Bikers Call for a Count of ‘Dooring’ Accidents: Advocacy Group Says Untracked Collisions are Most Common

By JON HILKEVITCH Chicago Tribune Traffic laws were recently strengthened in Illinois to create safety buffers for bicyclists who share streets with drivers, but state transportation officials are rejecting pleas from cycling advocates to keep records on what they consider the most common type of vehicle-bike accident. It involves, surprisingly, vehicles that are not moving. That’s one of the reasons the Illinois Department of Transportation said it does not track accidents in which a vehicle door is flung open in the path of a bicyclist, even though serious injuries and at least one fatality have occurred in the last several years as the result of bicyclists being “doored.” Kim Nishimoto, whose son was killed in a dooring accident, said she thinks IDOT’s position that a vehicle must be in motion for a crash to be tallied is a mistake and a disgrace. Her son, Clinton Miceli, died June 9, 2008, after an SUV driver’s door was opened on North LaSalle Street in Chicago. Miceli, 22, couldn’t avoid striking the door, and he fell off his bike and was run over by a passing vehicle, according to police. “I had a son who had just graduated from the University of Illinois and was a brilliant graphic artist, and his death doesn’t count for anything, according to the state of Illinois,” Nishimoto said. “That’s just not appropriate. It’s an insult.” As spring approaches, the Active Transportation Alliance, which is involved in efforts to make streets safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists in the Chicago region, is launching a campaign to increase public awareness about dooring crashes. The group considers doorings the most prevalent threat to on-street cyclists. Informal surveys the alliance has conducted among its members indicate that more than half the people who bike on streets have been doored at least once, said Ethan Spotts, spokesman for the organization. But lacking solid statistics, bicycling advocates say they can neither prove a problem exists nor apply for federal and state traffic-safety funds to address it, he said. From 2005 through 2009, there was an average of more than 3,500 crashes each year between vehicles and bicyclists in Illinois, resulting in 18 to 27 cyclists killed and more than 3,300 injured annually, according to IDOT statistics. The alliance has asked IDOT to require law enforcement agencies to report dooring accidents, but the request has been denied, and the group is considering seeking legislation in the General Assembly. The city of Chicago keeps track of dooring accidents and reports them to the state, though the data are not recorded by IDOT. A 2008 city law carries fines ranging from $150 to $500 for opening a vehicle door in the path of a cyclist. The ordinance also requires drivers to stay at least 3 feet away from cyclists; prohibits left or right turns in front of cyclists; and bans driving, standing or parking in a bicycle lane. Seventy-six dooring crashes were reported to Chicago police last year and 62 in 2009. But the data are not incorporated into statewide vehicle-bicycle crash counts, IDOT officials said. Enforcement does not seem to be a priority for Chicago police. A Tribune request for violations data showed that since 2008, Chicago police issued no tickets for opening a vehicle door into the path of a bicyclist or turning in front of a bicyclist. Three tickets were issued last year and two tickets in 2008 to drivers who passed bicyclists at an unsafe distance. But Chicago police issued 161 tickets last year, 114 in 2009 and 106 in 2008 to drivers for driving, standing or parking in bike lanes or marked shared lanes, records show. Excluding dooring accidents from crash counts likely decreases reported vehicle-bike accident numbers by at least 15 percent statewide, said Dan Persky, director of education at the Active Transportation Alliance. “IDOT’s position is that they are following national crash reporting standards. But doorings are a growing safety problem, and for IDOT to say this has been our standard for many years simply ignores a dangerous trend,” Persky said. “Our proposal wouldn’t add to IDOT’s workload.” IDOT officials responded that they aren’t opposed to collecting dooring-accident data, but they haven’t received many requests to do so and it might not be relevant in rural parts of the state, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. There is also a concern that an overly lengthy police accident report form would be a burden on the more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies required to file crash data to the state. Police fill in more than 100 fields on an accident form for a single-vehicle crash. A state law that took effect in 2008 requires drivers to keep a distance of at least 3 feet when passing a bicyclist. A separate law enacted this year empowers police to ticket motorists who “in a reckless manner, drive the motor vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward, or near a bicyclist, pedestrian, or a person riding a horse or driving an animal-drawn vehicle.” Regular bicyclists say they support the tougher laws, but more attention is needed concerning dooring accidents. “The guy who doored me admitted that he didn’t even look,” said Kelly Johnson, a Chicago Public Schools teacher and Andersonville resident who suffered a dislocated rib and other injuries in October when a driver “threw his door right in front of me” on Foster Avenue in Chicago. Johnson’s 1970s vintage French road bike was damaged in the accident, and she hasn’t been back on two wheels since. When she does, it will probably be on side streets, she said. “It’s too bad. I am a safe rider and take precautions, but this accident raised my awareness that there is only so much I can do,” Johnson said. “I drive a car, too, and I would never open the door without taking a second to look over my shoulder first.” Bicyclists and drivers can contact IDOT with questions or comments about traffic safety at or by phone at 217-782-7820. IDOT’s address is 2300 S. Dirksen Parkway, Springfield, IL 62764. Posted on Thu, Mar. 31, 2011 02:08 AM

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