Tustin PD bike program credited with reducing injury crashes

By Jaimee Lynn Fletcher

Video: The video above was captured on the dash cam of a Tustin Police patrol car. A bicyclist can be seen crossing on a red light and nearly crashing into the officer’s car. 

When the number of traffic crashes involving bicyclists more than doubled several years ago, Tustin police took action.

Police have been amping up community education and adding enforcement to reduce these kinds of collisions, and the latest numbers show their efforts are working.

So far this year, Tustin has seen a 35 percent decrease in bicycle crashes, compared to the same time period in 2014.

From January to June in 2014, police responded to 20 bicycle collisions. This year, there have been 15 collisions, police said.

Tustin saw an uptick the year prior with 30 crashes in 2013 and 37 reported in 2014.

The department launched its program in December 2013.

“Things like this take time and because we continue to educate the community on bicycle safety, things are turning around and the numbers are starting to go down,” said Motor Officer John Hedges.

Tustin PD put together a multi-faceted plan that incorporates community outreach, education and enforcement after the number of bicycle crashes jumped from 20 in 2011 to 44 in 2012.

“There are a lot of things that can impact these statistics,” said Sgt. Ryan Coe. “As the population increases, that means more cars and more bikes on the road.”

And a growing city means a greater need for outreach.

Officers hold bicycle safety education classes, visit school sites and attend various city events to encourage bike safety.

Tustin police also puts a special emphasis on reaching local youth about safe cycling practices.

Hedges said officers organized targeted enforcement at Tustin schools to find students violating bicycle safety laws (along with parents violating the vehicle code at drop-off time).

“With many of these kids, they don’t have their helmet strapped right or their helmet is hanging on their handle bars,” Hedges said. “We don’t always cite them; a lot of the time it’s more about educating them on safe bicycle practices.”

Police make sure to add a positive spin to their enforcement efforts, too.

Tustin Parking Control Officer Garrett Georgians helps 4-year-old Tyler Do of Tustin run through the Bike Safety Course during Tustin PD’s 19th Annual Open House. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tustin Parking Control Officer Garrett Georgians helps 4-year-old Tyler Do of Tustin run through the Bike Safety Course during Tustin PD’s 19th Annual Open House.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Hedges, along with other officers in the department’s traffic unit, rewarded students riding safely with their helmets on with a coupon for a free Slurpee, donated by 7-11.

“It was nice to go out and give some positive reinforcement to the people who are doing things right,” he said.

Tustin PD, in partnership with the Tustin Unified School District, also launched a new online bicycle safety course students will have to complete if they want permission to ride their bicycles to school.

“The kids will have to go through an online course and pass a test,” Hedges said. “Then they’ll come to us, register their bikes and get a certificate of completion.”

With these various programs, along with bicycle access and safety improvements city staff is studying, officials hope to bring the number of collisions down even more.

“(Everyone) needs to understand that bicyclists are becoming more and more a part of American culture when it comes to transportation — both for health reasons and economic reasons,” Coe said. “We need to remember that all of us are out there using transportation for the same reasons.

“It’s about being educated and knowing the law.”

When it comes down to who is to blame for these types of collisions, Coe said cyclists and drivers share the responsibility, which means everyone needs to be more aware when out on the streets.

Here are some tips from Tustin PD for drivers and bicyclists to stay safe:

– In Tustin, it is legal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalks. This means they can legally ride against the flow of traffic. Coe and Hedges said drivers need to be diligent about looking both ways when exiting driveways or making right turns at an intersection

– Children under age 18 are required by law to wear a helmet, but all cyclists should be wearing helmets when they ride.

– If riding in the bike lane, cyclists must be riding with the flow of traffic and must use hand signals to alert drivers when they plan to stop or make a turn. The law also requires that one hand must always be on the handle bars.

– Cyclists must adhere to the same rules of the road that drivers do, which includes making lane changes and stopping at stop signs and red lights. In the video posted above, a bicyclist crossing on a red light nearly crashes into a Tustin PD patrol car.

– Drivers are required to maintain a 3-foot distance when passing cyclists on the road. This new law went into effect last year.

– Police encourage children and youth to opt for riding on the sidewalk and not in the street, even in the bike lane. The sidewalk offers a bit more protection for riders who are still learning how to safely navigate a bicycle.

– Avoid riding at night. If it’s unavoidable, bikes are required to have lights and reflector strips. Riders should also wear neon or reflective clothing to be more visible to drivers.