Dump truck collision did not kill visiting Israeli professor

Shlomo Bentin, an Israeli cognitive neuroscientist, who died in a bicycle accident on July 13. Photo: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Shlomo Bentin, an Israeli cognitive neuroscientist, who died in a bicycle accident on July 13. Photo: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Israeli professor Shlomo Bentin did not die because he was hit by a dump truck while riding on his bicycle on July 13, according to new details released today by the Berkeley Police Department.

Instead, the dump truck passed so close to Bentin that he may have taken evasive action that inadvertently propelled him over the handlebars of his bike, where he struck his head on the sidewalk, according to police.

Bentin was riding his bicycle westbound on Bancroft Avenue near Fulton around 3:38 p.m., and was riding in the right lane close to a line of parked cars, as the law requires, according to Capt. Andrew Greenwood of the Berkeley Police Department. A dump truck traveling in the same direction passed Bentin but did not strike him, according to an investigation by the Fatal Accident Investigation Team.

But the dump truck may have passed so close to Bentin that he startled and jerked his bike, said Greenwood. Or he may have braked hard. While police could not determine the cause, Bentin flipped over the handlebars of his bike and struck his head and shoulders on the pavement. Police said in July that he was wearing a helmet.

Bentin was taken to a local trauma center where he was later pronounced dead. Police did a forensic analysis on the truck and did not find any fibers, tissue, or fluids that indicated there was a collision, he said.

State law requires that a vehicle passing a bicyclist shall pass to the left at a distance safe enough not to interfere with that bicyclist, said Greenwood.

On Dec. 24, Berkeleyside reported that Berkeley police and the Alameda County district attorney’s office had determined there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the driver of the dump truck. When readers asked for additional information, Berkeleyside went back to the police for more details.

When the accident originally happened, many witnesses reported that the dump truck had struck Bentin, said Greenwood. Police were able to view some security video footage that, while grainy and showing a partially obstructed view, showed the truck passing Bentin and Bentin going down. While the videos were not conclusive, interviews with witnesses and forensic analyses led police to conclude there was no collision, said Greenwood.

After Bentin fell off his bicycle, a motorcyclist at the scene raced ahead and caught up with the dump truck driver, said Greenwood. The driver returned to the scene of the accident and cooperated fully in the investigation. Tests showed the driver was not intoxicated or on drugs, said Greenwood.

Bentin, a globally recognized expert in cognitive neuropsychology who was awarded the Israeli Prize for Psychology in April, was visiting UC Berkeley at the time of his death.

Note: This article has been corrected to show that police did not find the security video conclusive in showing that the dump truck did not strike Bentin, but used it among many tools to determine that.

Professor Shlomo Bentin’s death deemed an accident [12.24.12]
Neuroscientist Shlomo Bentin killed in bike accident [07.16.12]
Cyclist in accident involving a dump truck [07.13.12]

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  • Urban Strider

    thank you Berkeleyside

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I guess cyclists should just ride in the middle of the lane and the truck can just go behind without passing. Clearly if was a dangerously tight passing situation.

  • Eric Weaver

    As a life long cyclist, when the lane is wide I ride to the side to let cars pass even though I have the legal right to take the lane. No point in being obnoxious. But if the lane is too narrow for myself and a vehicle at the same time, I take the lane, as is my right, until I can safely pull over and get out of the way.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Sounds prudent, thanks. Be safe out there!

  • guest

    “Bentin was riding his bicycle westbound on Bancroft Avenue near Fulton
    around 3:38 p.m., and was riding in the right lane close to a line of
    parked cars, as the law requires, according to Capt. Andrew Greenwood of
    the Berkeley Police Department.”

    This statement is unclear. Do you mean that bicycles are required to be ridden only in the right lane? Do you mean that that bicycles are required to be ridden close to parked cars? Or do you mean both?

  • guest

    Would you say that you are splitting hairs, or that hairs are being split? Or both?

  • My understanding is that bicyclists are supposed to stay as far right as possible when riding in the right lane. That’s what Capt. Greenwood said was the vehicle code. Bentin was complying with the law.

  • guest

    I would say that I have asked the author of the article to explain something that I wish to know.

  • Che Joubert

    If a bike rider fools around with space, taking the whole lane, I do go behind without passing, whether I’m offended, in a hurry or anything else. Geez – we’re talking life and death. I really hope the dump truck was not to blame, because I’ve seen trucks pass bikes I won’t pass in a car.

  • Berkeley driver

    Under California law, bikes are required to ride “as close as practicable” to the right side of the road. In Berkeley they often blatantly and rudely disregard this law I’ve noticed. Sounds like that wasn’t the case here.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    My understanding is that bicyclists are supposed to stay as far right as possible when riding in the right lane. That’s what Capt. Greenwood said was the vehicle code. Bentin was complying with the law.

  • guest

    Thanks, Frances.

  • oldapeman

    I am concerned that there is a bias reflected in the comments that the full and entire fault for this horrific occurrence must lie with the truck driver. I am a very long time bicycle rider, motorcycle rider, and car and truck driver, and would like to think I have a rounded perspective. Yes, we now know the truck passed close to bicycle rider, but we do not know if it was unsafely close, nor if that was the sole cause of Mr. Bentin crashing, or even a contributing cause at all. I know that area of Bancroft very well. It is at the end of a long downhill, and the road surface is horrible, with potholes and a lot of unevenness in the pavement surface. I personally have seen drivers and riders rush down that hill far too fast for the road conditions trying to beat the stoplight at the intersection. Plus, there is always a line of parked cars along the curb, with people pulling in and out, and doors opening into the right lane. What I am saying is not that these other things were the cause. Rather, it is that we do not know if they were the cause, or the truck driver was the cause, or if something entirely different was the cause. It appears that the BPD put significant effort into the investigation, but that was solely for the purpose of determining if charges should be brought against the truck driver. The conclusion of the prosecutors was that they should not. No one has reported any investigative results or conclusions on anything else. I ask that we members of the community hold our personal prejudices in check when we comment on things such as this terrible tragic event. Unless you were there at the time of the event you do not have a clue, and should acknowledge that.

  • MicheleDC

    I hope that the next time the 3-foot law lands on Governor Brown’s desk, he will sign it. It ought to state in law how close is too close.

  • Mbfarrel

    As a motorist, I wish all drivers would give bicycles sufficient room when passing, and that those drivers would understand the hazards posed to cyclists if they ride in the door zone. No bicyclist moving at speed should be riding in the door zone, and should take the lane if need be.

    Having said that I wish cyclists would understand their rights and duties under the V.C. Roll-throughs at stops on residential streets don’t bother me; blowing through lights and signs is stupid. And be visible at night!

    Here is a link to the section of the California Vehicle Code specific to bicycles:


  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    I am sorry, but that’s not how people who work in risk management look at these things. There is no such thing as an “accident” only “incident”, each of which should be carefully analyzed to see how future risk can be appropriately mitigated. In other words, every incident is ultimately preventable through proper systems design – the question is mostly only cost.

    In this city, our government has chosen to get itself continuously re-elected by keeping itself on the good side of the government unions which have dramatically corrupted the political process. When you’re spending 80% of your tax revenues on paying people grossly high salaries ($55k starting salary for a meter maid?!), you got nothing left to actually keep our streets maintained and provide proper mitigation for risks where we can actually consistently save lives in some cases and certainly dramatically improve quality of life across the board.

    I think it is a profound mistake to say that this is just unfortunate accident. It’s not an “accident” when it was intentionally not prevented by moving the money that should have gone towards better street design into someone’s pocket. That’s not an accident – but rather blatant criminal corruption and fleecing of the taxpayers by corrupt unions.

  • guest

    “This is a very sad situation, and a man has died before his time.
    However, not every tragedy has a villain, and not every injury has a
    person responsible for the occurrence. Sometimes there is no bad guy.”

    We shall see what the civil arm of the law is asked to rule on this point.

  • adornowest

    Thank you Berkeleyside for the follow-up. This is great – I really appreciate the extra info.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    This is factually incorrect Frances. According to the DMV, cyclists are indeed allowed to take the lane. See http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl37.htm

    In fact, I most frequently do that when biking on higher-traffic streets as it is certainly safer than allowing cars to come too closely. It is notable that one of those “higher-traffic” streets is MLK, where the speed limit is 25 but very few cars actually follow the law — but of course the BPD fails to enforce, as usual.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Looks like Vladislav is correct and Capt. Greenwood oversimplified in a potentially dangerous way:

    A bicycle lane is a designated traffic lane for bicyclists, marked by a solid white line, typically breaking into a dotted line at the corner. Different from a simple white line showing the edge of the road, a bicycle lane follows specific width requirements and is clearly marked as a bike lane. Many roads do not have designated bicycle traffic lanes, so bicyclists will share the traffic lane to the left of the white line. If there is no shoulder or bicycle lane and the traffic lane is narrow, ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from passing you when there is not enough room. Bicyclists can travel at speeds of 20 mph, or faster. You should also use the traffic lane when you are traveling at the same speed as the traffic around you. This will keep you out of motorists’ blind spots and reduce conflicts with right-turning traffic.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    I was repeating what Capt. Greenwood told me, but this portion of the CA Vehicle code seems to affirm what he says:

    Operation on Roadway

    21202. A. Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

    When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

    When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    I know this might seem like splitting hairs, but this is actually REALLY important when it comes to bike safety. The law very clearly gives cyclists the right to take the line to “avoid conditions” including “moving objects” (ie cars). That is very clear – that is where the right to take up the lane is very clearly spelled out.

    Please see the link I posted from the DMV that re-affirms this.

  • guest

    Thank you for clarifying this point. I questioned the information that Frances reported from Capt. Greenwood because it sounded incorrect and seemed to put bicyclists in danger if followed. I always understood that bicycles being ridden (as opposed to ‘walked’) are subject to the same rules (and rights) as vehicles. That obviously includes the right to ‘take’ the lane.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    I can’t imagine this would ever come to a civil trial. Non-motorized user dies in a crash involving a motor vehicle case is most likely going to be very rapidly settled with a payout.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The law is just common sense. If the lane is wide enough and nothing is in the way, then the bicyclist must keep to the right. If the lane is not wide enough to keep to the right safely or if something is in the way, then the bicyclist can take the lane.

    That is what it says in the portion of the vehicle code that Francis cited. And that is what Vlad is saying.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    Charles, I don’t think that’s quite correct. What I am saying is that the clause about “avoid conditions” explicitly grants the cyclist the right to take up the lane if they feel unsafe allowing cars to pass them in the same lane. That part of the law supercedes the part that the cyclist “must keep to the right”.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    you can take the lane for reasons other than something being in the way. Surface hazards — that covers much of Berkeley’s broken streets — are one example. And the list is not a bounded set as is made plain by the “including, but not limited to” clause.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    California law explicitly grants cyclists the right to take up the lane (see other comments I’ve made on this thread explaining that).

  • Charles_Siegel

    I was trying to state it in simple, common-sense form.

    PragProg, I would consider surface hazards to be something that is in the way. IE, I am riding down the street, and a pothole is in my way.

    Vlad, I agree. I was just mentioning two conditions that might make them feel unsafe if they keep to the right, allowing them to take the lane.

  • Steve Gibbard

    Yeah, there are a couple of points in here that are really important. Frances, I hope you’ll issue a clarification, and that the BPD can also give their spokesperson and perhaps other officers some training on what the law requires.

    “As close as practicable” does not mean “as close as possible.” Riding next to parked cars is very dangerous, as it will result in the cyclist being thrown over the handlebars if a car door opens, and is thus possible but not practicable.

    Also, the substandard width lane exception is a big one. I don’t remember what the lane is like where the cyclist got killed, but it seems to apply to most of the lanes in Berkeley. Basically, if there isn’t room in a lane for a cyclist and a driver to be next to each other with a safe distance in between (generally considered three feet in California, but considerably more in other places), the cyclist gets the whole lane and the “as far to the right as practicable” rule doesn’t apply.

    So, I’m quite concerned from this article both that the police spokesperson doesn’t seen to understand the law he’s quoting, and that we’re supposed to believe a truck over passing a cyclist so close that witnesses thought he’d hit the cyclist, at the time the cyclist happened to crash, is judged from reviewing security videos to have not passed closely enough to be dangerous. If the police are making that judgement, I’d like to see some evidence that the police understand the law they’re supposed to be enforcing. Please ask the to clarify, are they saying there were 3+ feet of clearance, or are they just saying there was no physical contact?

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Steve, Berkeley police never said that videos showed the dump truck “to have not passed closely enough to be dangerous.” They said that they did not have enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the driver. This one is going to court precisely because of its ambiguity.

  • Yes, the summarization leaves an inaccurate impression. Unfortunately, enough police are ignorant of this point of law that they may have made the summarization themselves, which is then quoted as authoritative. It’s a problem.