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Bicycling, Accident Rate Ride in Tandem to New Heights

February 14, 1988|JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writer

On the last day of the Thanksgiving Day weekend, 13-year-old Tracy Pulley, a popular eighth-grader from Huntington Beach, took her dad's bicycle out of the garage and pedaled away to her part-time job as a horse exerciser at a local stable.

She stopped along the way at a hamburger stand, grabbing a burger and fries to go and waving hello to some junior high friends before bicycling on.

Tragedy struck only a few moments later--just a block from the stables--when, police said, Tracy attempted to turn left from busy Golden West Street onto Ellis Avenue and was hit by an automobile traveling in the oncoming lane.

Illegal Left-Hand Turn

Paramedics took the critically injured girl to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center, where she died the following day. Police did not cite the motorist, saying Tracy made an illegal left-hand turn.

"What Tracy did was what any of us might have done," said her grief-stricken mother, Karen Pulley. "She just didn't see the vehicle."

The Nov. 28 accident was one more statistic in what police call an alarming increase in bicycle accidents both in Orange County and across California. Although statistics are not fully compiled for 1987, California Highway Patrol figures for the preceding five years show a steady upward trend in both Orange County and across the state.

Statewide figures compiled by the CHP show bicycle accidents resulting in injuries jumping 71% during that period and fatal bike accidents increasing by 74%. The Orange County figures show a 51% increase in injury accidents between 1982 and 1986. Fatal bicycle accidents in the county went from 7 in 1982 to 20 in 1986.

The actual number of injuries associated with bicycle injuries is much higher than police accident statistics indicate, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Bethesda, Md.

While police agencies nationwide counted approximately 50,000 bicycle accident reports during 1986, the safety commission tallied more than 500,000 bicycle-related injuries that year in a survey of hospital emergency rooms.

The huge gulf between numbers of reports and actual injuries is attributable to the fact most bicycle accidents go unreported, said Joel Friedman, director of the safety commission's injury information clearinghouse. Friedman said most accidents are unreported because the injuries are generally minor, with victims being treated and released at hospitals.

The increase in accidents is proportionate to the explosion in bicycle sales over the past five years. According to industry estimates, bicycle sales nationally nearly doubled, from 6.7 million in 1982 to 12.3 million in 1986. Sales figures for 1987 have not been compiled.

Today, an estimated 82 million Americans ride bicycles, and the sport is considered the second most popular nationally, behind swimming. In California, the state's 19 million bicycles far outnumber the state's 15 million motor vehicles, said Bill Tigue, Southern California manager for California Bicyclist magazine.

"We're beginning to ask ourselves in the industry how high we can go," Tigue said.

Reasons for the bicycle's popularity boom are multifold. One factor, bicycle industry officials say, is the crossover of many fitness buffs from jogging to bicycling in recent years. Bicycling is considered not as taxing on the body as jogging, said John Cornelison, director of the League of American Wheelmen in Baltimore, Md., a national organization of bicyclists.

Bicycling also gained in popularity after the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where bicycle racing events were featured, Tigue said.

California, with its year-round temperate climate, leads the nation in bicycling activity, according to Tigue. And within California, Orange County serves as "the white-hot center" of bicycling, Tigue said.

"At least two new (bicycling) shops are opening up every month in Orange County," Tigue said, adding that bicycles are so popular in the county because of its high concentration of high-income people who have the leisure time to enjoy riding. There are about 130 bicycle shops in the county.

So many people are now riding bicycles that on weekends some roads seem clogged with them. Dozens of cyclists, for example, can be seen pedaling along Coast Highway between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach on almost any weekend day. Laguna Canyon Road, similarly, plays host to processions of bicyclists, many of them belonging to touring clubs.

With more bicycles on the road, police officials say there is more potential for conflict with motor vehicles. In the overwhelming majority of cases, police add, bicyclists cause the accidents by ignoring simple safety rules.

Kathie Parnell, in charge of the bike safety program for the Huntington Beach Police Department, said the three biggest problems are bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the road, riding double and running stop signs and traffic signals. Bicycles have to conform to the same traffic laws as motor vehicles, she said.

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