The last few years there seems to be more and more incidents of cyclists being hit by cars. The most recent incident was the senseless act that cost the lives of two cyclists last weekend at the Tri-State Seacoast Century in New Hampshire. The last few seasons there doesn't seem to be a week that goes by without hearing about a fellow cyclist being hit by a car. Are these incidents happening more often or is it just easier to spread the word via email/Facebook?
As a cyclist and triathlete for over 20 years I have ridden thousands of miles on the roads. About 18 years ago I was hit by a car during a 60 mile training ride. I was lucky. I survived the crash but suffered a back injury that kept me out of work for 3 months. My bike was also totaled costing me thousands of dollars. For years afterward it was rare for me to encounter someone else that had been hit by a car. Now it seems that more and more cyclists have either been hit, ran off the road, or had a near miss with a motorist.
Why is this? Are cyclists to blame? Now we all know a few riders that do not follow the rules of the road and take unnecessary chances but I believe the vast majority of cyclists are very cautious riders. Why? Well it is the obvious...our life depends on it! In New England most of our roads are not setup to accommodate cyclists. We have narrow roads with little to no shoulder or bike lane. I am not sure if it is because cyclists are only on the road for about half of the year but many motorists just do not know how to drive past a cyclist. Take a look at a few examples I describe below:
1) Driver gives way too much room as they pass almost hitting a car head on coming in the opposite direction.
2) Driver gives you no room and could "shave" your legs as they pass many times without even slowing.
3) Driver refuses to pass you and rides your back tire "afraid?" to pass.
4) Driver pulling a trailer or boat passes you with plenty of clearance but forgets they need to give extra room for what they are pulling and you are almost clipped.
5) Driver passes you and beeps the horn for no reason sometimes startling you and you almost wipeout.
6) Driver passes you and immediately turns in front of you.
I could go on and on with different scenarios. If you have ridden frequently on the roads you have experienced all of the above and then some. All of this does not even include hazards such as pot holes, rough road, sewers, road debris, dogs, etc.
With all of these dangers out on the roads is it just too dangerous to be a cyclist? As a responsible family man is it irresponsible to put myself in harm's way and go for a ride on the roads? The bottom line is that you are at risk every time you go out for a ride. Extreme caution and following the rules of the road will not defend you against many drivers that really could care less about your safety. Speeding, distracted drivers (texting/email/phones), and increased traffic have made our roads a perilous place. As a cyclist it is your "right" to ride on the road. Unfortunately this is little comfort when you are hit. We are defenseless and rely on motorists to avoid hitting us. I don't know about you but I do not have that much confidence in my fellow man.
Think of this... Police Officers need a special law to tell motorists to slow down as they pass. (Move Over America). Police cars have flashing blue lights, project authority and still have trouble avoiding being hit. What chances do we have? It is really frustrating and maddening to hear incident after incident of fellow cyclists being injured or killed. What is the answer? More rail trails? More bike lanes? More laws to protect cyclists? I do not know the answer but cycling seems to be becoming a very dangerous sport.
As a cyclist, the fact of the matter is if you are hit by a car chances are you will be badly injured or killed. Your bike will be destroyed costing you thousands of dollars. The driver of the car will have minor vehicle damage and will probably face minimal or no punishment. We have all of the risk! Maybe cycling is just too dangerous....should we just give up on cycling in New England? Or better yet should we all just move to Southern California and enjoy the countless miles of bike paths?
As I pondered these thoughts a police car pulled someone over in front of my house. The officer got out of his car and started talking to the driver. Seconds later another car flew down the road driving at least 15-20 miles an hour over the speed limit and had to brake heavily to avoid hitting the officer. This is despite the fact they would have had a clear view of his flashing lights for a good distance. The officer stopped the driver and yelled at him to slow down and pay attention then the guy sped off.
How do we get people's attention? What can be done?
Feel free to share your thoughts below.