Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Burlingame PD and cyclists

This has been sitting around in my inbox, and I have the need to post it for posterity. My friend Theo was right hooked by a car on Old Bayshore in Burlingame. Pretty lovely driving - Theo was at the front of a line of four cyclists, yet the driver either missed seeing 25+ feet of cyclists, or he was trying to whizz by them and failed. I sent the following letter to Burlingame PD and the Mayor
Mayor Nagel and Chief Wood -

I am writing in response to a traffic incident - a bicycle vs car collision - yesterday on Old Bayshore Road in Burlingame. While I was not involved in the incident, I am familiar with the details as the injured person - a Mr. Theo Cummings - is a good friend of mine and I often ride my bicycle on Old Bayshore with Mr. Cummings.

The facts are pretty straightforward, a VW Passat - license CA 5ULW165 made a right turn on Malcom Road off Old Bayshore without yielding the right of way to Mr. Cummings and the 3 cyclists following him who were going straight on Old Bayshore. This is commonly known as a "Right Hook" collision.

The response by Burlingame Forces was fine - perhaps over the top - one witness said "I counted 2 cop cars, 1 Fire Commanders car, 2 Fire Engines, and 1 Ambulance." Mr. Cummings was checked out by the Paramedics and will make a full recovery assuming the exam by the Urgent Care doctors was thorough and accurate. For this we can be thankful.

I was shocked however, to find that in an incident which could easily have cost Theo his life, that the Burlingame Police felt no need to cite the driver with even something as simple as "Failure to Yield". Personally, I would think reckless driving would be appropriate - he turned right in front of not one but four cyclists. Drivers with such little skill or care should be cited when they cause accidents - we have a "Points" system in California for a reason. In a time when red light cameras are being tuned to cite drivers who make a "California Stop" when turning right on red, a driver who causes a life threatening collision surely must be cited.

When I tell my friends about my commute route, I mention that I ride through the San Francisco Airport, and they express surprise. I tell them that the Airport is actually quite pleasant to ride through, and that the place I wish would disappear off the map entirely is Burlingame. While I do like visiting your downtown (accessed via the Caltrain), riding on Old Bayshore is quite annoying. Knowing that the Burlingame Police Force is unwilling to cite drivers who cause accidents inside your city, gives one even more pause.

The most insulting part of the entire experience, for my money, is this. A negligent driver had just run over Mr. Cummings, and a member of the Burlingame Police responded as such (I quote Mr. Cummings).

"The cop actually tried to suggest that we ride on back streets..."

Aside from the fact that this is blaming the victim, the accident happened on "Old Bayshore". Not on Highway 101. "Old Bayshore" is the back street. There was no excuse for this collision. It should have resulted in a citation.

Thank You

John Murphy San Francisco

Here is a response from Burlingame PD
Mr. Murphy,

Let me respond to this from the perspective of a cyclist and a police officer. Prior to moving the Coast, I regularly commuted from Fremont to Burlingame. I have continued to ride bikes, but I had to stop commuting as riding over Hwy 92 on a regular basis is too risky. I also understand the frustrations of having my right of way violated by cars and have had several close calls.

I am sorry for the frustration you are experiencing regarding your friend’s injury and the lack of a citation being issued to the other driver. Unfortunately, police officers are not permitted to cite drivers at the scene of an accident unless they have been to an advanced accident investigation course. However, this does not mean the driver who causes a collision gets off without a blemished driving record. When an officer takes an accident report, he or she is almost always able to determine fault. This report is filed with the CHP who in turn delivers the accident findings to the DMV. The DMV then assigns a “point” to the party at fault’s driver’s license.

In reality this practice, from an enforcement perspective, is more efficient than issuing citations. If a citation is issued, the findings of a collision report are not shared with the DMV. The citation becomes the method of delivery to a person’s driving record. Should this citation be contested in court, for a variety of reasons, the point may not be assigned to a person’s driving record. Accident report findings cannot be contested. The DMV relies on the officer’s “opinion” of who is at fault when assigning points.

In regards to the officer’s comment suggesting cyclists should ride their bikes on the back road, I had the opportunity to overhear the officer discuss this at the police station. The officer rides his bicycle to work as well. Due to the number of bicycle collisions he has responded to over the years, and his own personal experience with riding bicycles, he merely meant to pass on advice with safety being first priority. We all know that bicycles have the same rights as cars. Unfortunately, when a bicycle is involved in a collision, the cyclist is almost always injured. Often times these injuries are serious or, as you mentioned, fatal.

Please feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Don Shepley

Acting Patrol Captain


John C. Baker said...

I wonder if the "officers are not permitted to cite drivers at the scene of an accident unless they have been to an advanced accident investigation course" is policy or law.

As a former dispatcher, that's beyond my expertise. I will point out that I did see accidents, including fault, listed on driver's records when I was employed in that capacity.

Otherwise, I think that was a rather thoughtful letter from the Captain. Don't know if it accomplishes anything other than PR, but good on them for responding. Bet you wouldn't get that response from SFPD, CHPe etc.

Anonymous said...

What backroad would the overheard officer be suggesting anyway? The alternatives to Old Bayshore are Rollins Rd, California and El Camino. Like those are any better than Old Bayshore?

Anonymous said...

If an officer hasn't been trained in collision — not accident — investigation, why on earth would he or she be assigned to investigate it?

Do they send meter maids to investigate bank robberies?

CannonDale said...

I've been trying to call the Burlingame PD's attention to speeding and the dangers to cyclists on California Dr. I suggested, "I do have one idea - let's all go for a bike ride on California between Trousdale and Broadway. It won't take more than 15 minutes each way. Timely because May is Bike To Work month and if might give some context as to why I may sound arrogant and obsessed about California Dr. If your schedule allows, we can all meet on Bike to Work Day May 10. I can arrange for bicycles if needed."

I received the following email response from the Director of the Traffic Division of Burlingame PD:

"As far as your bike to work idea, while I applaud your effort at thinking outside the box, this is a very bad idea. The only thing riding down California en mass will accomplish is backing up traffic and endangering the lives of both the riders, and drivers."

I followed up to ask what he meant given that 3 cyclists riding down California is already a common occurrence during the commute hours. I didn't get a response yet. And it's still a big problem.