WASHINGTON — A woman cycling in Arlington recently was hit by a car in the crosswalk, yet she got a ticket — in the hospital.
Evan Wilder, a bike commuter, says a similar thing happened to him in D.C.
Wilder, a photojournalist who has taken to wearing a GoPro camera during his commutes, says he was heading home last Friday on R Street in Northeast when a pickup truck followed closely beside him, then suddenly cut him off. Wilder says he slammed on his brakes, but was unable to avoid a collision.
Wilder says the video shows the irate driver picking up his damaged bike and tossing it into the back of the pickup. The force of the man’s action resulted in the bike bouncing right out of the truck bed and back onto the street. Wilder says he called 911 to report the incident, but after he was taken to the hospital for a checkup, he was the one who was ticketed.
“I get to the ER, and I’m waiting for the doctors there. The police officer shows up,” says Wilder, who adds that police told him he was being cited for an infraction. “I received a $100 ticket for following too closely.”
Wilder says the police ticket doesn’t reflect the driver’s behavior; instead it cites Wilder for failing to avoid the crash by following too closely. But it’s Wilder’s contention that the crash wouldn’t have happened if the truck hadn’t suddenly veered into his path.
Wilder is fighting the ticket — he says the ticket has several errors, including the documentation of the location of the crash — and says he’s been in touch with police, who are reviewing his video.
A spokesperson with the Metropolitan Police Department, Gwendolyn Crump, says the department is investigating the crash and reviewing the video. When the review is complete, the department will decide whether to change the “classification of this incident.”
Wilder’s name and experience may sound familiar. In 2011, Wilder videotaped an incident in which a driver yelled at him to move to the right. When Wilder called out, “What’s that?” The driver replied, “You heard me” and veered to the right. And still on his bike, Wilder hit the pavement. In that case, a warrant was issued for the driver, who turned out to be a retired Metropolitan Police Department officer.
Greg Billing, with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says he can’t speak to the specifics in the Arlington or D.C. cases, but that, “Unfortunately it is a common experience that cyclists are incorrectly cited after a crash.”
Billing says sometimes that’s because police aren’t as familiar with the laws regarding bicycles as they are with other vehicles.
Billing says if you’re involved in a crash as a cyclist, your first priority is, of course, your physical safety. But you should get as much information as you can.
“Do your best to collect any information from witnesses,” Billing says.
Take photos and get information from the driver as well.
“All of that information is very important, later during the investigation.”
And as with any collision, “It’s always good to get medical attention and make sure to get checked out … and then to follow doctor’s orders.”
WABA and Billing say drivers need to update their own understanding of the rules of the road. With biking becoming more popular, both in the District and in the suburbs, it’s more important than ever that everyone knows how to share the road.
For example, Billing points out, it’s now the law in D.C., Maryland and Virginia that drivers must give cyclists a three-foot buffer when passing. And he reminds drivers that under law, bikes are vehicles and have a right to road space. “Honking, following too closely — those are rude behaviors,” and dangerous, Billing says.
While the law in D.C. says cyclists should stay as far to the right as is practicable, Billing points out that many things will force a rider to the left or to the center of the lane, including debris or potholes, so drivers should give cyclists plenty of space.
Drivers often express frustration when they see bikes outside the bike lane, but cyclists are not restricted to that lane, and have to give themselves enough space from parked cars to avoid “dooring” — when a driver or passenger in a parked car opens their door into the traffic lane without looking.
Billing says the bottom line is that with the bike boom that seems to be continuing in D.C. — more bike lanes are being added this spring, including a protected bike lane on 1st Street in Northeast — it’s important for everyone to review the rules of the road and follow them.