Bicycling is such a positive activity with so many benefits that we really don’t want to do anything to discourage people from riding. Bicycling is safely enjoyed by tens of millions of people riding literally billions of miles in this country every year – deriving benefits and pleasure we can’t even begin to calculate. Yet the activity is not without risk and periodically we have to face that awful reality. Another fatal bike crash in the Tampa area last week brings the total there to seven in just a couple of months – and bringing stark relief to the desperate need for the bike safety program that was initiated after the sixth needless death.
What raises the ire of cyclists even beyond anger and frustration at this annual toll is the disdainful reaction of the criminal justice system – and the drivers it so blithely lets off the hook. Cycling channels are rightly a-buzz right now with the Vail, Colorado case: driver hits cyclist, leaves them for dead, drives through town to get their car fixed, and is charged with two misdemeanor offenses because felony charges would affect his job. Well, guess what, the physician that he hit has had his job pretty badly affected as well.
In addition to the Tampa cases and the one in Vail, we’re following incidents in Maryland (hit and run fatality where the driver drove for miles with the victim’s bike underneath the car) and South Carolina (“distracted” driver hits group of 15 riders) where clearly dangerous behavior that results in death or serious injury is simply not being taken seriously. I could have picked almost any two week period in which to make that statement – and yet it’s really hard to know what to do in response.
In the case in Vail, there’s a petition doing the rounds to get felony charges brought against the driver. In other cases, family members and local advocacy groups are doing what they can to comfort and advise family and friends, and to try and ensure some level of justice is done to prevent these crashes from happening to others. But that clearly isn’t enough.
• We need every state to have a law on the books that makes it possible to charge drivers who hit cyclists – or anyone else, for that matter – with something serious: so now is the time to support your state advocacy group and get that done in the next legislative session.
• We need traffic safety money to be spent on meaningful campaigns to educate motorists, cyclists and law enforcement agencies on safe behavior, and for safety construction funds to be spent on something other than turning lanes, tree-clearing, rumble strips, and signal timing that encourages even greater speed and carelessness.
We will be following these cases closely and trying to help where we can. We are also continuing the steps necessary to establish a meaningful legal defense program to assist in cases like these – and in the less dramatic but more frequent examples of injustice that cyclists face every day. Like the woman who wrote today to complain about getting a $200 ticket for riding into the side of a taxi that turned left across her path…
Really, riding a bike is a GOOD thing – let’s try and keep it that way.
Andy Clarke was appointed to the position of Executive Director in April of 2004 after successfully leading efforts to create, interpret and implement the various transportation programs that are available to improve conditions for bicycling and walking as the League’s State and Local Advocacy Director. Before joining the League in February 2003, Clarke was on contract to provide technical assistance to the highly regarded Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center on site at the Federal Highway Administration. He is on the Board of Directors for America Bikes, and a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals.