Harvard Researcher Calls for Better Police Reporting of Bike Crashes

A chart like this on police reports, designed after car collision recording forms, could help researchers understand better what causes bike collisions. Image: Journal of Injury Prevention
Adding standardized ways to report the circumstances of a bike crash, like this chart modeled after car collision forms, could advance understanding of how to prevent injuries and deaths. Image: Journal of Injury Prevention

Police departments need to improve the way they investigate, document, and convey information about crashes involving cyclists, according to a new study by Harvard public health researcher Anne Luskin in the Journal of Injury Prevention.

While police reports are standardized to record relatively detailed information about car collisions, the same is not true of collisions involving bikes. Better police investigations of bike collisions would help researchers, policy makers, and street designers understand what puts cyclists at risk and improve safety, according to the authors.

Lusk analyzed police crash reporting techniques in all 50 states. She also examined 3,350 police crash reports of bike collisions in New York City.

The information in the reports tended to be scarce and insufficient to determine what caused the crash. Police only consistently reported whether a cyclist was involved and whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet, her team found. Police did not consistently report factors like street conditions, angle of impact, and other information that would be useful in understanding what contributes to collisions and injuries.

Lusk recommends that police reports be modified “to include bicycle-crash-scene reporting fields.” Right now, information that is recorded about bike crashes isn’t specially coded for entry into a spreadsheet — the type of standardization that makes data widely accessible. Police forms should include information like what type of bike infrastructure, if any, exists at the crash location; whether either person involved in the crash was turning; and the points of impact on the car and the bike.

There is less room for error if crash reports are filled in not by hand but with handheld tablets, the authors note. Many state police departments are already moving in that direction.

  • JL

    The Harvard diagram leaves out what I fear the most. The left cross in your face from the opposite direction when bike is going straight.

  • Daniel

    The included diagram doesn’t account for any T-boning at an intersection, whether it be from the dreaded high speed left turn or from a car simply running a red light. It also doesn’t account for all the various ways in which you can be doored. It matters whether the cyclist is physically hit by the door or obstructed. It also matters whether they are thrown into traffic or onto the sidewalk. Maybe this is only a partial chart?

    I’ve been on the receiving end of F & H and family have spent time in the intensive care unit from G, so it definitely covers some common problems! I’ve also witnessed two NYPD pretend not to see an H occurring right in front of them and drive off, so we have bigger fish to fry in New York…

  • But was she wearing a helment?

    They distilled the drawings down to the ten most common scenarios in their sample. From the article:
    “The different turn/impact diagrams were matched to the 300 redrawn crash drawings (that had included the vehicle and bicycle turning directions), grouping all similar diagrams most relevant to motor vehicle/bicycle crash turns to achieve a manageable number (10). For example, if only two of the 300 bike crash scenarios were related to a turn/impact diagram, those two cases were merged with another similar scenario (figure 3).”

    Full text of article availabe at http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/early/2015/03/30/injuryprev-2014-041317.full.pdf+html

  • Agree fully with this.

    At the same time we need to get more crashes involving bicyclists included in the statistics. Even minor crashes between two cars with minor or no injuries will end with a report generated.

    Such an incident with a bicycle rider is rarely reported. Too many bicycle riders ‘macho up’, say they’re OK, and go on their way. In other instances the driver offers cash or other incentives to avoid having it reported and showing up on their insurance.

    The result is a very inaccurate picture of how many car-bike crashes there really are (and especially relative to car-car collisions) and of how many injuries (since some number of those who macho’d up later end up at the doctor with latent injuries).

  • puzzled

    I don’t understand the first pictogram. Does it cover the situation when a car stops (for traffic or at a stop sign) and the bicyclist rear ends the car?

  • Cold Shoaler

    I presume that is only a portion of the chart, or intended to be a partial list. In addition to your example, I can think of several others just off the top of my head.

  • BBnet3000

    People come pretty close to doing this to me on a regular basis. I’d love to see one of them actually get pulled over for failure to yield.

  • com63

    It’s for when the car driver gets pissed off and backs up into the cyclist 😉

  • EcoAdvocate

    If there’s no police report it didn’t happen. Advocates don’t hear about it. Police don’t know about it. Traffic Engineers don’t’ know there is (as much of) a problem.

  • Jimbo

    definitely good idea. would be also great to have cyclists get driver’s license and license plate to ensure they are qualified and registered, so when they cause accidents it can be reportable and go on their record

  • This isn’t a bad idea. But at the same time, there are decades worth of reports from countries that actually do the whole bike thing right. We don’t need to wait three years for them to develop new reporting, another five to collect five years of collision data, then another five to infinity for them to actually use the data to make changes. Development of better reporting standards can run concurrently with looking at data from elsewhere and taking note of the lessons provided therein.

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