Tag Archives: accident

The accident site, a year later

10 Apr

Today I got around to visiting the site of my accident, which I had intended to do last weekend. I didn’t want to commit the time needed for a 35-40 mile bike ride, so most of my journey was by BART, with about 11 miles of biking round trip between the station and the site of the accident.

To the extent that this trip had a purpose, it was to see whether the chewed-up pavement had been repaired, and it was this question that left me in some suspense as I meandered my way through the hills of Oakland to my destination, Skyline Boulevard and Grass Valley Road. This time, I approached the spot riding uphill along Grass Valley Road, opposite the previous times I’d been to the spot. A good distance away, the pavement was smooth and clearly relatively new, but when I got closer to the site I found myself on old pavement again.

As I pedaled up the last hill near the spot where I had fallen, I saw a cyclist approach in the opposite direction.  He bounced up and down a few times as he rounded the turn, thus breaking my suspense but fortunately not his jaw.* Soon enough, I could see directly that the pavement hadn’t changed significantly since I was there in July.

Bad pavement

It’s certainly not good pavement, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen. There’s actually a whole block in particular that I ride over pretty much every day, which is probably all a bit worse. It’s also downhill (at least in one direction), but it isn’t on a turn, and (on account of the whole block being bad), I’ve always taken it very slowly.

I don’t know whether the city of Oakland has decided that they won’t fix this or if they just haven’t gotten to it yet. The city certainly has had its share of financial difficulties, so they may not be able to afford to fix this kind of thing these days. As I understand, because they have been notified of the hazard, they are now liable for subsequent accidents caused by the damaged pavement. Of course, there are also signs warning people to take the turn slowly (without mentioning the road hazard), so that might reduce their liability.

I’ll write about the relevant law some time soon. That’s now two posts about law I’ve promised to write. Yawn.

*Let’s just say I’m practicing for a bad syllepsis competition, in case I should ever find one.

Accident reconstruction

8 Jul

Since my return to the site of the accident the other day, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about how the locations of my various injuries might reveal some information about how I hit the ground. Unfortunately, the only conclusion I’ve come to (so far) is that something very complicated must have happened because there was evidence of contact with the ground in so many places.

Here is what I think is the complete list of body parts which showed evidence of hitting the ground:

  • Right cheek (abrasions to the right of eye and mouth, black eye)
  • Right earlobe (minor abrasion)
  • Right side of upper lip (two chipped teeth and a cut which was sutured)
  • Right side of chin (laceration was sutured)
  • Neck (very minor scratches)
  • Top of right shoulder (abrasion)
  • Left elbow (small abrasion)
  • Right elbow (large abrasion, some soreness for a few weeks after accident)
  • Back of left hand (minor abrasions just below bottom knuckles)
  • Palm of left hand (skin stripped from an area near the wrist)
  • Back of right hand (small abrasions on lowest knuckle of index finger)
  • Legs (various scratches and scrapes, none bad enough to bandage)

There were probably a number of minor scratches on my torso, but none seemed particularly significant at the time. Note that there’s no reason to believe that the left side of my face (where the mandibular fracture was) made contact with the ground. The fracture was most likely caused by the force to the right side of my face.

The one thing that seems pretty clear from the injuries is that I fell on the right side of my body. This is something I had assumed since the day of the accident, and something that seems consistent with the accident having happened while turning right. Beyond that, it’s hard to say much. It hardly seems  geometrically possible that I could have fallen in such a way that all of these body parts could have come in contact with the ground. Here are a few of the more puzzling questions:

  • How did I manage to scrape both the front and back of my left hand? I’m just baffled. I really don’t have a clue.
  • How could I have scraped the top of my shoulder against the ground? Uneven pavement might have helped. Other than that, I don’t know.
  • How did I scrape both of my elbows when falling on the right side?
  • How did I scrape my elbows and my hands, but nothing on the arms in between?

While I typed these questions, I actually thought of an explanation for how I might have gone down. Here’s my best guess. After losing control of the bike, I fell to the right, with my right shoulder and face hitting the ground but my hands remaining on the handlebars. As my body slowed down but the bike continued skidding, my hands let go of the handlebars, and with the left side of my body moving faster than the right, I sort of rolled over so that both my left and right arms hit the ground. This course of events would seem to explain the second and third of my questions, but not the first or fourth.

It’s really all quite a mystery, and I’ll probably never know what really happened.

The accident revisited

4 Jul

I have to begin with a confession. When I wrote about my accident, I wasn’t entirely sure that everything I was saying was true. I didn’t say anything that I knew to be false, but I didn’t remember all of the details of how I had fallen. When I had no information about something, I didn’t say anything, but there were a couple of statements I made that were guesses based on what I did remember and what seemed to be the best information at the time.

For example, I wrote that I had been taking the downhill stretches faster than I was accustomed, and claimed that this was the cause of my accident. It’s true that I had taken some downhill stretches faster than I would have when riding alone, but I never had any specific recollection of going fast down the particular hill where the accident took place. When I stated that I had been going faster at the time of the accident, I was extrapolating based on what I did remember in a way that seemed to explain why I had fallen. Similarly, when I said that my bike crossed over the center line in the road, I didn’t have any specific recollection of that having happened at that particular turn. I had some recollection of it having happened somewhere, and it seemed reasonable to conclude that it was the place where I had crashed.

Anyway, I needed to make that confession because I revisited the scene of the accident this morning, and what I saw there led me to question both of the claims discussed in the preceding paragraph.

As I approached the turn where the accident took place, I could see that there were plenty of signs warning of a difficult turn. First was  something painted on the street by a well-meaning amateur.

SLOW!

Then there were the road signs as I approached the turns.

Right Turn, 15MPH
I’ve always been a careful cyclist, so this signage came as a surprise to me. I just couldn’t believe that I’d ignored it. The fact that I didn’t remember it being there  might suggest that I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I also could easily have forgotten in my post-accident shock. (It also occurred to me that when the EMT asked how fast I had been going and eventually got me to agree that I had been going 20 to 30 miles per hour, I had admitted to breaking the speed limit.)

When I got to the actual turn, there were even more warnings.

Yellow Light, Right Arrow

I stopped at the corner to reflect on things and examine the scene for a while. Obviously, with the accident having happened 90 days earlier, there were no visible traces of my accident. However, one patch of pavement did catch my attention.

Cracked pavement

With the shade and an unfavorable angle, the photo doesn’t adequately display the magnitude of the hazard that this presents to bicyclists. In particular, it’s hard to see in the picture how deep some of the ridges were. Here’s another shot, which still doesn’t really do it justice, but it provides a little bit more information.

Another view of the cracked pavement

Also, the hill that preceded this turn actually did seem pretty steep, contrary to what I had thought when I looked at it on Google Street View.

Somewhat steep hill

In the hours since my return to the site, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the condition of the pavement played some role in my accident. The evidence is far from conclusive, but my biggest objection to that theory was easily resolved. This objection was that the cracked pavement was only found on the side where I was supposed to be riding, and I remembered crossing over the center line. As I mentioned previously, though, that memory of crossing the line may not be from this particular spot. Moreover, even if it is from that spot, it’s possible that I lost control on the broken pavement and then crossed over the line and fell.

I’ve spent a good amount of time examining my injuries and the scratches that the bike acquired in the accident, trying to figure out exactly how I fell and whether that might convey any information about the quality of the pavement I was on. The main way that such information might arise is if the bike were scratched in places that wouldn’t touch smooth pavement when I fell on it, but might have been able to touch pavement that was sufficiently uneven. Indeed, there are some scratches in places that seem like they shouldn’t have made contact with the road, but it’s not clear to me that the scratches could have come from falling on the ridged pavement either. The only other possibility seems to be that these scratches predated the accident (but I didn’t notice them until afterwards) or that they were acquired while the bike was at the fire station.

Since the morning, I’ve also had flashbacks of falling from my bike towards badly cracked pavement. I suspect that this isn’t an actual memory but something that my mind has fabricated to support my new theory of the cause of the accident.

Of course, all of this speculation on what happened that day has only minimal practical value. Determining the cause of the accident isn’t going to change the fact that it happened. Nor would it change the fact that the worst effects of the accident have, by all indications, passed. The only possible benefit from knowing why I fell would seem to be liability purposes, and not only does it seem unlikely that I’d be able to build a strong enough case, but I have no interest in pursuing litigation against a city that is broke when my insurance companies seem to have picked up most of the tab for my bills. I’d much rather see money go to fixing road hazards, which is why I reported this spot on the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s hazard reporting site. Much to their credit, Oakland’s Public Works Agency apparently does a good job of fixing hazards quickly after they are reported, according to an article in the East Bay Express.

The longest I have ever taken to eat a Clif Bar

24 May

The last thing I ate before my accident was about 90% of an Iced Gingerbread Clif Bar. I had purchased 30 of the seasonal flavor Clif Bars at the Grocery Outlet the day before (for $0.59 each), and I brought one along for my ride. I ate most of it at the first regroup, about five miles before my accident. The remaining 10% survived the accident, so I put it in my freezer with the rest of my perishable foods.

This afternoon, seven weeks and a few hours after I opened the Clif Bar, I removed the little remaining piece from the freezer and left it out for a few hours to allow it to thaw. After thawing, it was hard enough that I didn’t want to bite into it directly, so I broke it into small pieces, which I allowed to soften in my mouth before chewing. I think it was a little bit harder than a normal Clif Bar, but it tasted fine.

Bike maintenance

21 May

I took my bike in for a tune-up (which is covered under the one-year maintenance warranty from Missing Link, where I bought it) yesterday. I was told that my rear brake pads needed to be replaced. This was somewhat surprising in that I had only ridden the bike for about two months. My old bike had been going on the same rear brake pads for about five months, and weren’t at the point of needing to be replaced. I’ll never know for sure, but it’s quite possible that the condition of the brakes played some role in my accident. I’ll have to watch my brake pads more carefully from now on.

The first bill

13 May

My accident was five and a half weeks ago, and I just received the first bill from the incident today. This bill, from American Medical Response, is just for the ten-mile ambulance ride, and it came out to $1,592.90. Most of this should be covered by my insurance, but the bill tells me,

No authorization has been provided for this claim. If you do not obtain an authorization you will be responsible for payment in full for this claim.

I’m surprised that they don’t have an authorization from my insurance because the EMT on the ambulance went through my wallet (with my permission), found my insurance cards, and told me that my insurance information was “going through.” Obviously, this isn’t the same as claiming to have an authorization, but I don’t know what else he could have meant.

This message was followed by a customer service number, which was closed for the evening when I dialed it. I followed up by attempting to call both of my insurance providers, but they were also closed for the day.

The due date on this bill is May 18, which is Monday of next week. The invoice is dated May 8, which was Friday of last week, but the bill didn’t arrive until today.  Fortunately, any payment that I owe will only have to travel as far as San Francisco, but that still means I’ll have to put a check in the mail on Saturday, so I need to resolve the insurance situation by Friday.

Even giving American Medical Response the benefit of the doubt and supposing that they actually mailed the bill on Friday, it took them twenty-five business days to get any billing information on its way to me, and I’ll have two business days to sort things out. I’m very lucky that I can afford to pay for it if I have to, but I can’t help but see this as symptomatic of a badly broken healthcare system.

Five weeks

10 May

It doesn’t feel like it’s been this long, but my accident was five weeks ago this morning. Life is pretty much back to normal, aside from being more lost than usual in my classes and not being able to chew.

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