(Originally published in 2009 on Reimagine an Urban Paradise. If I wrote it today, I would have used the term “crash” and not “accident”.)
It’s no surprise to anyone who rides bikes to find that police are unresponsive and frequently blame the cyclist, regardless of who is at fault. Drivers are routinely (perhaps even more often than not) excused from accidents and rarely charged, even when they are responsible for the death of a pedestrian or cyclist.
The following is an email I sent to the Chief of Police Cathy Lanier and Councilmembers Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson after my accident on February 11. The driver and I waited for 1.5 hours for the police to come to the scene and when they finally appeared, they refused to take a report, and claimed to have verified the insurance policy of the driver. I later found out that the driver was using a fake insurance card and that it expired in 2006, not 2009 as the card stated. Police seemed unmoved that a driver was using fake insurance.
“I was riding my bike on 18th St. NW right by the Jolt and Bolt, just south of Florida and north of T. It was 1:30 pm on a sunny day and I was riding my bike very visibly south on 18th when a car pulled out of a driveway, slamming into the road and right into my path forcing my bike to crash into her car. I flew off my bike and then landed on the metal frame of my bike. Luckily I didn’t seem too injured, nothing was broken at least, so I called the police to file a report.
I gave them our location as 18th & T NW. We were not standing directly on the corner but it seemed to me to be a close enough point for the police to be able to find us. After 30 minutes they hadn’t shown up and so I called again. They said that they had 19th and T as the location in their log and so would have to send someone else out to our location.
Another 30 minutes later, they still hadn’t arrived and so the woman who was driving the car called back and they said that they STILL had 19th & T Sts listed and the dispatcher said that it was noted that the police had already responded to the situation and solved it! This without a police officer going by in an hour. It was getting pretty infuriating and also a little difficult to keep standing around waiting while we both had to go to work and appointments. They assured us that they had the location correct now, 18th and T NW and would send someone out immediately.
But another 20 minutes go by and we were still standing around. I called once again and they had our address down as 19th and T for the THIRD TIME. I couldn’t believe that they were so incompetent. What if we weren’t being civil and had been fighting? This situation could have been dramatically worse and the police couldn’t even get to us because the address was wrong three times?
Nearly 90 minutes after our accident, I called again to make sure that they had the address correct. Nope. Four times we had to correct them! I spelled Eighteenth. I told them it was the North-South street between 17th and 19th. I didn’t know how else to describe it.
90 minutes after the accident, patrol car #266 appeared. The officer was unimpressed by how long we waited and how difficult it was for us to communicate the location. She checked the driver’s license and registration and read out the driver’s name, license number and her relevant insurance information so that I could take note of them.
I asked if she would be writing a report and she said no, they only take reports of accidents in five scenarios and because I was riding a bike and not in a car, not a diplomat and not taken away in an ambulance there was no need for her to take a report.
The driver was not given a ticket and was simply told to be more careful when “backing”. Unfortunately I did not get the officer’s name or badge number, but it should be easy to find out since her car was #266.
I spoke with Police Supervisor Millard Karl when attempting to complain that the police were unable to find our address and he too seemed to think that it was not a big deal that they had our address down incorrectly four times and that it took 90 minutes to respond to the scene of a crash. The only thing useful that the officer did was to verify the insurance policy was valid.
And this morning when I called the insurance company to file a claim so I could have my bike repaired, I was told that there was no policy under the driver’s name.
The car was not registered to her, but to another man named Timothy Patterson. The insurance card that the driver, Johnette Taylor, had provided also was not under her name, and the policy had expired three years before in 2006 — despite the fact that the card she presented said that it was valid until March 2009.
So the officer claimed to have verified this woman’s insurance and if she had done so would have found out that the insurance company has no record of her at all.
The driver should have been ticketed and that a report should have been filed — and if it’s not common policy to take reports of bicycle-car accidents, it should be.
The police need to be able to record locations correctly and respond in a reasonable amount of time. And I think that police ought to verify insurance and be helpful to both parties. So now, after all of this, I have to scramble around and track down this driver who uses false insurance cards to try to get her to pay for repairs to my bike. I’m disappointed with the response of the police to this situation, even if it wasn’t deemed important enough to warrant a report.” This is outrageous.
Police should take a report during every accident.
Police should respond to calls in a timely fashion.
Police should be able to locate all addresses in the city.
Police should verify insurance.
Drivers should stop hitting bikes.
Drivers should have valid insurance.
Bicyclists should be treated by police and drivers as valid users of the road.
I am constantly hearing similar stories of preferential treatment by police for drivers, if you have a story you’d like to share, let me know.
This has to stop.