WABA has publicly released MPD's report on Improving the Safety of Bicyclists and Enhancing their interactions with Metropolitan Police Department Officers and it contains three main recommendations as well as some new and interesting facts.
There recommendations are:
1. Changing the method of investigating bicycle-car crashes so that in encourages officers to interview cyclists before completing their investigation. MPD has an internal policy that requires officers to complete crash investigation reports before the end of their shift and that may not leave enough time to interview an injured cyclist. The new policy would allow officers to leave crash investigations open until all necessary statements have been obtained.
2. Modifying the traffic crash report form so that in includes more bicycle-specific criteria. This would include adding a category for bicyclists in the "Type of Crash" field - so that bike-car crashes can be better identified and analyzed - and a "riding into the road" category to the list of contributing circumstances to document cyclists who are riding out from a driveway or sidewalk. The second addition they deem important because "such actions are a common cause of at-fault bicyclist crashes."
3. Providing better training to officers on bicycling laws. This includes revising the curriculum used to teach bike-related regulations with the help of WABA or other similar groups to include things like the proper use of bike lanes. They'd like to add question to the standard Power Point presentation used for training to test knowledge. They'd like to have WABA do periodic training and disseminate the WABA bike law pocket guide to officers.
4.Increase participation with the Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) through regular attendance. In addition they want the BAC to publish its list of members and meeting minutes regularly, create a listserv and make targeted recommendations to the MPD.
In their report they combined 1 and 2, but I feel like they're separated.
The first recommendation seems like common sense and, if properly executed, could do a great deal to improve things.
Changing the PD-10 has come up at several BAC meetings and Mike Goodno, with DDOT's bicycle team, recommended changing reporting in his 2004 report "Bicycle Collisions in the District of Columbia: 2000-2002". But he also noted that there were significant errors filling out the forms, so simply changing the form may not be enough. Some of the problems he called attention to include:
- The MPD PD-10 report differentiates between “on-street” and “off-street” collisions; however, these sections are often left blank or are inaccurate. Furthermore, collisions marked as occurring “off-street” have no additional location information provided in the PD-10 (e.g., on sidewalk, driveway, parking lot, alley, median, curb, other-please define)
- Determining whether a crash occurred at an intersection or mid-block is an important element in preparing appropriate countermeasures (Dhillon et al., 2001; Wachtel and Lewiston, 1994). Currently, the PD-10 form provides no such classification.
- Though the majority of collisions occurred at on-street locations (only 14 crashes were defined as off-street), there were 453 marked as public space in the off-street location field. This brings the accuracy of officers’ reports on this field on the PD-10 form into question.
- The method of designating where a crash occurred if not at an intersection involves esitmating the "feet from object” where object is the cross street. This is cumbersome and relies on estimating.
- Missing information: Some fields were left blank (e.g., no intersection name or incorrect data given for a record). Something should be written in each field (e.g. not applicable or unknown) so users of the data will not question whether the section was simply disregarded. Boxes could be included next to the section for officers to mark not applicable or unknown responses.
- Incorrect street identification (e.g. using St. instead of Ave.) or street misspellings.
- Inadequate location description information (e.g., FBIs-for freeway, bridge or interchange, with no mile-marker number to note the location; or, listed street intersections that do not exist-for example, 7th St and 1st St, which run parallel to one another).
- The PD-10s need consistent and clear differentiation between bike and pedestrian accidents (i.e., bike accidents are sometimes characterized as ‘pedestrian’ accidents under ‘type of accident’) Note: this has been changed to "type of crash," line 7, but still doesn't include a box for "bicyclist."
- “Other” categories are used frequently, but often not specified by the officers. For instance, in the “contributing circumstances” fields, the large percentage of “other” (without specification) significantly affects the results.
- PD-10s do not include all information that might be relevant to bicycle crashes, such as whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet and, at night, whether the bicycle had lights.
- PD-10s (and TARAS) is not capable of handling multiple contributing circumstances (i.e., officers can only mark one circumstance per vehicle involved). For instance, in one 43crash the bicyclist was cited, under the heading sobriety, “Had been drinking and obviously drunk.” However, under the heading contributing circumstances the cyclist violation was listed as “pedestrian right of way.” The contributing circumstance, should also have included, “alcohol influence.
Since 2002, the PD-10 has been updated, but it is clear that not all of these concerns have been addressed (or any that I could see). It still has a car-bias. For example there are drawings of cars to show which part of the car was hit, but there is no place to show where a cyclist was hit. So the PD-10 needs more work than this report calls for, and officers need to be more thorough when filling them out.
I've said it before, but it would be better if officers had a tablet computer like the iPad. The form could change as information is entered. If there's a cyclist it will ask about helmet and lights, if not it won't. It could automatically add GPS information to the report as the officer fills it out and they could even take photos (can an iPad take photos?) instead of drawing pictures.
It's also hard to argue with better training. I personally hate Power Point for training and at work I'm always pushing back against it. It is fine for assisting in a classroom, but it is not stand alone training. Perhaps this is the former schoolteacher in me. But getting WABA involved should give both groups more buy-in.
The BAC has long sought greater participation from it's government members (DDOT is always there and OOP usually is) so getting a regular MPD participant would be great. There are questions that frequently come up which no one knows the answer to that an officer could probably answer quickly. I know I have at least one MPD officer who comments here frequently, and their insight is always very educational and even defuses complaints. It is true that the BAC has not re-established a website yet, but I hardly think that has held back MPD participation in the BAC. As for not making formal requests of MPD, that too is a fair criticism, but there is certain air of indifference that showing up once every two years (and the last time, coming late, telling cyclists to quit getting hit by trucks, and then leaving early with their girlfriend) that hasn't exactly created a sense that it would be productive. When DDOT is there, and is so involved, they kind of take up all the energy. And, if MPD went to the meetings, they'd know that BAC already has a listserv.
In addition to the recommendations, there are some new facts from the report that people might find interesting.
The number of bicycle-lane violations given to drivers has quadrupled to 700+ from 2009 to 2010. Interestingly they cited mybikelane.com as a source of information on how common bike lane violations are. Hooray internets!
The top three citations issued to cyclists in 2010 were disobeying a traffic control device (197 citations) , riding in a manner that created a driving hazard (30 citations) and riding on the sidewalk in the CBD (30 citations).
They only had knowledge of 7 complaints to the OPC about officer enforcement of DC's bicycle regulations. And only 2 of those did the person follow up with a formal complaint. 4 complaints were about the MPD being indifferent to bike lane violations. One person claimed that an officer stopped her without a valid reason. One person complained that an officer stopped him for riding on the sidewalk outside the CBD. One person complained that he was wrongly faulted by an MPD officer in a traffic crash with a car.
The Washington Post picked up the story too.
Too often, bike advocates have testified, police have cited cyclists after car-door collisions in which the rider violated no law. They have invoked a “riding abreast” law to ticket cyclists who collide with right-turning cars, although that law applies only to bikes riding side by side.
“We’ll frequently see citations for illegal passing or hazardous driving or riding abreast, none of which apply [to the circumstances], and the cyclist is doing exactly what they should be doing,” said Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “But because the officer may not be familiar with the way the laws apply to a bicyclist, then they cite the bicyclist.”
John B. Townsend II of AAA said the board’s recommendations made sense. “There needs to be a greater sensitivity not only with law enforcement but also with motorists,” Townsend said. “The people who ride bicycles are as much entitled to the road as is anyone else.”