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The Death Toll From Cars Is Even Higher Than You Thought

Ten days ago, a four-year-old boy near Houston was killed when a neighbor backed his pickup truck over him. At least 50 times a week, people back their cars over kids in the U.S. On average, two of those 50 incidents are fatal. But you won’t see them represented in official crash statistics.

Four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain's death, like the deaths of an average of 1,621 people per year, will not be counted in NHTSA's traffic death statistics because he was hit in a driveway, not a public road. Photo: ##http://www.click2houston.com/news/deputies-child-hit-and-killed-by-pickup/25434032##Click2Houston##

Four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain’s death will not be counted in NHTSA’s traffic fatality statistics because he was hit in a driveway, not a public road. Photo: Click2Houston

Every year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues a grim summation of the death toll on American roads: 33,561 killed in 2012. The year before that: 32,479. The year before that: 32,999. But this statistic leaves out many fatalities caused by cars and drivers. And the victims it undercounts the most are pedestrians and cyclists — and children.

NHTSA does track these other deaths, but it categorizes them differently. The agency recently released its “Not-in-Traffic Surveillance” numbers from 2008 to 2011 [PDF] — which measures injuries and deaths in “nontraffic motor vehicle crashes” off public roadways. The agency explains:

These crashes… are mostly single-vehicle crashes on private roads, two-vehicle crashes in parking facilities, or collisions with pedestrians on driveways. Then there are also noncrash incidents such as a vehicle falling on a person underneath or unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

So, add to the 37,261 people killed in traffic in 2008 another 1,605 killed in “nontraffic.” Between 2008 and 2011, there were 6,483 such deaths and 91,000 such injuries. About 39 percent of the people killed in these incidents weren’t in cars.

Children like Zain account for a disproportionate share of “nontraffic” fatalities. (NHTSA put out a separate report [PDF] on children involved in nontraffic crashes.) Between 2008 and 2011, 13 percent of the victims were 4 or younger, while kids that young account for about 3.5 percent of the overall population. Almost half the children who die in these kinds of incidents are killed by drivers backing up over them. Three percent are killed by rollaway vehicles that no one is driving. Of all children injured in “nontraffic” crashes, 60 percent are not in a car at the time.

NHTSA didn’t collect information on these crashes until 2007, and the agency still doesn’t include them in its annual traffic fatality reporting. The National Safety Council does, however, which helps explain why the NSC’s numbers are always higher than NHTSA’s. The NSC also considers a death to be traffic-related if it occurs within 12 months of the crash; NHTSA’s window is only 30 days.

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SFPD Renames MAIT Team, Removes “Accident” From Web Site

The SFPD’s Major Accident Investigation Team has been renamed the Traffic Collision Investigation Team, and the department’s website has removed the term “accident” from its contact info page. The news follows a Streetsblog post on October 21, in which we pointed out that SFPD regularly violates its official policy of referring to car crashes as “collisions.”

The SFPD reportedly announced to the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee this week that the MAIT team had been renamed, and a cursory Google search of the term “accident” on the SFPD website turns up only one result, found in the description of the Traffic Company. All other instances on the SFPD’s web pages appear to have been removed. None of the SFPD’s press releases and daily press recaps in recent weeks appeared to have used “accident,” either.

The SFPD deserves credit for responding to this long-standing oversight. The vocabulary chosen by law enforcement officials is important — it can set the tone for how traffic violence is viewed by officers and the public.

Looking forward, we’re hoping to see the department’s view of deaths and injuries on our streets as preventable tragedies consistently reflected by thorough crash investigations and data-driven prioritization of traffic enforcement.

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Contrary to SFPD Policy, Police Still Refer to “Collisions” as “Accidents”

Anyone who keeps track of the daily reports that come out of the SFPD’s press office might be surprised to learn that the department has a policy of using the term “collision” — not “accident” — when referring to traffic crashes. That’s because, in practice, the SFPD’s top brass and press officers use “accident” as their term of choice, while “collision” is used only occasionally.

SFPD's Major Accident Investigation Team inspects the scene of a fatal crash between a bicycle rider and a Muni driver Friday. Image: KTVU

“It has always been ‘collision.’ ‘Accident’ is a term that is misused. There is always someone at fault, therefore, not an accident but a collision,” said SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza when asked about the discrepancy.

But SFPD regresses into “accident” mode very often. The department’s most recent press release on a traffic collision was yesterday, sent out with the subject line, “Traffic Accident at Third and Gilman Streets”:

The San Francisco Police Department responded to a traffic accident at approximately 12:59 pm.  A 12 year old child was transported to SFGH for medical treatment. An accident investigation is taking place, and anyone who may have witnessed the accident is encouraged to call the police.

“We all grew up with the term ‘car accident,’ but in truth, they are traffic collisions,” said SFPD Deputy Chief Mike Biel after a City Hall hearing on an apparent pattern of hostility and bias against bicycle riders in crash investigations. “Nobody goes out in the morning trying to crash their car into somebody or into something, so it’s not done on purpose obviously — unless they were driving recklessly and we can show that there was negligence — but they are traffic collisions.”

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Man on Bike Killed by Muni Bus Driver at Bryant and Division

Image: KTVU

A man riding a bike was killed by a Muni bus driver this morning at the intersection of Bryant, Division and 11th Streets on the southwest end of SoMa, according to media reports.

From the SF Chronicle:

The crash involving a bus on the 27-Bryant line was reported at 8:44 a.m., said Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the Fire Department. She said the bicyclist, identified only as a man, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police and Muni officials said the bus was traveling southeast on 11th Street, and collided with the bicyclist while turning right onto Bryant Street.

The intersection is under Highway 101 and is controlled by traffic lights. However, Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, said, “Its unknown at this point the dynamics of the collision.”

None of the roughly three dozen passengers on the bus were injured, Esparza said.

Paul Rose, a Muni spokesman, said the male bus driver, who has about 10 years of experience, was cooperative after the crash, and will be given a toxicology test under agency protocol. The driver was not immediately identified.

At the scene, KTVU reported that the bicycle had a black garbage bag tied to the rear rack and plastic bottles scattered across the street. KTVU also noted that the Muni bus had a camera on board which may have footage of the crash.

In a blog post, the SF Bicycle Coalition noted the poor design and high speeds at the intersection where the crash occurred, which lies underneath the Central Freeway.

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Menlo Park Expands Red Light Photo Enforcement Program

IIHS red light running crash photo

Red light enforcement cameras are effective in reducing the number of injury collisions, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Last week, the Menlo Park City Council voted to extend its red light photo enforcement program for an additional five years and add a fifth red light camera at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street, where 20 collisions have resulted in 14 injuries and one fatality since 2008. A temporary test camera installed at the intersection on March 11 recorded 217 red light violations by drivers in only 12 hours.

On August 24, 2011, 64-Year-Old Richard Buckley was killed in a collision with a car while riding his bicycle across the six-lane Bayfront Expressway at that intersection during this lunch break. Buckley, who worked at nearby Tyco Electronics, began cycling for exercise after suffering a heart attack a few years earlier.

The intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Willow Avenue, the entrance to Facebook’s headquarters, was the site of two fatalities resulting from side-impact collisions in which drivers ran a red light.

In November 2009, 6-year-old Menlo Park resident and Laurel School student Lisa Xavier was killed when her family’s car was struck in the intersection by the driver of a Ford Mustang heading north on Bayfront Expressway who ran the red light. The driver, suspected to be the Mustang’s owner, local resident Shannon Fox, was never apprehended. In April 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam was killed as the passenger in a side-impact collision, after his driver, UC Berkeley graduate student Kevin Jones, ran the red light while turning left onto Willow Road. Jones was charged with vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

Lisa Xavier & David Halberstam portraits

Lisa Xavier (left) and David Halberstam (right) were both killed in side-impact collisions resulting from drivers running a red light at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road in Menlo Park. Photos: San Jose Mercury News (left), San Francisco Chronicle / Michael Maloney (right).

A total of four red light photo enforcement cameras were installed a year after Halberstam was killed, one at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, two at El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue (facing north and south), and one at El Camino Real and Glenwood Avenue (facing north).

Heyward Robinson, who served on the City Council when the cameras were installed, described them as “a cost effective means of enforcing an important traffic law,” in an email to the current City Council. “They operate 24/7 with no salary, overtime, or benefit costs. The bottom line is that our roads and community are safer with these cameras than without them,” he wrote.

The rate of red light running has indeed dropped steadily every year since the cameras were installed, with the number of citations issued dropping from 6,381 in 2009 to 3,898 in 2012, a reduction of about 40 percent. The number of collisions that have occurred at the camera-enforced intersections dropped from 141 in the five years before the cameras were installed to 103 in the five years after they were installed, according to Menlo Park police.

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In Case SFPD Doesn’t Ask for Crash Footage, New Website Can Help Find It

Image: CommunityCam

A new online platform called CommunityCam provides a crowdsourced map of surveillance cameras on the streets that could help investigators and the public find video footage that may prove useful after a traffic crash.

As we saw last week, San Franciscans can’t rely on the SFPD to do their jobs when a pedestrian or bicyclist is injured by a driver, including taking a quick survey of nearby buildings for surveillance cameras that could provide key evidence in determining the cause of the crash. Instead, SFPD too often blames the victim by default.

CommunityCam currently lists the locations of more than 1,000 “outdoor, public-facing security cameras,” said Ellen Arndt, communications manager for VideoSurveillance.com, which hosts the map. “If a cyclist is hit and the driver fails to stop, he or she can look at CommunityCam’s map to determine if a nearby camera may have caught the incident on video.”

Sadly, it has indeed come to the point where the public may have to do investigative work on traffic crashes for the SFPD. At least now, it’s easier to find these cameras.

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Folsom Truck Victim Identified as 24-Year-Old Amelie Le Moullac

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: Voce Communications

The woman killed on her bike by a truck driver at Sixth and Folsom Streets yesterday morning has been identified as 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, SF Weekly reported this morning. Le Moullac was run over by a truck driver making a right turn from Folsom on to Sixth at about 7:07 a.m., and although SFPD says it’s still investigating the crash, officers have already said they have no plans to submit case to the district attorney to investigate the case for potential charges, according to KTVU.

Photo: Voce

Le Moullac, a graduate of Menlo High School in Atherton and the University of Southern California, worked as a client executive at Voce Communications, a public relations firm located on Third Street near Brannan. She may have been riding to work when she was killed.

In a blog post, Voce called Le Moullac “one of our beloved family members.”

“We miss you dearly,” the company said. “We will miss your smile, your humor, your wit and your friendship. You are irreplaceable and unforgettable.”

Le Moullac is the third resident to be killed on a bike in San Francisco streets this year, and each victim was killed by a heavy truck driver, none of whom have been cited or charged. In February, 48-year-old Diana Sullivan was run over and killed while reportedly stopped at a red light at Third and King Streets.

“I’ve had a few close calls when it seemed like the driver didn’t notice me in broad daylight,” said Kristina Varshavskaya, 19, who bikes from her home in the Mission to her office on Townsend Street near Third. “I definitely worry about it in the back of my mind.”

Varshavskaya said she tends to commute on streets with safer bike lanes and calmer traffic, like Townsend and Division Street, which has curbside bike lanes separated by plastic posts.

“Almost all SoMa streets, specifically Folsom, Mission, and Third, from my experience, are always really busy and cars can be pretty aggressive and indifferent to bikers,” she said. The lingering plan for protected bike lanes on Folsom “seems like the safest possible solution.”

Varshavskaya said she was also hit by a driver while walking near Second and Market Streets about two years ago, suffering a broken leg in four places. “I’m pretty alert while biking and definitely more cautious than most people I know.”

Seen on Sixth at Folsom. Photo: ionfeldman/Instagram

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Woman on Bike Killed by Truck Driver on Folsom: Charges Off the Table?

Photo: Will Tran via hhttp://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Bicyclist-killed-in-SoMa-crash-with-truck-4731657.phpSFGate

An unidentified 24-year-old woman was killed while bicycling on Folsom at Sixth Street this morning when she was hit by a big rig truck driver, according to SFPD and media reports.

The victim is the third bicycle rider killed in San Francisco this year, and each death has involved a truck driver. Although the driver seemed to be at fault in each case, none have faced charges.

Here are the details on this morning’s crash, via SFGate:

The crash happened as the truck tried to make a right turn at 7:07 a.m. at Sixth and Folsom streets, police said.

Both the bicyclist, a woman about 30 years old, and the truck driver were headed east on Folsom. When the trucker tried to turn south onto Sixth, he hit the bicyclist, said Officer Bryan Lujan.

The woman died at San Francisco General Hospital. Neither her name nor the name of the trucker has been released.

The truck driver stayed at the scene and was interviewed by police. He has not been cited. The truck was later towed away.

As police investigated the crash, the woman’s crumpled blue, road-riding bicycle lay at the southwest corner of the intersection. A bike helmet was nearby.

Police have already determined that the truck driver won’t face any charges, according to a tweet from KTVU reporter Brian Flores, who also specified the victim’s age at 24.

SFPD spokesperson Dennis Toomer said he couldn’t confirm those reports, however. “This is still an on-going investigation and I cannot confirm if charges are pending for a later date or not,” he said. Toomer said state law also prevents SFPD from releasing information about the victim or driver at this time.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, called the crash “another tragic reminder of what can happen when bikes and large trucks mix on our city’s high-speed corridors.”

Folsom, a street designed as a one-way, high-speed motorway — common in SoMa — has a painted, unprotected bike lane at the site where the victim was killed. “Folsom Street is one of the city’s few designated bike routes to downtown,” said Shahum. “Still, this street feels intimidating. This core route sees thousands of bike riders every day, yet large trucks travel next to these bike riders — completely unprotected.”

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For Monique Porsandeh, Life Brought to a Halt by a Reckless Driver

On an average day in San Francisco, three people are injured by drivers. But only a small portion of these crashes are reported in the media. Of those that do get ink, most reports are just a blurb of very basic information — whether the person suffered “life-threatening” or “non-life threatening” injuries, whether the driver “cooperated” with police. Rarely are stories told about the victims whose lives were left shattered in the wake of the crash.

Monique Porsandeh before the crash.

On February 24, a reckless driver plowed through two pedestrians as they crossed Fillmore and Green Streets in the Marina District at about 2 a.m. The headlines appeared in early March: “Two pedestrians struck, injured on Fillmore Street,” and ”SFPD seeking damaged Honda Accord in double hit-and-run.”

Four months later, I discovered that the victim in that crash was Monique Porsandeh, whom I grew up attending grade school with in Southern California but hadn’t kept in touch with. Porsandeh, I learned, was undergoing intensive physical therapy to regain basic physical abilities like standing and walking, while struggling to foot the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in medical care. She says she doesn’t remember the first two weeks after she was hospitalized.

The night of the crash, Porsandeh’s life as a graduate neuroscience researcher at UC Berkeley came to a sudden halt. ”I still feel strangely disconnected from the accident… and that’s hard because there’s a gap in my life,” she wrote in an email from a physical rehab center in Santa Barbara, where she was moved to be closer to her family in Ventura County. She said she still lacked the energy to talk extensively for a phone interview in addition to her physical therapy.

Though finding the driver might help bring her a sense of closure, “I don’t harbor any anger or lingering resentment for whoever did this,” Porsandeh said. “I just want to meet him or her, and look them in the eye, because I don’t understand how someone could hit me and left me in the street to die.”

Police determined that the driver had been going roughly 40 mph westbound on the wrong side of Green — a neighborhood street — when he or she ran the stop sign where Porsandeh and her friend were crossing, hitting them both. The driver sped off, leaving Porsandeh with a shattered pelvis and leg, several broken vertebrae and other bones, as well as traumatic brain injury and neurological damage. The other victim suffered only minor injuries. A nearby witness called 911.

“This driver changed the course of Monique’s life in an instant,” said Sunny Lai, a close friend. Lai and other friends from the International House — the UC Berkeley student residence where Porsandeh lived — organized a rally on Saturday, where a few dozen supporters marched through the Marina to bring attention to the need for safer streets and to bring the driver to justice.

“I can’t really imagine what [the driver was] thinking, if they were thinking,” said Amit Deutsch, also a friend of Porsandeh’s from the I-House.

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[Updated] Driver Injures Cyclist in Midnight Crash at Market and Octavia

A man riding a bicycle was seriously injured by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard at about midnight last night, according to police and two witnesses.

Market and Octavia. Photo: sftrajan/Flickr

The bicyclist was sent to the hospital after the crash at 12:05 a.m., said SFPD spokesperson Michael Andraychak. He said more details won’t be available until the police report enters the department’s system.

[Update:] Christopher Schroeder said he witnessed the crash, and that the man on the bike ran a red light:

I watched from my bike at my red light as the cyclist ran his red light at the freeway entrance of Octavia and Market and was hit by the car. After his body hit the car grate it rolled up onto the hood, over the roof and flew 4+ lanes approx. 20 feet before it hit the ground and rolled three times to stop just steps for me. As I pulled out my phone I had seconds to decide whether I run into the intersection to stop his body from being ran over by another car or whether that put myself at too much risk. Luckily the car behind stopped which gave me a chance to run to him, protected from traffic. He was not conscious. He did not move. 911 immediately responded. While the ambulance was in route the cyclist started to sputter and spit. An off duty nurse came to hold his neck and suddenly he started talking. Not in a normal voice but in a high pitched daze. “I’m fine. I need to get up. Please let go of me. Please. I’m fine. Please.” The paramedics say his neck is not broken and he should recover. The police have my number. I gave my statement assuring them the [driver] was not at fault. It never could have seen him. He ran the light to a freeway entrance.

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