A call for help
A new hotline helps bicycle-crash victims with their paperwork-and their post-traumatic stress.
Your first thought in a bike crash might be, What is that terrible noise? (Hint: It’s you, screaming in terror.) But then come the many other questions: Do I need a police report? A lawyer? How will I ever get up the gumption to ride a bike again?
Since July, the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) has offered a crash-support hotline (312-869-4357) to help both cyclists and pedestrians get some answers. A real, live human being often answers the hotline, but if not, an ATA staffer returns the call, usually within a few hours. The hotline gets a call every few days.
One of the most common requests is for information on how to file a claim with a driver’s insurance company. In a typical instance, a cyclist who’d been hit by a cab called the hotline. He’d gotten a police report, and the taxi had been issued a ticket. He was hoping to get money to cover the damage to his bicycle and pay his minor medical bills. The ATA walked him through how to file a claim with the taxi company’s insurance and pointed him to the correct city agency so he could report the cab. Later, he called back to say the claim had been approved and he was going to get full compensation. Through the hotline, the ATA also provides attorney referrals and directs hit-and-run victims to resources for getting compensation.
Illinois Department of Transportation statistics suggest the ATA hotline is a much-needed service: In Chicago, there were 1,756 bike-accident injuries and 3,670 pedestrian injuries in 2008 alone.
But for many survivors of bike accidents, getting back in the saddle isn’t as simple as filing paperwork or waiting for broken bones to heal; they’re mentally just not ready. That’s why the ATA offers a monthly Crash Support Group. Susan Wendelborg, a cyclist who’s a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Andersonville, facilitates the group pro bono. The most common problem she sees is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Oftentimes, regardless of the outcome of the crash, the experience of going through the crash is: The person perceives imminent death, which is one of the first criteria for that [PTSD] diagnosis,” Wendelborg says. “The memories don’t get stored normally, which is why people have flashbacks and an increased startle response.”
Susan Levin started the group in September 2008. A year earlier, she’d been hit by a CTA bus while cycling, and though four surgeries and extensive physical therapy eventually put her back on her feet, she was scared to get on a two-wheeler. “I remember pacing in my apartment, crying, because it was a beautiful day—it was April or May—and I couldn’t ride.” She searched for cyclist support groups and found none, so she started her own. After its first meeting at the Chicago Northside Church of the Nazarene, the group moved around—once gathering at the house of a member who’d just had surgery and wasn’t mobile—and in June settled in at the ATA’s office.
Levin continues to attend the group’s meetings, which usually draw two to five people, every month. And she’s back on her bike. “It’s still not always easy,” she says. “I still get panic attacks. It helps to have other people to talk to who understand.” Which is also the idea behind the ATA’s new hotline.
The Active Transportation Alliance’s crash-support hotline is 312-869-HELP (4357). The crash-support group meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month from 6:30–8pm at the ATA’s office (9 W Hubbard St, suite 402; 312-427-3325). The next meeting is August 25; reservations are not required.