Bike photos by Steve Magas, a race in Walnut Hills, a bike rack at Ride Cincinnati, A ghost bike dedication ceremony and a beautiful bike bell

Protecting The Rights Of Those Who Ride

Steve Magas is Ohio's Bike Lawyer. He has written about Ohio Bike Laws, bike crashes, bicycle advocacy and court cases for some 30 years. Soon we'll be adding a series of features about your favorite Ohio bike shops.

THE BLS [BORING LEGAL SHIIIII…ER…STUFF…] REVISITED

Some years ago I wrote a piece about The BLS – The Boring Legal Shiiii…er… Stuff – that regular road cyclists ought to think about. Adventure Cycling picked up it… One day I got a call  someone at the Wall Street Journal to talk about it! What a thing.

It’s been a while now, so I thought I’d re-visit the BLS and make sure folks out there really Got It!

What is the BLS? The BLS is the Boring Legal Stuff you need to think about BEFORE you hop on the bike and ride. Basically boring stuff like INSURANCE and even Estate Planning. In  this piece we’ll talk about … YAWWWWWWNNNNN…. INSURANCE.

What happens if you crash? What if someone runs you over? What if YOU clobber a pedestrian and get sued? What if you die?

When you are loading your panniers and lubing your chain in preparation for your multi-state tour what data should you take with you?
The failure to think about the BLS NOW can end up costing you time, money, safety and peace of mind.

THE BLS – PART ONE – INSURANCE PLANNING

HEALTH – AUTO – UMBRELLA – DISABILITY – HOMEOWNERS

Health Insurance
Take your health insurance information on EVERY ride. Keep it close at hand. Better yet, make a copy of your health insurance card, your driver’s license, a list of medical allergies and your emergency contact information and stick it in a small baggie that you take with you on every ride.
== == == == == == == ==

[SIDENOTE from the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: If you want one of my handy dandy “BIKE LAW” cards for your baggie just send me a note & I’ll ship some to you!]

== == == == == == == ==

Read the rest of this entry »


2019 – An UGLY Year on Ohio’s Roads

2019 was an ugly year on Ohio’s roads. We have documented some 23 fatal bicycle crashes…23 cyclists killed on the roadway. There was one in February- one in May – four in June – eight in July – three in August and six in September. The cyclists killed range in age from 12 year old Lynette Shirk, who was killed in Richland County on sunny Sunday morning in June just outside Mansfield as she rode her bike home from church, to 88 year-old Clyde Ernsberger, who may or may not have ridden through a red light on Morse Road in Columbus on a cloudy September afternoon.

Ohio’s 23 fatal crashes included riders riding at night with no lights or reflectors, riders inexplicably hit from behind, riders who ran stop signs, riders struck by motorists who ran stop signs, riders riding the wrong way at night, riders struck by hit & run criminals and a rider who was racing in an Ironman event.

Of the 23 riders killed, 20 were men. The average age was 48.6. In this regard Ohio is statistically in line with the rest of the country. The IIHS [Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]  reports that 85+% of cyclists killed nationally are male.

In 1975, the worst year for cycling fatalities, there were 1003 cyclists killed around the country. However, the demographics were completely different. In 1975 the majority of the bicyclists killed were… KIDS!  Folks under the age of 18. As as the kids of the 60s and 70s grew into adulthood they kept riding… they are STILL riding. The number of riders killed started to drop. In the 1980s the average number of cyclists killed each year was less than the 70s. The average killed in the 1990s was less than the 1980s and the average number of cyclists killed in the 2000’s was less than in the 1990s.

As I’ve written before, though, this changed around 2009 – the numbers are coming UP again. Ohio, for years, averaged around 16 cyclists killed annually. However, from 2015-2019 Ohio has averaged 21 cyclists killed by motorists… a significant jump. Nationally, while the fatality numbers are still down from 1970s and 1980s, they are UP 38% since 2010.

Meanwhile, motorists are killing each other at slightly LOWER rates. Data from FARS tells us that starting in 2009, the total number of traffic fatalities has been LOWER during the past 10 years than in previous decades, despite increases in the number of cyclists [and pedestrians] killed.

What ELSE came about in the 2008-2009 time frame that could be contributing the crashes killing cyclists and pedestrians but not motorists?

As I’ve said before, to ME the logical/obvious thing to look at is pretty simple – SMART/INTERNET PHONES + FASTER INTERNET SPEEDS + SOCIAL MEDIA = MORE DRIVERS NOT PAYING ATTENTION – 

I suspect that just about EVERYBODY thinks they are a “good driver” – certainly “better than average” – as Lake Woebegone Syndrome runs rampant. Everybody thinks they can handle their phone safely while driving. Phones/Internet/Social Media of Today didn’t exist in 2008. Phones were not that fast – they didn’t take great photos or video. In 2008 very few people were posting photos or video to the internet, or “following” people on Instagram or using any of the apps like SnapChat etc as they hadn’t been invented yet. Faster phones with better camera combined with 4G/5G internet speeds and very cool social media apps allowed folks to access EVERYTHING from the “safety & comfort” of their seat behind the wheel of their moving vehicle.

In fact, people looking at their cell phones may even slow down a bit,  making them less of a fatal risk to other road users who are encased in 2 tons of steel.  However, when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists, a “speed” that KILLS is much lower … A 45 mph car/car crash may not kill anyone in the cars, but a 45 mph car/bike or car/pedestrian crash is likely to be unsurvivable. A motorist who spends 5 seconds reading a text or looking at a cute kitten video travels 330 feet – 110 yards – more than a FOOTBALL FIELD at 45 mph. They are basically driving with a paper bag over their heads- incredibly UNSAFE behavior that is likely to result in the death or maiming of any pedestrian or cyclist in their path.

Each of Ohio’s 23 fatal bike crashes in 2019 was unique – each left a family shattered – each is a tragedy, regardless of fault. We owe it to our cycling community to figure out WHY the numbers are going up… and to do something about it…

One step that is being taken in Ohio is the recent introduction of House Bill 468 which would alter current Ohio law and make texting while driving a PRIMARY offense. This means that if an officer sees you checking out your phone you can be pulled over. Whether this is a good idea or not may be debated in the Ohio legislature if the bill works its way to the floor. Right now, it is in the very first stage- it is introduced. You’ll be hearing more about it as time goes on.

Let’s be careful out there!

 


What Makes a City “Dangerous” for Cycling?

I read this article about how San Antonio was added to a list of “The Most Deadly Cities for Cyclists.” These stories always grab my attention, mostly because I want to see how they made the list… what criteria did they use? This article then mentions Dayton, Ohio as being on the list. As one who tracks EVERY fatal bike crash in Ohio I know that Ohio … by and large… is very safe compared to, say, Florida or other deadly cycling hotspots. So I dug a bit deeper.

OH… I see… San Antonio, and Dayton, were both on a list developed “according to an analysis of federal data by the insurance-shopping site CarInsurance.org.”

Something tells me that “CarInsurance.org” has motives that may be inconsistent with riding a bicycle, but hey, who knows…

The CarInsurance story starts off with a very real key stat – after several decades of declining numbers, Cycling Fatalities are UP in the past decade.

 

Remarkably, CarInsurance.org fails to see the connection between how people are driving cars and why more people NOT in cars are getting killed.

CarInsurance.org then makes the silly statement that “Increases in cyclist fatalities have occurred alongside increases in bike share programs and the number of cyclists commuting to work. In 2017, there were nearly 800,000 commuters nationwide who rode their bicycles to work, representing 0.5 percent of all commuters. While the share of bike commuters has remained steady in recent years, the fatality rate per 100,000 bike commuters is at a ten-year high.”

So… the number of commuters has gone up and deaths are going up and bike share programs are increasing and… VOILA… “Therefore” … Ta Da… what? There’s some magical connection between the numbers?

No… that’s not how this works…that’s not how ANY of this works…

 

 

Read the rest of this entry »


Supreme Court Ruling on Dangerous Dogs

DOGS…

I love Dogs… But… they can be a REAL nuisance to cyclists & pedestrians… To the cyclist they present a couple of problems… first, you could get bit by a dog. However, I’ve done over 50 “dog/bike” cases and in only a few was the cyclist actually bitten. Rather, dogs like to chase cyclists… sometimes they simply run into them …. or in front of them… I had one case where some German Shepherds came onto the road and split up a group of riders, cornering the last one. She tried to stop but fell over and suffered an ulnar nerve injury in her hand… the dogs ran back to the porch.  I’ve had cases involving bicycle crashes caused by huge dogs and cases with puppies – cases with vicious dogs and cases with dogs that would walk up and lick your hand after you crashed.

In each case the cyclist got hurt – sometimes very badly. In each of those situations the dog owner is liable to the cyclist for typical personal injury “damages.” This includes paying all medical bills, wage loss and other out of pockets as well as covering any future treatment, permanent injuries and “pain and suffering.” Since many jurors find dog attacks very scary, the risk to the dog owner is that a jury will award a bigger verdict.  In each case reflected above we successfully recovered money from the dog owner -typically through the homeowner’s policy.

 

Read the rest of this entry »


NY’s Torturro Case – New York City PAYS for its Failure to Consider Basic Traffic Calming – Vision Zero measures

In 2017 New York’s highest court upheld, in a 6-1 decision, a judgment against NYC in a case in which a young cyclist was struck and killed by a criminal motorist. The case was crystal clear against the driver. The motorist had a long, ugly history of bad driving – speeding -driving without a license. But the family’s attorney took another approach- an extraordinary argument. He sued the city …claiming the city’s failure to apply some traffic calming measures to a street KNOWN to be horribly dangerous was a contributing factor to the crash… The Jury agreed, assigning 50% liability to NYC, 40% to the motorist and 10% to the young boy who was killed while riding at night.
 
The case – Torturro v. City of New York – was a 6-1 decision from NY’s highest court. It held, in essence, that NY cities faced possible tort liability to victims of crashes.
Greg Shill wrote a short summary of the case here  – https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2961099
Anyone arguing in favor of a “Vision Zero” policy should know this case backwards and forwards as it presents a road map for imposing significant liability on a city, in the right case, for failing to implement some “Vision Zero” ideas …
 

Read the rest of this entry »


COMING SOON…ish… A Book… YouTube Videos… Podcasts… All the COOL KID stuff!

BIKE LAW 101

For the past few years I have been presenting a “talk” to bike clubs and groups, which has morphed into a “Continuing Legal Education” class for lawyers & Judges. I call it …well… I call it a lot of things… but mostly I call it BIKELAW 101.

I delve into the History of the BIKE- it is a very VISUAL Powerpoint that starts on Day 1, with Karl Von Draise’s two-wheeled “hobby horse” invention and moves through the BoneShaker and the Penny Farthing and MANY other colorful and unique wheeled mobility devices before settling on The Safety.

I talk about how the BIKE CHANGED THE WORLD. How the Bike impacted Culture… Society… the Law… How the Bike fueled the Women’s Movement back in the 80s… um.. that’d be the EIGHTEEN EIGHTIES…

I use all of that to try to help folks understand the PASSION we bring to Cycling today… not just racing … or touring… or doing…whatever it is …hipsters on fixies do… no… I try to get to the fundamental question… the basic core of the DNA that drives us to ride… Here it is…

Are you ready…

The suspense is killing me…

OK…OK… Here is Cycling’s little secret…

Cycling Is FUN!

That’s it… you get on the bike and it’s FUN… it’s fun to move about … it’s fun to coast… there’s nothing un-fun about it…

The great actor/comedian Robin Williams was quite the cycling fanatic… he said:

 

 

Read the rest of this entry »


One of My First “Big” Bike Cases – Litigating Against Cannondale

A thread on a Facebook cycling page about Klein bikes reminded me of one of the early “big” bike cases I worked on … a 1980’s products liability case against Cannondale in Florida.
 
My client was an MD/neurologist. He and his wife, a PhD neuropsychologist, were huge cycling fans and would get the “first” of everything that came out in the bike world. They lived in a gorgeous home on the intercostal waterway near Fort Lauderdale, FL and had something like 28 bikes hanging on the walls of their home like sculpture.
 
She ordered him an aluminum frame bike from Cannondale right after they heard Cannondale was making them. She called the factory directly to place the order. He was a tall guy and the frame was … well…  a very large frame. This was before Cannondale figured out that they needed “fat” tubes- the big frame tubing was the same diameter as steel tubing of the day…
 
The bike was ridden a bit and spent a lot of time up on the wall. One day the doc took it down and took a ride. He got chased by a little red car around one of Florida’s traffic island/roundabouts. He saw an opening an ducked into it to try to get away from the car. Unfortunately, he hit a curb – and the head tube sheared off completely from the bike frame… The doc did a face plant into the pavement and suffered a brain injury which prevented him from practicing medicine.
 
I got a call here in Ohio from the doc’s wife down in Florida  on a Friday night and hopped a flight to FL Saturday morning. I brought two excellent FL product liability lawyers into the case and we worked it… and worked it… for several years. They did the heavy lifting, by far… I got to travel to CT & take the depositions of the Cannondale people. We retained a crash expert who analyzed what happened and a PhD metallurgist who examined a bit of the frame under an electron microscope & told us that the aluminum frame was improperly heat treated, causing weak spots right where the head tube snapped off. We heard that the defense spent $250K+ in experts. Our team spent well over $100K as well.
 
During the course of our case Cannondale issued a shop bulletin warning to all bike shops to be on the lookout for cracks in their frames… right in the area where our bike failed… so we figured we were clearly on the right track!
 
As the case moved along towards trial in FL we were able to fight off the defense attacks pretty effectively. However, they really seemed bent on taking the case to trial Then… our expert found a key video- from a completely different case – which really swayed the case towards settlement.
One theory of the defense was that when the doc hit the curb he was probably going to crash anyway, regardless of any defect in the bike frame – and he was likely suffer a head injury. In fact, the main crash reconstruction expert for the defense even developed a little video, showing a “stick man” on a “stick” bike… very primitive but hey it was 1980s technology…

However, our expert remembered that the main defense expert had been an expert in a Quick Release case some years earlier. In THAT case his job was defend the QR company in a case in which the QR came apart  or failed when a bike hit… a curb. To help do that the expert produced a video- in Super Slow Motion – which showed him riding a bike into a curb at different speeds…in each video the front fork flexes and the wheel hops up the curb… i.e., the QR didn’t “fail.”

In our case the expert had opined that it was “too dangerous” to have a human ride a bike into a curb [since their theory was that the crash/head injury was unavoidable.  Our expert was also in that old QR case –  for the other side –  and had the SloMo video buried in his files …one he found it we were able use that video to show that the defense theory of “oh he was going to crash anyway” was just BS… That video put the entire defense on the defensive as the credibility of their main expert was washed away…
 
Eventually we settled on the day of trial – literally on the Courthouse steps. Sadly, the doc passed away some years later as complications from his injuries caught up to him…
 
Part of my research in that case involved learning about aluminum and heat treatment processes. To that end I enjoyed having a long conversation with Gary Klein one afternoon as he had developed a process, and ended up in litigation with Cannondale over it…
https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/884/1399/464210/

Everything Changed in 2009… I Wonder Why…

Pedestrian crashes SEEM to be in the news a lot… it SEEMS like there’s a bunch of them, right?

Well… the data confirms that.

The GHSA looked at the data. First they compared 2008 to 2017. They found that overall traffic deaths were 6% LOWER in 2017…but… pedestrian fatalities were up a whopping 35%! So while all the Car Safety Experts are walking around patting themselves on the back on their success in reducing fatalities, the MOST VULNERABLE users of the road are experiencing more terror and mayhem now than they did 20 years ago…

What’s going on?

Read the rest of this entry »


GUILTY PLEA IN A “SUN GLARE” CASE

[h/t to Richard DeLombard for this link to a case I’ve been following from afar.]

A cyclist was killed in a Boston Heights, Ohio car/bike crash and the motorist was charged with vehicular homicide. Yesterday [1/14/2019] he plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter.

 

 

Read the rest of this entry »


2018, BY THE NUMBERS, WAS NOT A “GOOD” YEAR FOR CYCLING IN OHIO

As folks who read here regularly know, I’m a numbers guy. I got a Math degree WAY back in 1979 [I think we each had to buy an abacus] and planned on teaching Math [and coaching baseball and volleyball] before making a right angle turn into law school. I have always enjoyed looking at the statistical side of things. For the past 20+ years I’ve looked pretty hard a cycling statistics, and crash statistics, in Ohio and throughout the US. I’ve also reviewed the stats historically, and taken  Deep Dive into every fatal bike crash in Ohio in recent years. Unfortunately, the early 2018 statistics indicate that Ohio cyclists had a pretty lousy year on the roads.

Over the past 20+ years in Ohio we’ve averaged around 15-16 fatal crashes annually in 1500 or so bike crashes that are reported by police. Given that Ohio is the 7th largest state, with 11.7 million people, that is a remarkable safety record.  However, our last few years have seen an uptick in fatal crashes. Our 25 year average annual fatality number is now 17.0 –

The past 25 years of basic Ohio bike crash data looks like this:

 

Reordered to from least fatalities to most the data looks like this:

 

What’s the reason for the recent uptick? Is it even an “uptick” or are the numbers so small here that we can’t really draw any conclusions from a change of a couple either way? When your sample is 17 or so and the numbers vary from 9 to 25… and the events are…sort of random.. you’ve got to wonder what slight ups and downs mean. The average is 17 cycling deaths in Ohio now,  and the median is 18.

The last 4 years certainly look like a bit of an “uptick” in cycling deaths – 25-18-19-21.  Is  this related to an uptick in bikes on the road – a byproduct of the recent Bike Boom? An uptick in distracted driving? An uptick in dumb motorist/bicyclist behavior? An uptick in “infrastructure” or other bike “facilities” that often seem to put cyclists in a lousy position? An uptick in speeding [or a downturn in speeding enforcement]? An uptick in drugged up driving?

I don’t have answers… only numbers. In a later post we’ll do a Deep Dive into the fatal crash details…

Read the rest of this entry »