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  1. #1
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    Accident: Bycyclist v. Tractor Trailer

    Hi:

    I am an investigator and I ride bikes as well. I need some advice from riders who have a lot of road experience that may have experienced problems when being passed by 18 wheeler TT rigs. Here are the facts:


    I have a Tractor Trailer v. Pedestrian incident in Massachusetts that took place during the day in June of 2004 wherein the pedestrian was on a 2 wheel single speed bicycle traveling west in the breakdown lane of a main road. Weather not a factor- it was nice. 19 year old pedestrian operating bike near the white fog line but in the breakdown lane. An 18 wheeler TT traveling in the 13 foot wide west lane comes upon the bike and pedestrian and starts to pass him, the driver thinks, without incident. Somehow, the pedestrian loses control of the bike and there is an impact with the bike/pedestrian at the right rear tire area of the TT. The driver is flagged down by a witness 1/8 mile down the road as TT driver alleges he is not aware of the impact. The TT returns to scene. Very significant injuries to pedestrian. Police and firefighters to scene. Bike is found in breakdown lane. Blood and pedestrian in breakdown lane. Witnesses say pedestrian lost control of bike as TT went by him. Speed of TT about 40 MPH. Labs negative for alcohol and/or drugs.

    Police did an investigation that is about the worst I've seen for this type of tragedy: no state police truck team; no state police acc. reconstruction; no DOT involvement; no investigation of TT; no drug test of driver; no copies of logs; nothing. They do have some digital pictures and a police report that is just short of worthless. The driver was not cited. They let him go at the scene. Bike may be missing. Pedestrian does not recall accident. He'll be somewhat disabled the rest of his life. Investigating cop is non cooperative and focused on everything but proximate cause of accident when I spoke to him.

    Here's my question. I'm trying to determine what may have caused the bike to lose control when the TT was upon him. Can anyone tell me about wind draft and wind suction involved with a moving TT? Are there any other possibilities including noise/being startled/scared, etc.. or other possibilities. Nothing wrong with the bike so no malfunctions that we know of. The TT remained in his lane and did not cross over the white fog line according to witnesses. What have you all experienced? Any advice would be appreciated. Please respond to me privately at lajoie@PrivateInvestigator.com.

    Thank you,

    John Lajoie
    www.PrivateInvestigator.com

  2. #2
    bicycleroadie bicycleroadie's Avatar
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    Would assume the cyclist is inexperienced at that age unless told othewise. As you know with inexperience, (even with experience) being startled and a quick look to the left will make the bike go left. I've been reading "Bicycling Street Smarts" by John S. Allen and he says riding in the breakdown lane is more dangerous that riding to the left of the fog line.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Paul L.'s Avatar
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    I have been riding major roads and highways on my bike for about 9 years averaging 6-7 thousand miles a year. I don't claim to be an expert on cycling but have been passed by a truck or two.
    Were there any winds blowing on that day? Even a 15 mile an hour wind directly off one side can cause a swerve as a truck passes if the rider is not expecting it. The rider compensates for the wind push by leaning into it, when a large truck passes suddenly that force is gone and the bike swerves as the rider regains balance.
    Sometimes a truck can create a flapping effect in the wind as it passes as well. I have heard people talk of wind suck it is something that shouldn't be ignored either. In my experience if a truck gives me at least 3 feet of room (the law here in Arizona) I have room to manouver and react to the various wind forces the Trucks cause. If a truck passes closer than that I clench my teeth and hope. Usually truckers are very good about the space with me.
    Experienced or not the truck should have passed safely and given the cyclist enough room to fall over next to him without hitting him (at least 5 feet) in my opinion.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Dchiefransom's Avatar
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    Well, for a first, the cyclist was NOT a pedestrian.
    The "suction" caused by a large truck at 40 mph is considerable. You didn't say how wide the TT was, or whether the driver stayed fully in the lane when passing the cyclist. That would tell us how far away from the cyclist the trailer was. I'm 235 pounds, and have been riding on the shoulder, not at the edge of the lane, when a truck has passed me at about that speed. ON a calm day there is quite a bit of disturbance which forces me to take measures to keep a straight line. If there is any breeze at all, it affects how much disturbance the truck causes. A 10 mph breeze is enough to totally change the effect the truck has, enough to have caused the cyclist to actually be pulled over into the wheels, if the wind was from the right direction. My 3,000 pound Jeep Wrangler is affected by driving next to a TT at 40 mph, so it stands to reason that a cyclist would be affected much more. The key seems to be how far from the cyclist the trailer was passing.

  5. #5
    GT enthusiast midwestmntnbkr's Avatar
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    Well, for a first, the cyclist was NOT a pedestrian.
    ]

    That is the first thing I saw wrong with this question. As for the suction, I think it would definately be a factor unless alot of distance was between the driver and cyclist. Even then it could have had an effect that would contribute to the collision.
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  6. #6
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    I'm not a lawyer or an expert, and the following is subjective based on my own experiences:

    Wind suck may well have been a factor, and varies widely in severity based on truck design... Trucks that have a single high area at the front and then a flat bed (like lumber trucks or some cargo trucks) tend to pull you toward them quite strongly as they pass, especially at speed; trucks that are uniform in height along their entire lengths are more likely to pull you toward their side of the road immediately after they've passed than while they are passing. If the truck in question had a high windblock of some kind toward its front end but that windblock was not consistently high along the entire length of the truck, it's quite possible that turbulence created by that windblock might have contributed by pulling the cyclist toward the truck.

    I'm not familiar with the term "breakdown lane". Is it used to indicate the shoulder? If so, depending on local laws, it may not be legally defined as a part of the roadway, which may affect the legal status of either party involved, if the outcome is determined by application of "right to the roadway" laws...

    Oh, and to those concerned about the use of the term "pedestrian" - I know that at least in New York, we're considered vehicles up until we get hit; as soon as a bicycle-auto collision occurs, though, the cyclist is considered to have been a pedestrian. This is all to the good, IMO, because it allows for more serious prosecution of dangerous drivers - a vehicle-pedestrian accident is a more serious violation than a vehicle-vehicle accident under the law, and it's also what allows us to collect for damage done to (less expensive) bikes by cars, since the police rarely get involved with vehicle-vehicle accidents that cause less than $1000 damage.

    -chris

  7. #7
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    Lots of good replies, I agree with most everything that's been said. My 2c:

    The cyclist (NOT PEDESTRIAN - peds are not goverened by vehicle law) certainly may have been really affected by the wind.

    Either a crosswind that is interrupted by the passing of a truck, or the suction / wind blast of a passing truck, can be very disruptive, particularly to inexperienced riders.

    The amount of disruption varies widely depending on type of truck.

    Most experienced riders, particularly with proper rear-view equipment, will be prepared for the wind changes. But things happen; you can hit a stone just as you're starting your counter-steer in preparation for the wind-blast, throwing your balance off, or a number of other things could happen that are normally not a problem, but if the guy was riding too close, they could be.

    The first few times that you get passed closely by a truck that generates a lot of wind blast, it can be surprising. Hopefully the inexperienced rider is leaving a lot of room.

    Also as BR says, if the guy was to the right of the fog line, unfortunately legally (depending on the state) he may have voluntarily given up some legal rights. I also ride on the shoulder, but only when there's a wide enough shoulder that I can keep ALL of my equipment to the right of the fog line in any predictable situation.

  8. #8
    Senior Member peterm5365's Avatar
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    When something big and loud comes up behind me I tend to tense up and hold a pretty steady line. Tensing up for short periods at a normal rate of speed will make you go straight, but it will also make it harder to make any correction in course or balance. So, it's possible that the suck caused by low pressure behind a semi added to surprise could have led to the "pedestrian" being sucked toward the truck, but unable to react accordingly to avoid a collision.

  9. #9
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Have over a quarter million miles of cycling under the tires; 200,000 of it on tandems.
    Suction created by a truck passing is a definite issue. Have fought for control against the suction a few times as truck passes too close.
    When there is a crosswind and the truck intervenes with the wind, again steering/handling issues can and have occurred.
    This happens with tandems/single bikes.

  10. #10
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    I'm curious as to why an inspector (official?) would ask a public forum, and not a qualified expert about what may have caused the bike to lose control when the TT was upon him.

    I could see getting perspective of experianced cyclists that may have been in a similar situation, but even then, why not ask the local cycling advocacy group for an expert opinion so he is sure to get an opinion from someone who truely knows and not just postings from unverifiable sources?

    Also, if there were significant injuries to pedestrian, wouldn't the police and fire dept. that attended the scene be required to do a proper investigation? If they didn't, wouldn't the state be legally required to correct this?
    Last edited by closetbiker; 12-29-04 at 01:19 PM.
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  11. #11
    The Iceman cometh! Bop Bop's Avatar
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    You seem to have alot of the facts surrounding the accident, have a lab and/or company recreate the accident on a computer simulation? That would show whether wind or some other thing was the cause or contributed to the accident. I can not believe in this day and age there are not companies who do this type of simulation.
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  12. #12
    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by closetbiker
    I'm curious as to why an inspector (official?) would ask a public forum, and not a qualified expert about what may have caused the bike to lose control when the TT was upon him.
    Not an 'inspector', he calims to be an 'investigator', as in 'private investigator', as in probably working for a plaintiff's lawyer looking to collect damages from the trucking company.

    Since it was the cyclist who apparantly crossed the line into the truck, the victim's lawyer apparently is having a hard time finding a way to pry money out of the trucking company. It's sad to hear of this kind of accident, especially when there are unanswered questions.

    I suspect that the wind gust off the front of the truck caught the cyclist unexpectedly and caused him to veer. Perhaps he overcorrected and crossed the line. depending on the wind speed and direction, there can be a pretty significant gust as a truck passes. Maybe there was some debris or poor road condition (pot hole, crack in the pavement) that complicated things. The truck possibly could have hit some road debris and thrown that up at the cyclist startling him. Tire blowout leading to loss of contrrol is another possibility.

    Interesting that you say the bike 'may' be missing yet claim there was no malfunction. Of course, a bike malfunction is probably not what you are wanting to find.

  13. #13
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by supcom
    Not an 'inspector', he calims to be an 'investigator', of contrrol is another possibility.
    Yes, of course. Mistyped, but it still looks pretty strange asking here instead of elsewhere if there was a serious injury.
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  14. #14
    I drink your MILKSHAKE Raiyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dchiefransom
    Well, for a first, the cyclist was NOT a pedestrian.
    Glad I wasn't the only one who caught that.

  15. #15
    Recovering Retro-grouch CRUM's Avatar
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    Having many miles under my belt as a tractor trailer driver, I find it difficult to believe the truck driver did not know he had collided with the bike. Any driver worth their salt always checks the mirror to ensure anything passed was done successfully.

    From the description of the accident, I would guess that both parties contributed to it. The driver for not giving extra room and/or slowing down and the rider for being too close to the white line.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by brokenrobot
    I'm not familiar with the term "breakdown lane". Is it used to indicate the shoulder?
    Florida statutes say you are a vehicle if you are operating your bike on the road(way). The edge of the roadway is defined as the white line (if it's there). Outside of this area (including shoulders) is not considered roadway. So riding outside the line Florida considers you a pedestrian. So even though a shoulder may be the practical (but not required) place to ride, it's most definitely one big grey area when it comes to "is it a vehicle or ped?".
    So where do pedestrians walk if there is no sidewalk? Shoulder maybe?
    And where do you ride if the "breakdown lane" is blocked by broken down autos?

    I've been passed by big vehicles and I have to agree there is a big wall of air being pushed along the front and sides of big rigs. Ever see the bow of a ship as its cutting through the water. Air does the same thing in front of a vehicle ( even more if the front is big and square).
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  17. #17
    Senior Member jerrryhazard's Avatar
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    On my daily commute, I have to ride a section of narrow 2 lane for several miles. There is a small shoulder that varies from 3 to 5 feet wide. I am passed regularly by TT's, as this road leads to an industrial park. The speed limit is 45 mph.

    I've never experienced wind suck or vacuum that would pull me off my bike. I'm not saying I don't believe it exists, but I've never felt it strong enough to change my course. But the experience of them passing can be disconcerting.

    Usually, you can hear them coming from a pretty good distance away, even in heavy traffic (unless you're wearing headphones). You can also feel the ground the rumble as they approach. Many times they will even use their smaller horn to honk - to alert a rider they are approaching.

    When they pass, the noise becomes more intense, and the ground will even shake a little bit. Road dust may fly up in the air, and depending on the angle of the sun, it may even put you in a pretty heavy shadow very quickly. If there is a guardrail, road debris, a ditch, or some other feature at the right of the shoulder, the rider can become crowded.

    This can be a very challenging situation for the inexperienced cyclist. Any one of those factors is enough to cause someone to change course - deliberately or not.

    But I have to say that I find most TT drivers in this situation to be very courteous, and they usually pass by me slower, and with more care than a normal motorist. But it still unnerves a bit every time.

    Too bad there is not more information available regarding the scene of the accident.

  18. #18
    Just riding andygates's Avatar
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    Being passed quite close by a big rig is a hairy experience. There is the "bow wave" which pushes you away from the rig, and against which an inexperienced or distracted or just plain unlucky rider may fall or overcompensate.

    Then there is the midway suck, just behind the tractor and before the trailer's rear wheels. If you've overcompensated for the bow wave, you might end up too close to easily resist this suck and of course if you get drawn in, that's about as bad as a bad place can be.

    The rear suck is also strong, but is less hazardous: it may draw you in close to the rear of the rig but there's nothing to hit there.

    Suck is all modified by absolute and relative vehicle speeds and by local wind conditions, but other than the general faster=bigger effects rule, that's pretty much chaotic and would rely on local weather knowledge or witnesses.

    Finally there's the white line, which is often raised and slippery.

    The cyclist could well have found himself, in compensating for the push of the bow wave, on the white line and in a sketchy handling position. I've been there and it's very, very nasty. Strong midway suck could have done the rest.

    Poor bugger.

    Anyway the thing I'm trying to suggest is that a competent cyclist riding in the breakdown lane could be drawn into a close-passing TT rig without a realistic opportunity to recover before being struck.

  19. #19
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    Well, unless and until you visit the scene, there are far far to many speculations. The guy was riding a one-gear bike; not a sign to me of an experienced cyclist. Which way was the wind blowing and how fast? Did he have a rear view mirror...he was, after all. on a busy street. Were they going up hill, down hill, or flats at the time of the accident? The shape, speed, age, cargo, and undercarriage of the truck would affect the bow shock.

    The investigation seems to have been a shambles...and I can see this guy as representing EITHER side of this. Shame it has to occur six months later.

    roughstuff
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  20. #20
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roughstuff
    ... there are far far to many speculations. The guy was riding a one-gear bike; not a sign to me of an experienced cyclist. Which way was the wind blowing and how fast? Did he have a rear view mirror....Were they going up hill, down hill, or flats at the time of the accident? The shape, speed, age, cargo, and undercarriage of the truck would affect the bow shock.

    The investigation seems to have been a shambles....
    Yup, there is far too little information for anyone here to make an informed guess (even if our "expertise" is recognized) of what may have happened.

    If someone is seriously injured, they deserve a proper investigation. We all do because it's the investigations after an incident that help prevent future incidents that may involve one of us.
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  21. #21
    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roughstuff
    The guy was riding a one-gear bike; not a sign to me of an experienced cyclist.
    Not necessarily true. A fixed gear is a singlespeed bike that is generally ridden by experienced cyclists.

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