We caught up with Josh Zisson, the Boston-based bike attorney whom we highlighted last week for his new Bicycle Accident Report wallet card. Zisson is a 28-year old attorney who has decided to focus exclusively on bike-related personal injury law, and his new card serves a dual function: to offer guidance concerning state law relevant to cyclists; and to provide a template for noting key collision details that too often get lost in the aftermath. It’s also an ingenious calling card for an attorney with ambitions to establish a national network for bike case referrals.
Zisson is well-situated to practice bike law. In a city like Boston, with its warren of historic streets and surrounding car-congested region, there is no shortage of opportunities for a bike attorney. Consider: ridership is reported to have doubled between 2007 and 2009, with the bike mode share inching up past 2%. That’s up more than a third over the previous year, according to the League of American Bicyclists 2009 Bicycle Commuter Rates study – no small achievement given the winter weather!
Moreover, bike commuting is a key reason that new folks are riding, according to the city’s most recent (2010) annual survey. And that means that more riders today are in the traffic mix at peak times. These trends mirror what we’re seeing in the Los Angeles area, and to a greater extent in cities up north.
Not surprisingly, injury-producing car-bike collisions happen too regularly. Boston is no exception. A glance at the Boston Cyclists Union Interactive Crash Map at right shows how frequently collisions (and even simple falls) can lead to serious health consequences. This map is generated from EMT reports, which is unusual in the world of bike incident maps.
Comparing with self-reported Boston-area collisions data (mapped below) we can see how pervasive is the problem. Of course, the challenge with such data is that it doesn’t capture all the incidents – in this case, EMT responses. The latter dataset comes from self-selected respondents who chose to report, so it too is likely not at all comprehensive. Our picture is not complete
Nor is it particularly timely. By the time we receive state DOT reports, say, or pry data out of the hands of the local PD, it’s no longer fresh data. It’s like looking at a distant star: interesting, yes, but knowing that we’re witnessing phenomena that occurred a million years ago takes the shine off of it.
But online collision maps like offer the promise of real-time reporting and better incident aggregation. The challenge there is to broaden the community of reporters beyond those today who are sufficiently informed about these tools to use them. We also have to encourage more folks to report in the first place.
Zisson’s Accident Report Card is a missing tangible link between on-the-street experience and the aggregating and mapping tools we already have. Carry this card around with you and in case of a collision you have a handy reporting template.
But the Accident Report is his calling card too; it’s an imaginative way of getting his ‘brand’ out there, as he says. For an attorney, his name is his brand. Zisson has literally stamped his brand on these cards, which is his way of creating for himself a gatekeeping role in a national network of experienced bike-attorneys that he would like to create. Though he can’t take a case beyond his licensed state of Massachusetts, he can refer within his network and negotiate that referral fee. The card is key.
In practice, for example, you’d have his card in your pocket. If you’re involved in a collision you use the template to record it, give him a ring, then he would hook you up with a vetted bike attorney in your area, he says.
It’s not all about the referral. He views the card as a means by which advocates can organize more effectively for protective legislation at the state and local levels. He even sees an as-yet-undecided share of his referrals funding advocacy state-by-state. Perhaps his referral network can someday help us overcome our own Governor Brown’s veto this past Fall of the widely-supported 3-feet passing law? (Thanks, Jerry!)
The cards, which he makes available to any organization (like a bike club, shop, or coalition that would pick up the printing cost) are localized in that they feature state-specific bike law and are co-branded with the name and contact info for the local organization. Whether we cook up a similar tool ourselves or use his beautifully-designed card, he’s identified a real opportunity for local advocacy organizations.
In Boston, nearly 40% of all bike crashes involved a car, according to an annual survey in 2010 conducted by Boston Bikes, an arm of the City of Boston. But I’m sure only a fraction of those made it to final police report. This tool will help.
Why We Need a Reporting Template
As a practicing attorney, Zisson is well-familiar with the challenges of practicing bike law when the precise details of an incident are in dispute. Often that’s because would-be plaintiffs didn’t adequately prepare. After a collision, for example, cyclists just want to get back in the saddle; they may fail to recognize the extent of their injuries. Or they may decline to exchange information with a motorist. We know the protocol after an auto accident, but when we crash on a bike, aren’t we less likely to treat it the same way? To consider ourselves in the fog of the post-collision situation as a pedestrian?
That’s why we need to fall back on a template (like this card) which enumerates the key details that need to be noted immediately. Our own local attorney Ross Hirsch keeps in his pocket a decidedly less-spiffy cheat sheet.
Documenting the details of a collision right when it happens is critical to communicating the cyclist’s perspective on the crash:
- Police reports are highly structured, so it’s helpful to provide the responding officer with appropriate input for the report right there, at the scene;
- The template reminds us while the adrenaline rushes exactly what we need to write down for later reference, which is critical to determining liability;
- Our report can correct filed reports that have overlooked important details or simply drawn invalid conclusions which will later put us at a disadvantage; and,
- Systematic reporting helps our community track hazardous conditions.
Whether they be road hazards, or poorly designed intersections, or corridors where traffic behavior is particularly egregious, we need to know where are the problems! This where solid data and interactive maps come in as critical tools in our advocacy toolbox.
Looking for Hotspots
We need to see where hotspots are emerging if we want to take corrective action on a problem intersection or corridor. Our own area’s leading-edge advocate, Bikeside provides a very nice hazards reporting tool and map (left). With its custom report form, incident inspector, and list report, the LA Bike Map becomes a tremendously valuable tool for our community.
This is where a collision template comes in: it’s a challenge to get the details of our experience into a structured format like a police report or a hazards or incidence map, so laying out the necessities is key. That’s why police reports are so structured: they leave no decisions as to what to ask to the responding officer. By design. Our own reporting tools are no different. It’s all about structured data, baby!
There’s also a hint here for regional advocates and alt-transportation organizations, many of which have already created their own incident maps (like Bikeside) but haven’t created the tangible materials (like a collision reporting card) to connect cyclists with the reporting tools that exist. While Zisson doesn’t yet associate his card with a Boston-area incident map, it’s only a revision and a hyperlink away. By contrast, we cycling advocates have the tools but not the link.