Early one morning last month, in a suburb of Sacramento, a motorist ran into the back of two bicyclists, killing one and injuring the other. It happened on Fiddyment Road in Roseville, a two-lane road with no shoulders and lanes so narrow that there’s no way a car could possibly pass a bicycle without crossing into opposing traffic.
That’s all we truly know: it’s an unexplained rear-end collision. The California Highway Patrol’s official statement, however, placed the blame squarely on the victim’s shoulders by repeating the driver’s claim that the bicyclist swerved into his path.
It’s bad news that police at the scene of a fatal car-bike crash too often take as fact the story of the only surviving witness, recording unsubstantiated claims in the official record. Important decisions about safety priorities are made based on these accounts. It’s worse when the CHP press office joins in blaming the person on the bicycle, interfering with a fair investigation. The victim blaming has been repeated far and wide in local media reports on the collision.
The California Bicycle Coalition contacted the California Highway Patrol after this happened and got a strong, concerned response from the CHP’s representative to the Bicycle Advisory Committee, Sergeant Scott Taylor. Taylor agreed that the CHP press releases should refrain from making conclusions about what happened in a potential crime until after the investigation is complete. Officer Taylor’s training will make a tragic incident such as this into a teachable moment by communicating helpful information to motorists to help prevent tragedies like this in the future. Additionally, communication training will be provided at upcoming bicycle safety classes for the CHP public information officers.