On Jan. 20, former Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley was riding his bike when he was hit from behind by a car. He has a traumatic spinal cord injury, the Mavericks said in a statement on Wednesday, that has left him paralyzed.
In that statement—and in the trending Twitter topic that accompanied its release on Wednesday—Bradley’s injury is referred to as an accident. Twitter calls it a bicycle accident.
A child falling off his bike in the park is a bicycle accident. A wipeout on the Tour de France is a bicycle accident. Getting rammed from behind by a car is not a bicycle accident.
Bradley has been a bike enthusiast since his retirement 15 years ago. At 7-foot-6, he had to get Trek to build him a custom bicycle—just like he has custom pants and custom countertops. He lost 30 pounds when he took up cycling in the canyons near his home in southern Utah, and clocked a number of “centuries”—biking more than 100 miles in a day. In 2010, he rode from Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Not the kind of guy to tip over all of a sudden, in other words. But there’s no need to speculate. The details are right there in the Mavs’ press release: He “was struck from behind by an automobile while riding his bicycle a mere block from his home.”
Unfortunately, the only thing that makes this story unusual is that Bradley is a former NBA player. More than 800 Americans on bicycles were killed by cars in 2019; 49,000 were injured, though the real number is surely far higher. (The number of pedestrians killed by cars in 2019 was more than 6,200—up 45 percent since 2010.)
Safe streets advocates have long tried to convince police, engineers, and reporters not to use the word accident to describe car crashes, as if this carnage could not be avoided through better policy and design. But the term “bicycle accident” to describe someone getting hit by a car is particularly egregious.
Riding a bike is, famously, a thing you never forget how to do. But every time a bike rider gets killed by a truck, police spin the incident as the result of some kind of bicycle malfunction. The press repeats the assertion, and the myth of the bicycle accident is renewed.
In New York, for example, the first Citi Bike rider killed in the streets was hit by a bus. Though video later confirmed that Dan Hanegby was riding in a straight line when he was clipped by a bus, the initial police report said he had swerved. The New York Times article that announced his death still does.
That’s not a bike accident any more than getting bit by a shark is a swimming accident.