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Motorcycle riders know that their vehicles make them more vulnerable to serious injury in some types of accidents. For this reason many riders choose to drive more defensively and anticipate crashes that could cause them to be seriously injured. But there are some crashes that can be impossible to prepare for, and the injuries motorcyclists suffer tend to be more severe because they don't have the extra protection of a seat belt or a car frame.

The rider in a motorcycle accident that occurred on San Francisco's Bay Bridge last week may have been extremely lucky in this respect, even though he was injured. He was driving behind a semitrailer on the bridge early in the morning on Wednesday when some debris suddenly fell off the truck's underside. It turned out to be the truck's drive shaft, which is a very large, long, heavy piece of machinery. After it fell off the truck it lay directly in the motorcyclist's path. Whereas a car or truck might have been able to drive over it with little more than a jarring bump and some suspension damage, the motorcycle was no match for the large debris in the road. The motorcyclist crashed upon hitting the large chunk of metal.

Fortunately in this case, the motorcyclist suffered relatively minor injuries. But considering the traffic on the Bay Bridge and the size of the debris in the road, it's surprising that the incident didn't cause a chain-reaction crash or more serious damage to the motorcycle or its rider. Every year people are seriously injured or killed in accidents caused by debris that falls off of trucks or cars. And the victim need not be riding a motorcycle to suffer injuries.

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While most car accidents have the potential to cause serious injuries, those involving pedestrians carry a much higher risk. With no protection against the force of a motor vehicle, people who come into contact with one usually suffer debilitating injuries. A recent pedestrian accident in San Francisco's Anza Vista neighborhood was no exception.

A woman was crossing the street one Friday evening a couple of weeks ago when a car drove through the intersection and hit her. But rather than stopping to check on the woman, the driver left the scene immediately. The woman, 50 years old, lay there until she was discovered and someone called for help. She was rushed to a San Francisco hospital with serious brain injuries that were said to be life-threatening.

Police don't appear to have found the person who caused the Dec. 28 accident, which must be frustrating for the victim and her family. An update hasn't been provided on the woman's condition, but severe brain injuries tend not to heal quickly. On the contrary, they can take months and even years to fully recover from. In many cases, brain injury victims never fully recover and often deal with radical life changes as a result. These can include regular therapy, a job change or even the inability to work at all. Many brain injury victims need medical care and assistance with basic daily tasks for the rest of their lives.

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Anyone who's been injured in an accident caused by faulty road design can attest to the importance of updates in infrastructure. A too-sharp curve, exceedingly narrow lanes or a road without a proper barrier can lead to a serious car accident. The most frustrating aspect of these crashes is that they could have been prevented with an improved design and a road crew.

A three-car collision on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco injured three women last week, and officials in charge of the bridge admitted that the accident could have been prevented if a median barrier separating opposing traffic had been completed as planned.

The accident happened during the morning commute last Wednesday. A car traveling south on the bridge swerved out of its lane and through the plastic pylons that separate northbound and southbound traffic. The car collided with another car traveling north, and as a result of that crash another northbound car crashed as well. The crashed cars and the scattered wreckage surrounding them blocked traffic for hours.

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For the most part, San Francisco is a pedestrian-friendly city. Public transportation options abound, so those who choose not to drive or own a car can get around fairly easily by train, bus, cable car or on foot. Of course, they still must share public spaces with thousands of cars, whose drivers are just as eager to get where they need to be. Pedestrians and drivers must keep an eye out for each other, especially as they use the same roads.

An accident that happened in San Francisco over the weekend appears to be the result of a driver's failure to see a pedestrian. A 54-year-old woman was crossing the street at an intersection in the South of Market neighborhood on Saturday when an SUV hit her. The vehicle was making a left turn at the time. Although it's not clear how fast the SUV was traveling at the time of the accident, the impact was severe enough that the woman was critically injured. She suffered injuries to her brain that are considered life-threatening. 

Fortunately, the driver, a 60-year-old man, stopped immediately after the accident and has been cooperating with police. It's likely that he wasn't watching for pedestrians as he made the turn, even though the woman was in a dedicated crosswalk.

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It seems to be common knowledge that in traffic involving vehicles and walkers, pedestrians always have the right of way. This may not be wholly true -- pedestrians are still required to follow street signs and signals telling them when they can and can't cross the street, and for their own safety they should always cross at intersections, rather than jaywalk -- but as drivers and bikers we know that when a person on foot steps out in front of us, we have little choice but to slow down or stop for them.

Unfortunately, California consistently ranks at the top of statistics for pedestrian deaths. Almost 7,000 pedestrians were killed in California between 2000 and 2009. Although the fatalities were highest in Los Angeles County, Bay Area residents are not immune to this danger. On Saturday a pedestrian was killed in San Francisco's Tenderloin district when he was hit by a taxi cab.

According to a San Francisco police spokesman, a 38-year-old man was crossing a street just before 7 p.m. when a taxi ran a red light. But he wasn't struck right away. As the taxi entered the intersection, another car driving through on a green light broadsided the cab, causing it to spin around, at which point it struck the man in the crosswalk. He was rushed to a hospital where he died of his injuries.

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Drivers have a responsibility to be well-equipped to operate their vehicles. While it's illegal to drive mentally impaired from alcohol or drugs, it's important to address physical impairments, as well. Drivers without full use of their legs use hand controls to accelerate and apply brakes. But what happens when an impairment is temporary and these extra controls aren't available?

A 60-year-old man who caused a crash that killed a pedestrian was in this very situation last fall. He was convicted of vehicular manslaughter July 19 for causing the car accident, which occurred in San Francisco's Castro District.

Having been diagnosed with a stress fracture, the driver was wearing a large cast also known as a walking boot when the accident happened. Because the cast was on his right foot, he used his left foot to operate the gas and brake pedals of his car. He hit the 59-year-old pedestrian in a crosswalk while making a left turn. The driver testified on his own behalf, explaining that he'd been wearing the cast for more than a month and that his method of driving with his left foot played no role in the accident.

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According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths related to car accidents is greater in rural areas than it is in urban ones. The results of the study suggests that it is safer to drive in urban, Santa Clara County than it is to drive in Santa Clara County's southern and more rural neighbor county, San Benito County. The authors of the study say the difference in fatality rates between rural and urban areas is urban sprawl.

Motor vehicle accidents are among the leading causes of death in the U.S. In 2009, car accidents caused the deaths of nearly 34,500 people. According to the latest information released by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC death rates due to car crashes are lower in urban areas than rural areas. The study found that the death rate related to car accidents in urban areas was 8.2 per 100,000 residents, and in rural areas it was 11.1 per 100,000 residents. Although the 50 most populous metro areas of the U.S. are home to more than half of the population, urban areas account for only 40 percent of motor vehicle deaths.

The study also found that the rate of motor vehicle deaths is associated with urban development. The more urban development the fewer deadly car accidents there are. However, urban development is growing most rapidly in traditionally rural areas like the South instead of already urbanized places. The authors of the study say urban planners should factor car-related deaths in the plans of growing areas.

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Regular readers of this blog know that car accidents are a common theme. They cause injury or death to thousands of people each year across the state of California, just as they do in other states. But they aren't the only danger on the roads to pedestrians. In March of this year, a pedestrian suffered a fatal brain injury when a bicyclist ran into him.

The 71-year-old San Francisco man was walking east along Castro Street when he entered a crosswalk. Just then a bicyclist heading south entered the intersection and ran into the man, knocking him down. Both the pedestrian and the bicyclist were taken to a hospital, where the pedestrian's condition quickly deteriorated. He developed pneumonia and breathing problems, finally succumbing to his injuries four days later.

The bicyclist was treated and released from the hospital. Later that day, someone using the bicyclist's name posted a message about the collision in an online forum for a local cycling group. The poster said the stoplight had turned yellow just as he was approaching the intersection, "but I was already way too committed to stop."

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Bay Area residents are probably aware that San Francisco is a pedestrian-friendly city, with its multiple forms of public transportation, traffic lights catering to walkers and tightly packed shops and restaurants. The city even closes off streets to traffic on a monthly basis in the warmer months for people to more easily enjoy the city on foot.

Unfortunately, pedestrians can still encounter danger, such as in motor vehicle accidents. Just last week a woman in her 60s was seriously injured, possibly after being struck by a San Francisco Municipal Railway bus in the Rincon Hill neighborhood.

Authorities are still investigating the crash, and it's not entirely clear how it happened. But a witness told police the woman was standing on a traffic island as the bus traveled south through the closest intersection. Just after the bus passed by the island, the witness saw the woman lying in the street. Police are working with the Municipal Transportation Authority to determine whether the bus actually struck the woman. If it did, then it's possible the bus driver fled the scene without stopping and rendering aid after the woman was hit. She suffered life-threatening injuries, but may be able to tell police at a later point exactly what happened.

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