ACPD creates crash reports when cars are involved. Why not for bike-on-bike crashes?

The Aug. 9 bike-on-bike crash on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn (image via Arlington County traffic camera)

Paul Kiendl doesn’t even remember what happened.

It was early August and he was on his bike, making his way to work via his regular route on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn. He recalls being stopped at a traffic light near the intersection of Langston Blvd and Fort Myer Drive.

Then, memories come in bits and pieces for Kiendl. Lying in a patch of poison ivy, in the back of the ambulance, and then being in the hospital.

It’s been about a month since the bike accident, which left Bluemont resident Kiendl with a severe spinal injury and nerve damage. He’s begun to piece together what exactly happened, believing he clipped another cyclist when it sped ahead of him at the traffic light.

“I think that was just a bicyclist that was trying to run a red light on Fort Myer Drive,” Kiendl tells ARLnow. “And I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.” 

But knowing exactly the cause of the accident has proven to be very difficult. That’s because Arlington County Police Department didn’t prepare a crash report, as it would when a driver of a car hits a bike or pedestrian.

So, there’s no account of what happened, no identifying details, no interviews with witnesses, and no diagram of the crash.

The information about Kiendl’s crash was so sparse that a family member reached out to ARLnow, after seeing our brief post on Twitter, above. We did not have any information beyond what was in the tweet, however, and at the time the injuries involved were reported to be minor so no reporter was sent to the scene.

The lack of a crash report in keeping with police protocol, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage notes. The county police department does not put together crash reports for bike-on-bike or bike-on-pedestrian incidents.

“ACPD follows Virginia law and guidance by the DMV for reporting crashes,” Savage said in a written response to ARLnow. “In Virginia, a crash report involving a bicycle is required only when the bicycle is involved with a motor vehicle in transport.”

Bruce Deming, the “bike lawyer,” thinks this is a very bad policy. He’s been practicing law in Arlington for more than 30 years, exclusively representing injured cyclists and pedestrians.

Deming notes that by not taking a crash report, there’s no information or official documents one could use to pursue any sort of civil compensation or insurance claims for help with medical bills.

“Why should the Arlington County police treat injured cyclists that are involved in a bike-on-bike collision as second-class citizens?” Deming rhetorically asks. “They’re badly injured and they need the information to pursue their own civil claims just as much as a motorist would need it.”

Per Savage, a crash report is taken in accordance with Virginia Code § 46.2-373 which says one must be prepared when a “motor vehicle accident” results in injury, death, or property damage of $1,500 or more.

As defined by Virginia Code § 46.2-100, the term “motor vehicle” does not include bicycles, scooters, e-bikes, mopeds, electric personal mobility devices, or motorized skateboards.

Just because a crash doesn’t involve a car, however doesn’t mean someone can’t be badly injured.

Deming recounts another situation back in 2015 when a client of his was severely hurt colliding with another bike in the Rosslyn/Courthouse neighborhood. Deming says the police showed up, but wouldn’t take any witness contact information or interview the other cyclist.

Bike-on-bike crashes often result in terrible injuries. You’ve got two bodies and quite often [it’s] a head-on type of situation,” says Deming. “It doesn’t take a physics professor to understand the type of force that happens when you have two bodies collide at any kind of speed. It’s a terrible policy.”

While injuries resulting from a bike-on-bike crash can be covered by health, homeowners, and renters insurance, often companies will ask for documentation to determine who’s at fault. When Deming has taken cases in other jurisdictions, such as in Richmond, he’s had police reports to work with. But not in Arlington.

“In my experience, if there’s no crash report, and this might sound crazy, it’s almost like it didn’t happen to the insurance company,” Deming says.

After two years of falling numbers, bike-involved crashes are on the rise again.

In 2019, there were 85 such crashes per an ACPD report. In 2020 and 2021 combined, there were only 77 crashes. So far in 2022, there have already been 46 bike-involved crashes — more than either of the last two years, per statistics provided by ACPD to ARLnow.

Deming notes that this lines up with what he’s noticed anecdotally and believes it has a lot to do with the number of cars on the road. In 2020 and 2021, there were fewer cars on the road but that’s climbed back up this past year. Coupled with the surge in cycling during the pandemic, that has created conditions where there could be more bike-involved crashes.

He says he’s “never been busier, unfortunately” the last few months with folks calling about their own bike crashes.

His suggestion is if you are in a bike crash and physically able, to essentially create your own crash report. Interview witnesses, record if you can, take insurance information, and call the police or medical services if needed.

“Call 911, go to the hospital if you’ve been injured, and get checked out immediately,” Deming says. “When you’re in a bike crash, your body floods with adrenaline. It masks the pain. You can be seriously injured.”

Plus, a report is generated when you go to the hospital.

Paul Kiendl is on the road to recovery.

“Therapy is hard and progress is slow,” he says. “When you are dealing with nerve damage, you have to be patient and it will hopefully eventually come back.”

Kiendl doesn’t know when he’ll be able to get back on his bike again, maybe a year, a year and a half, or maybe never. But he says he’ll never take that treacherous route — the Custis Trail to the intersection of Fort Myer Drive and Langston Blvd — again.

He considers himself lucky in the sense that he didn’t absolutely need a police-generated crash report to help with his medical bills. But he still doesn’t really know what happened.

“I’m doing my usual commuter ride and, then, all of sudden I’m off the rails and into the bushes. It’s transformative and really life-changing,” Kiendl says. “Without a police report, I’m left in the dark.”

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