September 3, 2014 § 28 Comments

I had been standing out in front of the courthouse for more than an hour, “discussing” the facts of her case with a client.

“When did you first talk to him?” I asked her.

“One month ago.”

“And that was the first you ever heard of it?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And this lawyer never called you before then?”


“And you never got any mail from him?”

“Oh, no. Never.”

“So how did you find out about it?”

“Well, about a year ago this lawyer called and told us to pay.”

“I thought you said you first heard of it a month ago?”

“I did? It was a year ago.”

“Okay. Did you talk to anyone about it more than a year ago?”

“No, never.”

“So what happened when the lawyer called you a year ago and told you to pay?”

“I told him I wasn’t gonna pay because we had already told him that.”

“Already? So you had spoken with him before?”

“Yes. About two years ago.”

It was one of those days. I left the courthouse pretty beaten down and drove along Maple to Torrance. At the light there were two cars with their flashers on. A big, white Mercedes SUV had crumpled the rear of a little Ford Transit that was wrapped with a logo saying “Prestige Auto Collision Centers.” Some stuff you can’t make up.

Instead of driving their cars into the capacious parking lot by the courthouse, the drivers simply left their cars at the place of impact, blocking the right lane. They leisurely stood around taking pictures while the rest of us got into the middle lane. The left lane was for left turns only.

I was the first car at the light, and it took forever. My mind was wandering. “Why don’t they move their cars? Why won’t my client pick a story and stick with it? What kind of beer should I grab at BevMo? What’s for dinner? My armpits itch.”

The light turned green and I had to make a right turn in front of the mashed-up Transit. My blinker was on, and Prius-like I slowly eased ahead and began to turn. Thankfully my window was down, because just as I committed to the turn a voice shrieked in the window.


It was a biker on a fixie, no helmet, splitting the tiny space between my car and the Transit, going straight through the intersection at full speed as I tried to turn right. Reflexively I smashed the brake. The biker shot by, missing the front of my turning car by inches. He turned around towards me, mid-intersection, and flipped me off.

I was shaking.

The driver in the car on my left yelled at me. “That fuggin’ idiot! What the hell was he doing? Good job, man!”

“No,” I said. “That was my fault. I should have looked.”

“With what? The eyes in the back of your head?” The driver shook his head and I drove off.

“So that’s what it’s like,” I thought, still trembling, “when you wear the shoe on the other foot.”



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§ 28 Responses to Roadkill

  • Karen Karabell says:

    That was your fault???

    When other drivers violate the rules of movement, it is indeed terrifying. But it is not your fault.

    • fsethd says:

      I like the Japanese rule: You hit ’em, you own ’em. Big car always at fault against small bike.

  • Matt McPhail says:

    Always remember when the other driver or cyclist is flipping you off and yelling at you just smile and wave and it sends them into orbit. I use this special technique everyday with great results.

    • fsethd says:

      It’s a good tactic, but in truth I was pretty scared. If I hadn’t slammed on the brakes he would have been in ER. And it’s the worst hitting your brakes when someone screams, not knowing who it is or why they’re screaming.

  • Brian in VA says:

    I’m glad this story had a happy ending, Seth. I agree with your assessment about big car always at fault against little bike; that said, we all have a piece of the responsibility.

    Stay safe!

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks! I’m already re-living the news story: “Cycling attorney and advocate runs over, kills cyclist at traffic intersection.”

  • kcornell7 says:

    Did you have your blinker on?
    In this precise situation – accident car in front at intersection with their right turn blinker on – warrants caution on the part of the cyclists.

    I have been hit three times with the right hook while cycling.

    1) Motorist passing me forgets I am there once I am side by side with them. By sided by side , i mean I can look directly into the passenger side window. Motorist takes right hand turn into synagogue crushing my fork, front wheel and handlebars under the rear wheel as I fall and watch the same tire come perilously close to my face.

    Her Fault

    2) Motorist and I are side by side stopped at red light in right lane designated as go straight or right turn lane. By sided by side, I mean I am to the right of his front fender in full view. Light turns green, we both proceed forward then he turns right directly into me. Oddly I did not fall down, he locked my leg against my top tube but the bike continued to roll as I pounded on his hood with my fist. I rolled away and displayed the digit.

    His Fault

    3) I rolled up on the right alongside stopped traffic. The light turned green as I was rolling up, slowly to the right of the front car. She drove turning right and pinch me against the curb. I went down while she drove off.

    My fault.
    a) I assumed she was looking out for me.
    b) I should have taken the lane just behind her

    Even though I pounded on her car with my fist, she had no clue she was crushing me. Last year Florida had 70,000 hit and run accidents. As a cyclist, you cannot assume anyone is looking out for your safety.

    • fsethd says:

      My blinker was on. I was proceeding from a dead stop, the biker had been threading the right side of a long line of traffic, so he never slowed down. Perhaps he was looking at the two parked cars with their flashers and didn’t notice my blinker.

      However, a quick glance in my rearview mirror would have solved the problem. Especially as a cyclist, I know that bikes can be coming up the side at high speeds. It’s my job as a cager to assume that a bike is everywhere. The damage I can do to a bike and its rider is potentially lethal, therefore it’s not enough to do the minimum.

      It’s true that the biker should have slowed and/or noticed my blinker, but that only goes to comparative fault — yes, he was partly to blame. But as the bigger, deadlier vehicle (and mind you, all I had to do was a quick check of my rearview), I was at fault as well. The open window, his quick-witted yell, and my fast brake foot kept a scare from being a trip to the hospital.

    • channel_zero says:

      On crowded streets, I ride the left side of the right lane. That way I don’t get struck from right-hand turns.

      This is a variation on taking the lane that seems to me the safest way to handle heavy traffic.

      • darelldd says:

        Though your plan is legal, and generally the best and safest course of action, I have recently found that the official DMV Driver’s Education Curriculum includes this nugget: P. 16. “Cyclists must ride as near to right curb as “practical”. From here:

        Click to access Unit%209.pdf

        Of course the word is “practicable” and the doc fails to mention any of the myriad of exceptions to the “ride to the right” rule. So our new drivers are being taught that cyclists *must* be as far right as they can be, in all situations.

        There are so many things wrong with that document, that it makes my head spin. It talks about being single file – they even talk about some “two abreast” limit for those rare times when single-file is not the ruel – and all kinds of fun stuff that doesn’t exist in the CVC. If anybody has the ear of anybody at DMV who can help me edit this document, please let me know!

    • Serge Issakov says:

      From the bicyclist’s perspective, right hooks are trivial to avoid. Like all bike-car crashes, you don’t want to avoid just the ones that are your fault – because that leaves you vulnerable to the approximately 50% where the motorist is primarily at fault. I, for one, want to avoid those too. Here’s how.

  • darelldd says:

    Even if you maybe went overboard a bit in this case, thank you for fully embracing the “cars and bikes do NOT have the same responsibilities”… the pilot of the more lethal weapon has much *more* responsibility” concept.

    Now to get a bit philosophical:
    Why is it that in countries where there *are* “Big Car Always at Fault” rules, we don’t often see squids that pull that kind of crap? But in the US where we’re happy to assign fault to the dead, vulnerable road user who maybe could not have avoided the collision through any reasonable means … we get squids like this?

    You’d think it would work the other way around. But then… squids.

    • fsethd says:

      I think the explanation is simple. When your rights are completely ignored by cars, you ride to survive. That means making your own judgments about what to do rather than following the law, because following the law only works when the other people are following it as well.

      The “lawless” urban biker is often someone who has learned that to survive he has to make up his own rules.

      So it makes sense that in places where cars respect bikes, the bikes are no longer pushed into fringe behavior. I find that when I’m commuting, controlling the lane, and that cars are treating me as traffic, I lose the need to improvise because the traffic laws work when everyone’s (more or less) obeying them.

      • darelldd says:

        Yup. I think you’re onto something.

      • Serge Issakov says:

        Yep. Show me a place “where cars don’t respect bikes”, and I’ll show you a place where bikes are not controlling the lane and following the rules of traffic.

  • Jim G says:

    You may think it was your fault but legally it wasn’t. You’d have to be a fuggin idiot to pass a car on the right when his right hand turn signal is on. That said, if I get killed by a cager, I’m willing to bet money it will be by a Prius driver. No offense but they are the worst matter the city you’re in.

    • fsethd says:

      I’m not looking for legal justification, but rather putting the onus on the car to look, and look again. There’s no penalty for taking a second glance.

      • Jim G says:

        I agree but considering the traffic and the speed of the rider, you still may not have seen him. The fact that he wasn’t wearing a helmet makes him a dumbass and the fact that he flipped you off when he was clearly in the wrong makes him a douchebag. Glad you didn’t hit him, that would have made a helluva headline.

        • fsethd says:

          Yep. And thankfully I didn’t gas it into the turn.

          Getting flipped off was a small price to pay.

          It really drove home to me that even though I’m always on “heightened bike alert,” one extra glance won’t hurt.

      • John T says:

        I disagree. There IS a penalty for taking that second glance behind you. Maybe that’s a second glance you don’t take at the people in the road taking pictures or at a car shooting across in front of you that didn’t quite make the yellow or maybe some reckless fixie rider doing the same. Only you can judge whether your focus was divided properly, but you can’t watch everywhere at once, and it sounds to me like you were fine.

        As far as fault in this situation, I think your responsibility was insignificant compared to the cyclist. You were being careful, while he was being careless. You were going slow, while he was going fast. With extra effort, you might have been able to see him coming, but any reasonable rider should have considered the possibility that you were turning right and acted accordingly, even if your blinker hadn’t been on.

        • fsethd says:

          Not making excuses for the cyclist, but that extra look in that scenario would have cost me nothing. A lifetime of proceeding slowly into intersections made the difference.

  • P K says:

    Really glad you brought up the “ride to survive” mindset, it’s something I live by, and has kept me alive, counting/trusting cagers and traffic laws isn’t very a effective strategy.

    • P K says:

      typed that in quickly, “counting on” and “a very” was what I intended to say

    • fsethd says:

      Of course the hard part is switching off those “survival” rules of the road when the environment starts to change. I find myself playing by the rules most of the time these days, and that’s been a byproduct of using the lane control techniques taught by CABO and others.

  • Rob says:

    It’s good to let out a yell while on the bike. It’s our horn. The middle finger is uncalled for. It can set a driver off and lead to your demise.

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