The first automobile accident in the United States was in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist, causing the cyclist to break a leg. And that was just the beginning. From there, it was downhill for cyclists.
When a motorist and cyclist collide, the cyclist invariably bears the brunt of the damage. But the truth is that’s just the beginning. After the cyclist is injured or killed because of some distracted motorist’s negligence, the police often find some way to ride roughshod over the cyclist in their accident reports. From my experience representing injured bicyclists throughout the Syracuse and Central New York area, I can say that the police often seem to find a way to blame the cyclist and pardon the motorist. Forget about the forensic evidence at the scene — the police are likely to sympathize with, and believe, the motorist’s excuse that the cyclist “just came out of nowhere”.
Like most people who drive cars but don’t ride bikes, police tend to have subconscious biases in favor of motorists and against cyclists. And unless you have a good New York bicycle accident lawyer who knows how to carefully screen juries for anti-cyclist or anti-motorcyclist prejudice, the jury will likely do you in, too.
But let’s just talk about those biased police reports for a minute. The New York Times reports that cyclists and their allies are taking a stand against them. Enough is enough, they say. The galvanizing force for this uprising is the NYPD’s handling of the death of cyclist Mathieu LeFevre, who bit the dust when a flatbed truck crushed him. The driver, who appears to have clearly been at fault, was not charged with any crime.
The cyclist’s family, outraged, “foiled” (made a freedom of information law request for) the police file, but were denied access. The family then sued the police, which spurred them to hand over some, but clearly not all, the file materials. How do we know? Because the materials contained no accident scene photos, which is unheard of in a fatal motor vehicle accident. But wait — the police had a good excuse —- the investigator’s camera was broken! Gee, that was sure bad luck, right?
Well, not really. During a later hearing, the NYPD released the accident scene photos it claimed not to have had! Guess the camera wasn’t so broken after all.
Enough is enough already. Let’s level the playing field for bicyclists. I believe that, just as police should be educated about their own racial and ethnic biases, and trained to overcome them, so too should they be trained and educated about their pro-motorist and anti-cyclist biases, so that they can overcome them. Hey, maybe they should all have to do 100 hours on a bike per year, just to see the world from a cyclist’s perspective.
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