“The cops always take the driver’s side and blame the cyclist!” It is a refrain I have heard from far too many clients. Recently, I was consulted by a young lady who was struck by a car that ran a red light. When police responded, they immediately began blaming the innocent cyclist. Fortunately, the driver was a particularly (and perhaps uniquely) honest human being and confessed that he was in the wrong.
Unfortunately, we cannot rely on drivers always doing the right thing; which got me thinking that it might be a good time to review how to talk to police after a bike accident.
First of all, you have to know the accident terminology. When police identify one party as driver one (D1) and the other as driver two (D2) they are presuming that D1 is the at fault party. If an officer begins to refer to you as D1, verbally or in their paperwork, you should be aware that they have already formed the opinion that you are at fault. Changing their mind is an uphill battle, but it is possible.
Tip #1: Cops, despite the badge, gun, uniform and reputation are, in fact human beings. Humans respond much better to calm rational explanations than they do to yelling. Being struck by a car can lead to a bevy of emotions: pain, fear, anger, etc. Those emotions are often magnified if the responding officer is unsympathetic. However, as much as possible, it is important to calmly and clearly explain what happened. Police officers, like anyone else, are more likely to listen, understand and believe what you say if it is communicated in a calm straight-forward manner.
Tip #2: Ask witnesses to stick around. Most accidents that I (and police officers) deal with are “he said, she said” situations. If there is an independent witness to the collision, they are often the most important source of information for police officers and lawyers. They have the benefit of objectivity. If there were witnesses to the collision, ask the witnesses to wait for the police. If they are unwilling to wait, get their contact info and provide it to the police (but keep a copy for yourself).
Tip #3: Ask for the officer’s business card/badge number. Police officers usually carry business cards with their contact information. Keeping their contact information is crucial if you are going to pursue a lawsuit, or if you have questions about the accident and charges against the driver.
Lastly, remember that police officers are more likely to be predominantly drivers than they are to be cyclists. A significant percentage of police officers in Toronto are suburban commuters. Moreover, their day job is to drive around the city (as an aside, there is significant evidence that bike and foot patrols are actually better at crime prevention, but that’s a whole other blog entry). In a city starved for safe cycling infrastructure, in which our streets are often the scenes of trench warfare between cars and cyclists, it is unsurprising that these individuals who drive to work and then drive for a living are predisposed to take the side of the driver. As cyclists, we have two ways to combat that prejudice: by being safe and respectful on the road and by being polite but persistent when reporting accident details.
Have you had your own experiences dealing with police after a bike accident? Share your stories in our forum.