How, Why and Should We Report All Cycling Accidents and Collisions with Motorists

By Bill Plock

Ultimately I (Bill Plock) am accountable for anything that is published on the 303Endurance Network–including the too often reports of people riding bikes colliding with people driving cars. Notice how I wrote that. Not cyclists, not motorists, not accidents, but collisions between people using different modes of transportation.

As a cyclist myself I have been hit by a person who made an error and turned left in front of me as I descended Lookout Mountain. I hit the front side of the car, the windshield, flew over the top, did a couple of somersaults, cracked my helmet and then stood up and yelled pretty loud at at the man who got out the car to make sure I was okay. He said it was the best cussing out he had ever received because he thought I was dead.

He was actually quite nice about it and completely cooperated. I was lucky…..So I get what it’s like to be hit by a person driving a car.

I feel it’s absolutely, unequivocally needed that we eliminate as many labels as possible when reporting about collisions. Even saying the word “accident” implies less than fault. Something caused a collision, they just don’t happen and in most all cases they aren’t intended–but they aren’t an accident.

So lets talk about reporting and what goes through my mind. And please feel free to offer feedback. Call me if you want, 303-808-5851. Email me if you want bill@303colorado.com. I am open minded.

We (I) just published an article that I found on 9news earlier this morning. Yet another hit and run and a person riding a bike has sustained serious injuries. I “kicked the can down the road” and simply forwarded the information. I hate doing that. HATE. But sometimes that’s all the information there is. So I called the police and talked with the public information officer and he confirmed that what was printed on 9news.com was all the information available. Fair enough.

What I learned, is that the Denver Police, and I assume it’s probably standard practice in most agencies, use Twitter as their primary news reporting and sometimes bulletins such as crime stoppers. Unless it’s an extreme situation, its really up to the media to keep a watch on these feeds for stories. So if you really want to keep up, simply follow police twitter feeds.

I also learned that anyone (again presuming availability in most areas) can go to the Denver Open Data website and find out about almost anything happening in Denver. Here is a link to the traffic data and there you can see any crash, any incident and keep updated. https://www.denvergov.org/opendata/dataset/city-and-county-of-denver-traffic-accidents

The Police officer I spoke with also said the Vision Zero website is a good place to look. Here is a link for that: https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/vision-zero.html

So here is the challenge with 303 and probably shared with other media outlets. For us specifically, we don’t have a staff or reporters whose job it is to watch police blotters and be the first one out with a story. Sure we like a scoop too, but we don’t have the bandwidth or the interest to monitor police activity. So that’s the logistical challenge for us.

Now the philosophical, heart of the challenging part. The decisions of what to report, and why to report etc.

First off, if you know me, you know it’s not about the money, or in the media’s case, selling papers, or clicks or ads. Yes we make money with paid advertising which requires an audience. I get that. I would much rather our site be about cool stories, and offer resources that help you enjoy endurance sports more. Plain and simple.

But we are also advocates for safe roads and trail access and making sure we do our part to give our chosen passions the best chances to happen under the best of circumstances. So you might say I am biased. Well, you know what, I am. But so is every media source in one way or another. I am not beholden to shareholders, stakeholders or any financial entity other than me (and my daughter :)).

So now it gets deeper. I try to be neutral as well. I want you to be confident that what you learn on the 303Endurance Network is real and authentic. You may not agree, you may get annoyed but I just want you to keep coming back.

I am finding myself in constant struggle with stories involving people riding bikes getting hit by people driving cars. I hear a lot how road cycling is suffering in participation because everyone is scared to ride on the road. I don’t believe that is the only reason. Perhaps there is a decline because of that fear but I will offer other reasons in a future article.

Yes the chances of being hit by someone driving a car while riding a bike have increased over the years but from a statistical standpoint it is still a very safe activity and we as cyclists need to do our part to make sure we are being as safe and as precautionary as possible. We need to properly share the road, use hand signals, follow traffic laws and be visible with lights and clothing.

The challenge I have when I see a story from another news source is there is very little information. Clearly the police can only report the facts they have and often stories leave you (and me) asking lots of questions. It’s appalling first off anyone would hit someone and run off–that’s just unfathomable.

But I want to know more. This incident happened at night. That alone opens up all kinds questions about lighting and such. Secondly, this incident happened Saturday night. The police tweeted this out at 10:19pm that night. The story on 9news just broke this morning. I have not seen it anywhere else. I do not follow the Police Twitter (I will now). My bad.

In this case, because the police are looking for the suspect, that reason alone is reason enough to share the story. Maybe one of you has helpful information. The fact the person was seriously hurt also contributes to my decision.

But now the really hard part. What if, (follow along with an open mind please) that cyclist had no lights, was wearing a dark outfit and was breaking traffic rules? What if, the driver hit the cyclist who they didn’t see and had stopped. This would still probably still be a story on many outlets because of the serious injury. For sure it would be tweeted out because it was a crash and there is probably a good chance it would show up on a news feed.

But should it be on 303 if I my scenario happened? Some people would argue we should report on an all incidents regarding someone who is hit, attacked, provoked or otherwise crashes on a bike. Plain and simple.

I am not sure I agree. I sometimes feel we then spread hysteria and cause more unneeded fear. I feel we then contribute to people be afraid to ride. Or maybe reporting when cyclists have done dumb things causing a crash we call them out to help build awareness. Or maybe there is an equipment failure and it’s wise to note improper use or poor manufacturing. That makes sense too.

But the reality is that in most cases that hit the police twitter feeds, there is such a rush to get the stories out, to get the scoop they get published. I run across stories with almost no information that is helpful to understand what happened. And in many cases, the person riding the bike is not able to tell the story. Thus what really happened, gets buried in lengthy legal proceedings and requires a lot of follow up bandwidth, which frankly we don’t have. So we rely on other media.

So the long and short of what we publish somewhat depends. For the most part, I am not apt to publish every story of every person riding a bike who is injured unless I know some detail or in this case today, if we as audience can help. I am also careful to distinguish between a cyclists and a person riding a bike. There is a distinct difference in my mind. I see articles with headlines such as “Cyclists stuck by car” when what may have happened is a student was on his bike crossing the street illegally and was hit.

Because we focus on cycling I feel a obligation to both report, but also promote our love of cycling so more people join us. And part of promoting is being not only accurate but also not painting a sky is falling mentality or appear like we are hoping for click bait to get more ads sold. Nothing can be further from the truth I assure you.

I wrote this long piece to not justify anything. To not make any excuses but to really solicit your thoughts and opinions. Ultimately we serve you, and what you feel is important is important to us.

Please chime in!

One thought on “How, Why and Should We Report All Cycling Accidents and Collisions with Motorists

  1. I agree, too often articles get published with not enough facts, I hate to kick someone when they are down but if they can teach us all how to be better cyclists, call them out.

    I try to call out the precious years collisions every May when we partake in the Ride of Silence procession. RideofSilence.org. It is my main opportunity to have a real sit down safety talk with cyclists and the public. I also agree that there is a difference between that person riding a bike and a cyclist.

    303 is doing a fantastic job of reporting and I give you all the credit I can. Keep up the good work.

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