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D.C. Considers Allowing Cyclists To Sue Drivers

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The view from a cyclist Evan Wilder's mounted helmet camera after being run off the road in Northeast D.C. earlier this month.
Evan Wilder, Youtube
The view from a cyclist Evan Wilder's mounted helmet camera after being run off the road in Northeast D.C. earlier this month.

With D.C.'s popular Capital Bikeshare program and dozens of dedicated bike lanes, more and more people are choosing to get around the city on two wheels. But it’s not always easy for cars and bikes to share the road, and the city is looking at ways to make cycling safer and protect cyclists' rights. 

For D.C.’s cycling community, the turning point, or maybe the boiling point, was the release of a short clip of choppy video footage. Bicyclist Evan Wilder filmed the video using a helmet-cam and it shows a pickup truck pulling up next to him. The driver of the pickup then rolls down the window and threatens Wilder.

"Before I knew what was happening, the driver accelerated and slammed the side of his truck into my body," says Wilder, who testified about the video before the council Wednesday. "The impact was strong enough to cause my helmet to crack when my head hit the road."

Wilder’s video has become a driving force behind the "Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act" proposal. The measure makes it easier for bikers to sue drivers, and it also offers financial incentives for lawyers to take up the cases.

"I know what we're advocating is an usual step," says the bill's sponsor, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells. "This will serve as a signal to the minority of motorists who are hostile to cyclists that aggressive behavior is no longer tolerated here in the city."

But as city lawmakers eye legal remedies to deter violence against cyclists, they’re also concerned about safety: namely, helmet use among users of the Capital Bikeshare program. Han Huang, a researcher at the MedStar Sport Concussion Center, testified before the council yesterday about a new study on the helmet-wearing rates of Capital Bikeshare riders. 

"The results recorded were striking, if not surprising," says Huang. "Following nearly 1,000 observations, we found only 18 percent of bikeshare riders used helmets." Capital Bikeshare doesn't provide helmets to riders. 

By contrast, nearly half of regular bike riders were observed wearing helmets during the study. Huang admits, however, he "doesn't know what the solution is" to get more bikeshare riders in helmets. 

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