Probably the biggest fear of any cyclist in DC is getting hit by a car, second only to your seat falling off while you’re standing up pedaling, and then when you sit back down, the seat post goes right up your hoo-hah. Thing is, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be hit by a car sooner or later; in Chinatown alone, I’d estimate that between 90% – 130% of drivers are texting while driving. I speak from experience (been hit three times!) when I say that the aftermath of getting hit can be much more confusing and traumatic than the collision itself; you’re frazzled and embarrassed, your stuff is scattered across the pavement, an entire school bus full of students could potentially be taking video of you on their phones.
Obviously, if you’re hurt, you should call 911. But if it’s a minor collision, you should have a plan.
SHOULD YOU CALL THE POLICE?
Nah. Cops are notoriously unsympathetic to cyclists. Even if the driver is clearly drunk, you could very well end up with a ticket for vandalizing their paint job with your blood. Plus, as my (insane) father always says, very little good can come from involving the police in anything. Thing is, you want the person who hit you to think that you are willing to call the cops; if you let on that that option’s off the table, they may very well come to the abrupt realization that we live in an essentially anarchic universe in which the only morals are the ones we create, i.e. they will drive away. If you make a big show of writing down their license plate number and fiddling with your phone, it will likely strike terror into their dirty car-loving heart, and they’ll be desperate to make a deal. I don’t know why this works so well, but it does. I think it has something to do with their car insurance. Most car owners would gladly chop off a pinky finger to avoid reporting a minor accident. This is when you bring up money.
Odds are, their car is fine, while your bike is messed up. It’s simple physics. Coupled with their desperation to avoid filing a report, you have a prime situation for an on-the-spot cash payout. Use your judgment here; if it’s a single mom shuttling between her first and second jobs, you might want to go easy, but if they’re driving a Mercedes or something, go ahead and shake them down. (Last time I got hit, I googled the woman as she fussed over her bumper; turns out she used to be an investment banker. I immediately got dollar signs in my eyes like a character in “Looney Tunes.”) It’s important here that you are able to sell whatever damage there is (or isn’t). “Gosh, that secondary gyroscope is going to need to be reionized!” That sort of thing. “That oblong flywheel rod is definitely bent!” et cetera. If they’re not comfortable giving you cash on the spot (granted, it does feel sort of extortion-y), you can often convince them to foot the bill at a bike shop. You know what that means … bike makeover time!
If you actually get hurt though (weirdly enough, I wasn’t hurt in any of my wrecks), you might want to go through the aggravation of going through their insurance company, since they’ll pay for any medical care you need. One of my friends got a year worth of free “therapeutic” massages out of it, which is pretty nice.
The first time I got hit, by someone zooming out of one of those underground parking garages (pretty sure that as they emerged out of the subterranean driveway, they’d built up enough speed that all four tires were off the ground), I was sure, afterward, that I’d jumped sideways at the very last moment so that I landed on the car’s hood instead of being struck by the bumper. (In retrospect, this was obviously something I saw in a movie.) But when I rolled my pants leg up a half hour later I found that my leg was one solid bruise from knee to ankle. The adrenalin/shock had numbed the pain. I could’ve had a bone sticking out of my leg and I wouldn’t have felt a thing. So just to be safe, give yourself a once-over. You might have a side-view mirror protruding from your forehead or something.
Here’s the thing; there are laws in place to protect cyclists, but most drivers don’t follow them. It’s not pleasant, but you may want to adopt a more defensive approach to biking; after all, being in the right won’t count for much after a dump truck turns you into chowder. For example, I used to get doored all the time, until I started riding out in the middle of the traffic lane instead of being “polite” and staying all the way over to the side. Sure, angry drivers would blow their horns at me because I was slowing them down, but I never got doored again. And after a while I even started taking pleasure in knowing I was making some already-late driver even later; that rush of smug satisfaction when they finally floor it and zip around you, while cursing at you in the rear-view, is like the world’s most addictive drug!