear sunny day. A strong wind was blowing behind me so I was probably doing at least 25 mph. There was a steady flow of traffic in both lanes beside me, traveling in my direction. Because of this, I was not expecting anyone to turn in front of me, from the center lane.

I had just come through a traffic light, which was green, but I believe it changed to red right after I passed through. The result was, this person was sitting in the center lane waiting to turn, and did so when all the residual traffic had passed.

The problem is cars are faster than bicycles, so when the last motorized vehicle went through I was lagging behind. The driver did not see me, partly because I was hidden by the flow of traffic, but mainly because the driver was concentrating on the “gap” in traffic.

When that gap came the driver “floored it” to get quickly across the two opposing lanes. The driver then slowed to almost a complete stop to negotiate the ramp over the curb.

This gave me no chance; I was about 20 feet away when the vehicle appeared in front of me. I had about one second to react, and swerved to the left to go behind it and I might have made it had the vehicle kept moving, but the driver stopped giving me no chance.

What annoys me is, these SUVs are depicted in TV ads driving up the side of a mountain, over boulders almost as big as the vehicle. In real life a driver slows to almost a complete stop to negotiate a four inch ramp up a curb.

Lessons I learned here. Be aware of vehicles in the center lane, waiting to turn across my path. Be aware of traffic behind me, mainly by turning my head slightly and listening.

If there is a vehicle behind me that is my protection, but if there is no one behind me, look out. There maybe a gap in traffic and the person turning may not have seen me.

It may be to my advantage, if safe to do so, to move to the left to the center of the lane. This means the driver turning is more likely to see me, and if they do turn in front of me, gives me more room to maneuver and swerve behind them.

On Monday I will post a second part and talk about what you can do to protect your rights, if you are as unfortunate as I was, to be involved in an accident.

Reader Comments (17)

Glad to hear that you are improving with a diagnosis for full recovery. Hope you skinned the SUV driver.
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Strayhorn
Your description of the event is great.. I've also had similar situations happen to me.. As a result, I have changed my city riding style by taking the lane at intersections.. Turns out that bike lanes at intersections, and riding at the far right in intersections, is quite dangerous..
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Eric "Thrasher" Troili..
As described, there is no perfect solution in this situation. Moving to the center part of a lane in a busy intersection only works when there is a large gap...a rare event.

This situation is not about bike lanes or intersections as it could happen along any road where a driver needs to turn left...should we blame the wind? In this situation "the driver had to negotiate the ramp (not a street) over the curb". Given that the light at the intersection you just passed turned red, the driver should have been more patient instead of pushing the pedal.

The important lesson as you state is "to be aware of drivers in center lanes" as they are about to turn across your path...and STOP!

Look forward to Monday's entry...can you give us some insight on personal rehabilitation?
Jack
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I actually saw first-hand the same type of accident. This time however, all traffic was stopped, and there was a gap for a car to make a left into a side street. I was driving my car that day and happened to be stopped one car behind the gap--the gap is open as car drivers waiting in traffic politely let that one car needing to turn left in thru the gap.

The cyclist, a commuter like myself (this is my same commute route into the office) could not see the car waiting to turn left, and I am certain the driver could not see the poor cyclist coming along either.

The cyclist crashed head-on into the side of the car as it turned left--and he was riding about 20 mph and had no time to stop. The window glass of the passenger side of the car shattered, and the cyclist went over and bounced off the top of the car and landed on the pavement with a hard smack.

Everyone jumped out to help the cyclist, of course, and as traffic started to move I heard the EMT's coming as the Fire Station was a few blocks up the road.

I have to say I just felt sick to my stomach all morning because I have been in that same bike lane and not have realized the danger.

A co-worked who was behind me in her car, who saw the EMTs talking to the cyclist and the driver, reported the cyclist and the driver reconciling. He was not hurt other than scratches, but the older woman who had driven the car was quite shaken--and the EMTs where taking her to the hospital. My co-worker said she was white as a ghost.

When I read about Dave's accident, and recall what I saw that morning--I have to say that uneasy feeling in my stomach returns. I have definitely been more alert for just such situations!
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Bruce's Bike Blog
You've touched on one possibility, Dave, and that's riding further left in the lane. It makes a cyclist more visible to both left-turning traffic and those pulling out from a side street. Even better, it provides more maneuvering room so you can dodge to the left or make an instant turn to the right. I've done both. Finally, it (usually)prevents an overtaking motorist from making a right hook in front of us.

Take the lane. You already own it just as much as anyone else on the road.
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Ed W
thank you for the linkback Mr. Moulton. the picture of your bike gives me great pain that a piece of artwork so beautiful should be damaged.i've been whacked a few times myself and for some odd reason i was always more upset about the busted bike than my injuries.don't live in the big city anymore[Vancouver,B.C.]but still ride out on the freeway up here in the Okanagan and actually feel much safer even with the big load logging trucks rolling by. it's the clowns in the motorhomes that scare the hell out of me.c.j.g. of eroticalee
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I also had a similar accident where three roads came together and there was no light.
I was in the left of two lanes, but the woman in the car who pulled out in front of me was looking for the fabled "gap" and focused on the bus behind me.
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Brian
Jack, if there's no gap to take the lane, there's no danger from a left cross.

My very first (of a lifetime 3) close encounter of the car kind was a left cross. I was following closely behind a truck -- not drafting, just behind it -- so a driver waiting to cross the intersection didn't see me in the space behind the truck and gunned it. I was about 15 years old and sought out and found Effective Cycling shortly thereafter.
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Fritz
as a london commuter (currently 20 odd miles a day on the south circular) i have learned a few tricks for surviving in heavy traffic. unfortunately these were mostly useless when i lived in the states as the traffic generally moves much faster and wider roads make you proportionately less visible. there i learned a few new ones.
however the most important, universal rule is to be as noticeable as possible. i ride as far out into the lane as i can - dictated by the speed of other traffic- and always wear a high-viz yellow cycling shirt. cycling in london i spend most of the time passing cars, the average speed in london for motor transport is at about 9mph, this means riding like a motorcycle, passing lines of almost stationary traffic. i rarely use cycle lanes as i don't want to be between the queues and the curb. however i have the same problems as discussed above with turning and emerging vehicles looking for a gap not realising there is a cycle (traveling at an average 18mph) alongside the rows of fool car commuters. sight-lines are key . 2 years ago i was hit by a car - it had pulled over to allow oncoming traffic through down a very narrow street, cars were parked on both sides and the car had pulled in level with the parked cars driver didn't look or signal, just pulled out as i was passing. i hadn't seen the car pull in as my view down the road was obscured by a bus. normally i would be unconsciously checking the wing mirrors of parked cars for faces, pipes for exhaust - but i was half awake on my way to work. it hurt a lot. it was my first car collision for 14 years, i learned from the situation - a rarely occurring one- and when i am now in a similar one i am extra vigilant.

it takes two to have an accident regardless of degrees of culpability.

be safe,
simon
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Since you are still recovering after a year, I hope you ding the woman's insurance for a mid five figure settlement. I had my own "run in", with a car, for the first time in my 25 years of riding and racing, a few months ago. I was lucky in that my injuries didn't prevent my from starting training again in a few days. If I hadn't seen her out of the corner of my eye, she would have nailed me right in the leg and hip, from the side. As it was, I was only hit in the rear wheel.
The chances of getting hit twice in a lifetime are rather slim, so I guess that I can forget about it happening again (just kiddin')
I hope that it doesn't take too much longer for your vision to return to normal.
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Grumpy
I had the same thing happen to me just two weeks ago. I got away easy... went over the top of the SUV, tucked, rolled and got up only to see him driving away. I got up, left my glasses and bike in the road and chased after the guy, running full tilt for two blocks to catch him trying to pull his car into his garage...

I got away so lucky, esp. since it was the one night I was out without my helmet. Never again. The left turner is a killer every time, even with a 5 LED light blaring in the night. We are all lucky to be sharing these tales.

I'm glad that things worked out for you.
December 21, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter knackered
Thanks for sharing your experiences Dave, good luck on recovery and putting this incident behind you.
December 22, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Tom
I have commuted to work 237 days this year approximately 9 miles each way and endeavor to be a good citizen of the road. I believe I have made every mistake of prudence and been very fortunate to be spared injury.

I am humanizing all vehicles to refine my behavior. Imagining them as pedestrians on a boardwalk with me slightly advantaged and always approaching from behind. We have sensitivities regardless our carriage.

After ascending my mesa on a "race track" connector road I enter dense controlled city blocks where the average speed is 15 mph and my heart is going and I feel put down by the drivers calousness display of horsepower and disregard for my safety. Now I have moderated my passing and lane splitting and just request my fair turn in the line.

My history is of crashing. I would like to caution that I rode a dented frame until it cracked in half. I heard a squeak that sounded like I needed a chain lube and ignored it on my way to work and on my way home that night, on my final climb the downtube separated just behind the head tube lug. The crash which initiated this frame demise happened years ago when a car cut off the bike lane near an intersection as it was waiting behind several cars for the light to turn. I was livid of course, there was no advantage for the car to cover the bike lane, as it wasn't enough girth for them to make any progess. All reason aside however, I run into cars and I am really trying to stop.

I raced a city bus playing leap frog until it stopped at a tight spot where it could not get its hind end out of the narrow traffic lane. I was going 25 and looked over my shoulder to see if I could take the lane around the bus. When I saw a speeding pickup truck I yeilded merging but timed my speed so that there would be no space when I swerved around the bus. I made my cut with inches and made ready to give the speeding truck chase. The light turned red and I got a face full of camper shell. This is an example of being too earnest.

The left cross finally made connection with me a year ago. I was riding the speed of traffic until a considerate driver yeilded the green through direction to an oncomming left turn yeilder, because of stopped traffic ahead of the intersection. I was surprised at the sudden loss of my "blocker" and the sport coupe leaped in front of me and braked hard to the caution of the crosswalk, giving me no options but to bite down. I struck him at just two miles per hour and sacrificed my dignity for all effort of braking and fell over pathetically.

At the bottom of my big hill is the corridor for a freeway and railroad. There are gas stations, signals, turn lanes sprouting in multiples. The road is lasagna from heavy braking but this is my power zone because I am a newtonian instrument. I usually keep with the cars on the grade down and the lion's share of them disperse at angles at the base while I aim to go straight through.
Five consecutive green lights at the bottom is rare and it happened to me one day. At 38 mph I can dismiss a lot of traffic in a few seconds and the last negotiation is the railroad and trolly tracks and if I don't touch the brakes on the block before the crossing, where the pavement is smoother, there is no chance to decelerate in the final 200 feet before the railroad crossing where the pavement is brawny and pitching 6%. I was following a contractor truck at about five car lenths, and the crossing arm bell dinged and to my amazement the truck stopped cold. The last thing through my mind was "well at least I wont end up under the train".
celeritas
December 22, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
This almost exact same accident happened to me, except that the driveway was a road and I was on a motorbike at the time. The car driver actually said he saw the light his way go red and so turned without checking oncoming, his view was blocked by other cars, the road he was turning into was 30meters from the lights so of course it tok a bit longer for me to get to where he suddenly appeared. It was instantaneous, i only saw him when the side of his car was 3 metres in front of me and he was still moving at 20-25kmh. bang, acrobatic flip off bike and landed on my arse 5 metres from the other side of the car. No injuries sustained. My lesson from this and all other hits and misses is to approach intersections in such a way that all cars see me, and to use the lights only as an indicator of what the cars may be doing, not what i'm going to do...but thats a bad one Dave, especially after so many years on the bike eh?
December 23, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter gate28
I've been wondering about this story. It was the same "gap in traffic for a left turn" that was the cause for my car vs bike accident this year. The few time's I've been back on the road this winter, I've been hyper aware of gaps in traffic and places where people may turn in front of me. Right or wrong by traffic laws, I'm the only one that can insure my saftey and I'm riding more defensively now.
December 25, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter riddenwords
im not sure if motorbike insurance covers riding on a pushbike but if you are a frequent rider it might be worth checking out...

get it cheaper. get your motor bike insurance online !
Glad you're doing well, Dave.

One bit in your post is something I live by, and it has served me well in 40+ years of riding. If I'm approaching an intersection where a vehicle is about to make a left turn in front of me (signaling, in the left turn lane, etc.), I always check back to see if any vehicles are coming from behind in the direction I'm travelling. If not, I'm on the brakes.

It's particularly sketchy when you're the "last in line" to clear the intersection.
January 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Richard
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