After the Crash

February 22, 2013

The first question that came to Sadie Dingfelder as she was biking near Union Station last week was this: “Is he going backward?” Turns out the answer was yes, and a split second later, a car rolled into the 33-year-old, who was knocked so hard she dented another vehicle with her helmet on her way to the ground.

The second question was one she put on Facebook: “What do I do?”

Her friends provided a slew of responses, some joking, but most offering serious advice to get a police report and medical attention. Good thing, too, because Dingfelder initially felt fine but soon realized she couldn’t move her left arm; the doctor told her she had a chipped bone and a torn tendon in her shoulder.

The steps can seem obvious, but in the moment, when a cyclist is dazed — if not seriously injured — they’re often forgotten until it’s too late, says Greg Billings, advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

That’s why WABA introduced its first mobile app, Crash Help Kit (free for Android and iPhone), last month. It walks users through collecting the driver’s information, phone numbers from witnesses and the police report number. Among other bells and whistles, there’s an emergency flashlight, a GPS tracker that can pinpoint the exact location and a medical expense calculator.

“Hopefully, you’ll never need it,” Billings says, although he’s already used the app on the scene of other people’s accidents. Good Samaritans can gather the info and email it to injured cyclists and to WABA, which plans to use the material for advocacy purposes.

Cycling crashes aren’t exactly rare around here. A new report from the District Department of Transportation cataloged more than 1,000 accidents between January 2010 and March 2012. The blog Mvjantzen.com has the data mapped out, showing where it’s most treacherous for cyclists; the intersection of 14th and U streets Northwest landed in the top spot with nine accidents.

D.C. police urge cyclists who have been hit to call in and report the problem. Here’s what Gwendolyn Crump, director of the Metropolitan Police Department’s office of communications, advised in an email: “If possible, from a safe vantage point, take a photograph of the car and driver. Obtaining as much identifying information to pass on to the responding officers is the most important action a citizen can take.”

Of course, the government can take more action. The D.C. Council is considering a bike bill, proposed Tuesday, that would assess three license points to drivers who fail to yield to cyclists with the right of way, and six points to drivers whose failure to yield results in a collision.

With drivers more conscious about sharing the road, cyclists will feel more comfortable, which will lead to more bike riding and safer conditions for all, Billings says.

And that will make it less scary for Dingfelder to get back out there.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFit columnists and the Fit editor for Express.
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