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In the latest traffic violence-related trend, it seems quarantine and the emptied roads it triggered weren’t enough to curtail drivers killing bicyclists, but now according to a new report, they’re also leaving them to die after the collision. Outside Magazine recently analyzed media reports of fatal cycling crashes and found that more than a quarter (26.3%) of drivers who killed a cyclist last year commited a hit-and-run, fleeing the scene of the crime. As part of its 2020 Cycling Deaths project, journalists looked at 697 fatal cycling crashes for this.
The magazine noted that though official federal statistics about hit-and-run rates won’t be released for approximately two years, the data they analyzed with the assistance of information scientists at BikeMaps.org is likely a strong representative sample of a death toll whose “total is likely significantly higher.”
Back in 2018, researchers at AAA reported that hit-and-runs against vulnerable road users had hit the highest point in recorded history, climbing 25% in just four years. About the same proportion of cyclists who would later succumb to their injuries were abandoned by the drivers who struck them in 2016 — but 2020 was reportedly even worse. Starkly in contrast, hit-and-run fatality rates for drivers struck by other drivers never exceeded more than 1% over the course of the study period.
Tiffanie Stanfield, founder of the non-profit Fighting Hit and Run Driving, told StreetsBlog USA she wasn’t surprised by the data: “The pandemic provided drivers with a license to speed, and heightened the population of cyclists and pedestrians on the road. That balance is still off — but we haven’t done things like increase the enforcement to address the change.”
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago, speeding in California immediately increased. With traffic volume down about 35% from the same period in Mar. 2019, the California Highway Patrol saw an alarming 87% increase in citations for speeding in excess of 100 mph. During the month after the start of the stay-at-home-order in Mar., the CHP issued 2,493 tickets throughout California for speeding over 100 mph — almost doubling the amount of the same offense seen during the same period last year. “With no traffic, people are pushing the envelope a little more. The crashes are a little more dynamic, fewer fender-benders… Almost every one has an ambulance responding,” a California Highway Patrol Officer told the LA Times at the time.
Outside Magazine emphasized the importance of reducing the number of “hits” in the country’s hit-and-run driving epidemic — or at least making those crashes less likely to be fatal. Some common-sense solutions mentioned included protected bike lanes, better new car safety standards, improved education for drivers, and increasing cycling rates to encourage safety in numbers.
On the other hand, other researchers have said it’s necessary to tackle the far trickier “run” side of the equation, emphasizing that we need to look beyond enforcement alone to keep drivers from fleeing. AAA researchers found multiple studies that suggest that increasing legal sanctions for scofflaw drivers actually did not consistently decrease the prevalence of the crime. In some cases, it even made the problem worse, because drivers’ fears of particularly harsh punishments for traffic violence actually gave them an added incentive to flee.
Moreover, a California study found that drivers fled less often “after a law was put into place allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses,” even though the rates of overall collisions remained the same.
“More than anything, we need awareness, exposure, and education,” Stanfield concluded. “Remember the basics: Call 911, stay on the scene. It all comes back to that.”
Back in Sep. 2020, non-profit news organization Crosstown reported that that month marked a record for bike safety in Los Angeles. As more cyclists hit the roads, the month had the fewest bicycle-vehicle collisions since the city began releasing data in 2012. Per data from the Los Angeles Police Department, there were 18 bike-vehicle collisions recorded in the city that month, down from 185 during the same period in 2019 — making it the lowest number ever recorded.