A recent Sunday Opinion essay in The New York Times beautifully captured the dangers bicyclists face every time they strap on their helmets (I hope) and hit the open road.
In “Is It O.K. To Kill Cyclists?” author Daniel Duane recalls eloquently how he got back into cycling at middle age — he was overweight and had creaky knees, and was taking his first ride in decades because he was training for a triathlon.
But as he tells it: “Wind in my hair, smile on my face, I decided instantly that I would bike everywhere like all those beautiful hipster kids on fixies. Within minutes, however, I watched an S.U.V. hit another cyclist, and then I got my own front wheel stuck in a streetcar track, sending me to the pavement.”
He now does his biking on a stationary bike in the safety of his own basement.
But Daniel, through personal anecdotes he heard and online research on Google, learned what all seasoned cyclists know: when bicyclists are struck by cars, the drivers, even when 100% at fault, often get off with just a ticket and sometimes not even that!
Daniel wrote in part: In stories where the driver had been cited, the penalty’s meagerness defied belief, like the teenager in 2011 who drove into the 49-year-old cyclist John Przychodzen from behind on a road just outside Seattle, running over and killing him. The police issued only a $42 ticket for an “unsafe lane change” because the kid hadn’t been drunk and, as they saw it, had not been driving recklessly. You don’t have to be a lefty pinko cycling activist to find something weird about that. But try a Google search for “cyclist + accident” and you will find countless similar stories.
I wrote about two previous examples of bicycle fatalities in New York State here and here where the vehicle drivers were not charged despite clearly violating the law!
Daniel discussed many cases nationwide where police failed to prosecute the killer drivers by simply (and incorrectly!) concluding, “Oh, well, bike accidents happen.”
Here are some great quotes to remember from the story:
“Studies performed in Arizona, Minnesota and Hawaii suggest that drivers are at fault in more than half of cycling fatalities. And there is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene.
When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination.
But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.”
If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, “Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,” that will most likely be good enough.”
“So here’s my proposal: Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation. That alone will make the streets a little safer, although for now I’m sticking to the basement and maybe the occasional country road.”
I wholeheartedly agree with his proposal and I urge all my cycling friends to uphold our end of the bargain by striving to honor and obey traffic laws whenever we ride our bikes. And my hope is that the law enforcement community will start to do the hard work of aggressively prosecuting drivers who violate the laws and injure cyclists.
Killing a cyclist should NOT be a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card!
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