As regular readers know, I’ve been working on a report discussing each and every fatal bicycle crash in Ohio in 2010. As I am wandering through mountains of data, reams of paper, hundreds of photographs and more, some interesting information has been popping up which I thought I would share.
Gathering data for this report has been challenging. Fortunately, the Ohio Department of Public Safety has been very cooperative. They have provided me with a series of 250+ page reports for each year from 2005-2010. Six years of data containing information about every BIKE CRASH in Ohio – all 12,084 crashes.
That seems like a lot of bike crashes – more than 12,000. But, considering that Ohioans were involved in more than 1.6 MILLION crashes from 2005-2009 [2010 stats are not in yet], those 12,000 bike crashes don’t seem so bad.
From 2005-2010, road crashes took the lives of 94 bicycle operators. That’s an average of almost 16 per year. There were just ELEVEN in 2010. During the 2005-2009 period, more than Ohio 6,000 motorists lost their lives in those 1.6 million crashes.
To put some perspective on Ohio’s figures, look at a state like Florida. Florida has 18,000,000 people while Ohio has 11,000,000. But Florida leads the nation, by far, in cycling deaths. I’m not quite sure why this is – a variety of reasons, no doubt, including an aging population, narrow/crowded roads, great cycling weather, lots of tourists, etc, etc… but I’m not sure there is rationale explanation for the NUMBERS.
Florida had almost 3,000 traffic fatalities and 125 bicycle rider deaths in 2008 [most recent NHTSA stats]. That is almost TEN TIMES the number of cycling fatalities Ohio had in 2010 and amounts to 6.82 deaths for every million people in the state. Ohio’s rate is 1.57 cycling deaths per million people.
2010 ANOMALIES IN OHIO
As I indicated, ODPS provided me with these HUGE wonderful reports of more than 12,000 bike crashes. I told myself, and YOU dear reader, I was NOT going to look at sheer statistics for my report on 2010 fatalities… but I couldn’t resist.
When I was asked to write an op-ed piece for the Columbus Dispatch, I wanted to take a look at Franklin County specifically. The ODPS reports are broken down by county, so I was quickly able to determine that in 2010 there were 241 bike crashes in Columbus. Cyclists were blamed for causing 110 [45.6%] while motorists were blamed for causing 104 [43.1%] with the balance being “undetermined.” This roughly 50/50 balance is fairly consistent with some figures I have seen and inconsistent with others which claim that motorists cause NINETY percent of car/bike crashes and inconsistent with others which claim that cyclists are cited more often than motorists for being at fault. A study in NYC claims that motorists were principally at fault in 57% of the 53 cyclist deaths they studied and a contributory factor in 78%!
[I should point out that the ODPS report I received was printed in December 2010. However, I have since learned that it takes months for all the 2010 crashes to make it into the statistical report the ODPS puts together. I am awaiting a new report, updated with the most current data, which I will use for my final Study. SEE UPDATED INFORMATION AT THE END OF THIS POST]
I also looked up close and personal at High Street in Columbus. There were 25 bike/car crashes on High Street in 2010! I haven’t looked at every county, but I’ve looked at most of the big ones in Ohio and 25 is, by far, the most bike/car crashes I have seen on any one street [albeit a very very long one…] In the High Street crashes, Police blamed the cyclist for causing only FIVE of the those 25 crashes [20%] while issuing citations to the motorist in SIXTEEN crashes [64%]. The remaining four were called “undetermined.”
The vast majority of the High Street crashes were caused by motorists who committed some sort of “right of way” violation – following too closely [ACDA], right cross & left hook, or a bad passing maneuver.
The problem with the ODPS reports that I am looking is that you have to accept the officer’s street level, on-the-spot conclusion as to “fault” without argument or analysis. The only way to independently determine if the officer was “right” in blaming one side or the other is to get the actual report and review it with an accident reconstructionist’s eye. In MANY crash reports, there is simply not enough information written down by the officer to permit this even if you had the time and inclination to do so!
In my experience of handling almost 300 “bike” cases, I have reason to suspect that there is a lot of street level error in the “fault” analysis. I have had many cases where the cyclist was told at the scene that the crash was his/her fault by the investigating police. I have many times been able to proceed on a civil claim for the cyclist against the motorist, arguing that the investigating officer didn’t get it “right.”
This is why my 2010 Report will look in detail at all FATAL bike crashes. Virtually every fatal crash in Ohio is thoroughly investigated. Witnesses are interviewed. Careful scene measurements were taken. An accident reconstruction is often performed. Numerous scene photographs are taken. ALL of this information is publicaly available … IF you know where it is and how to get it… which,of course, I do.
However, the Columbus/Franklin County crash data got me to wondering about other big city areas in Ohio. I write a regular column for the Dayton Cycling Club’s newsletter and so I thought I would take a close look at Montgomery County’s 2010 bicycle crash stats … to say I was shocked was an understatement!
Montgomery County had 83 car/bike crashes listed in the report – 14 to a page and almost six full pages worth. As I started reviewing each line of data I noticed that the vast majority of the crashes on each page were blamed on the CYCLIST. At the end, it appeared that police in Montgomery County blamed the cyclists in 59 of the 83 crashes – a whopping 71%. Motorists were only blamed for causing 18% of the crashes [15 of 83] while 9 were said to be “undetermined.”
71% vs. 18% – that’s a HUGE difference from the almost 50/50 split I saw in Franklin County. Are Dayton cyclists that much worse at obeying the law, and that much better at causing crashes, than their brethren in Columbus? Didn’t make sense.
So I looked at Hamilton County. 117 car/bike crashes in 2010. Bike riders were blamed in 51% and motorists blamed in 38% with 12 crashes being “undetermined.” Not quite 50/50, but a lot closer than Dayton.
Cleveland was next, and was also a shocker. Motorists in Cleveland [Cuyahoga County] were blamed for causing 144 of the 301 bike/car crashes in 2010 – or 47%. The bike rider was blamed for causing only 31% [93 crashes] while 21% [64 crashes] were listed as undetermined.
So, here’s a summary of a few Ohio counties:
I haven’t had time to compute the other “bigger” counties in Ohio but will update this post when I do. But, so far, the results are surprising, to say the least.
I guess what I need here is an unpaid intern who would love to do this analysis for all 12,000+ cases, county by county, from 2005-2010… I think we would have one HUGE pile of interesting statistics – especially if, say, Dayton continued to be way off from everyone else. That could indicate some sort of systemic issue within the investigating police departments – or a complete lack of safety consciousness of the riders [which I highly doubt].
Stay tuned for more peripheral, tangential news from the 2010 Ohio Fatal Bike Crash!
Well, I requested updated data from ODPS and today got another 250 page report for 2010. Apparently, crash reports are still trickling in from Ohio’s more than 800 police departments. This report indicates that there were 2007 Total Bike Crashes in Ohio in 2010 [up from the 1809 crashes listed in the first report I received several months ago]. This report also lists 13 fatal crashes, up from 11 in the 1st report, and 1686 injuries – up from 1530.
I have begun to go through the report, teasing out the data that is of interest to me. This includes a re-look at Montgomery County, which had such bad numbers – as cited above. The latest report is a bit different.
This is an improvement over the initial figures, but still an aberration since motorists are blamed for causing only 1 out of 4 bike crashes. I haven’t had time to go through to figure out which cases which were previously designated the cyclist’s fault were changed… this would be SO much easier if the data were pliable – and the whole “let’s practice law” thing didn’t invade into non-legal pro bono research projects…
The numbers are going to be slightly different for all the bigger counties – so I’ll regroup and repost later with updated figures.
Good Luck and Good Riding!
Steve Magas, The Bike Lawyer