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San Diego Police: Unless the Cyclist Is Killed, Top Penalty Is a Ticket

10:59 AM EDT on April 27, 2012

It's been interesting to watch the scrutiny building around how police handle collisions between cyclists and drivers in New York City. It's become something of a scandal the way devastating or fatal crashes involving cyclists are rarely prosecuted or even investigated.

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Sadly, New York is certainly not alone in this respect. Today we have a case study out of San Diego.

Sam Ollinger at Network blog Bike San Diego recently followed up with her local police department on the results of five crashes where cyclists were killed or injured. What she found was very similar to what's happening in New York.

Rick O'Hanlon, San Diego's lieutenant of Traffic Division, told Ollinger that unless a cyclist dies, charges won't rise beyond a traffic violation. And even in cases when a cyclist is killed, criminal charges are no sure thing:

No charges have been filed against the driver who struck the little ten-year-old girl who was injured while riding with her father. No charges were filed because the little girl survived.

Since [Grant] Fisher survived, no charges have been filed. The SDPD has asked the DMV to reexamine the driver’s license [of the 76-year-old who was responsible]. Fisher, in the meantime, has filed a civil suit against the driver that is currently ongoing.

When asked for specific details on the [fatal] [Charles] Gilbreth case and details about the collision. O’Hanlon stated that speed, alcohol, road rage nor the sun’s glare (as was the reason stated in the Ortiz case) were not factors in the Gilbreth crash. He said that investigation was still ongoing as results from the medical examiner and the toxicologist could take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to wrap up. There were no witnesses in this crash as the MTS driver didn’t witness the crash.

O’Hanlon responded, “to be charged with a crime, there has to be a death.” Thus, the only recourse for the party injured is to pursue the case in Civil Court for damages. In order for a case to go to the District Attorney’s office the case has to be a felony – and the criteria for a felony includes intent, malice, gross negligence or substance abuse. But in a case that is not a manslaughter, “the law is very restrictive. We don’t have a misdemeanor.” Intentional road rage acts have “malice and premeditation and you have assault with a deadly weapon.” Absent that, “you have a vehicle code violation.”

I imagine those tickets will be little consolation to individuals who have been badly injured, perhaps permanently. Hopefully, the campaign around this issue in New York will result in a more fair system for cyclists -- one that can be replicated in San Diego and elsewhere around the nation.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Milwaukee looks at the auto industry's (successful) attempts to link driving with the hallowed concept of freedom. And Systemic Failure shares a picture that perfectly captures the absurdity of American car culture: an SUV with a built-in stationary bicycle!

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