Archive for the 'Driving' Category

What makes cyclists do dumb things?

Some questions in search of answers:

  1. Can cycling clubs “police” themselves to change members’ behavior, as suggested in a column in the Orange County Register?
  2. What makes some cyclists think they’re in a peloton that can run stop signs with impunity, as this other story describes?
  3. Why do so many people roll right through controlled intersections just any old way they please?

Those articles turned up in my daily Google alert, reminding me of what I saw just last night in a few short minutes parked by a bus stop. Unfortunately, such sights are all too common:

Most people driving cars were also talking on cell phones. More than a few made what has come to be known as an “Idaho stop,” which is not actually a stop at all and we weren’t in Idaho. None of the cyclists I saw actually came to a complete stop at the four-way stop, either, and at least one didn’t even slow down.

A few thoughts on those three questions:

  1. I hope so, but I’m not optimistic. Even if well-organized clubs can clean up their acts (a challenge akin to herding cats), those are the people who tend to be most knowledgeable about riding in traffic. Many who need to be educated do not belong to these clubs.
  2. My theory is that it’s the same phenomenon of unthinking selfishness that leads people to text or talk on the phone while driving. It isn’t malicious, but thoughtless and careless.
  3. See No. 2. Add as a possibility that they don’t know any better.

All of those situations might be improved through two of the “5 Es” of the Bicycle Friendly Community program: Education and Enforcement.

Exercising some simple common courtesy would go along way, too.

What’s your solution?

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Bicycle Safety and Driver Alertness Month

Woman with a step-through frame bicycle in the...

Image via Wikipedia

You may have trouble finding this anywhere else, as the local media so far have largely ignored the idea, but here is the actual text of the proclamation that Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett made on Labor Day during the Linn County Mayors’ Bike Ride:

Whereas, the bicycle is a practical and environmentally sound form of transportation that is used daily by thousands of Iowa citizens for both recreation and commuting; and

Whereas, residents will experience the joys of bicycling through educational programs, races, trail riding, charity events, commuting to work or simply venturing out to enjoy the weather; and

Whereas, rising concerns about health, fitness, increased energy costs and the environment have increased the number of cyclists on our roads in recent years.  Motor vehicles and cyclists are obligated to share the state’s roadways; and

Whereas, Bicycle Safety and Driver Alertness Month asks cyclists to share the road, safely accommodate motorists, wear the proper safety equipment and riding gear, strictly follow all laws of the road, operate with extreme caution and learn expert techniques that provide for a heightened level of safety while riding; and

Whereas, it is a privilege to recognize Cedar Rapids’ appreciation for the outdoors, and remind all citizens of their responsibility to be safe and alert so that everyone may equally exercise their right to enjoy our wonderful community.

Now therefore, I, Ron J. Corbett, Mayor of Cedar Rapids, Iowa do hereby declare September, 2010 as:

“Bicycle Safety & Driver Alertness Month”

in Cedar Rapids and encourage all citizens to identify and learn the various aspects of bicycle and motor vehicle safety as it relates to sharing our public roads in an effort to make Cedar Rapids’ streets some of the safest in the state.

Thanks, Mayor Corbett.

A quibble, if I may:

I probably would have asked the motorists to share the road in that fourth paragraph. They’re the ones piloting the big, heavy machinery after all.

Anyway, here’s hoping a lot of motorists get the message about being alert – maybe even some that weren’t there to hear Corbett read it aloud. Most of those folks were on bicycles, right?

Spread the word.

Pedal on.

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Motorists liable until proven otherwise? Hard to imagine

The concept of strict liability for motorists involved in collisions with people riding bicycles was so foreign to me that I had to watch this twice. Imagine…

Thanks to tweeters @alicestrong and @bikecommutenews for calling attention to that video.

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Questioning Sen. Hogg about the consequences of careless driving

At the second stop on State Sen. Robb Hogg’s fifth annual bike ride through his Eastern Iowa district on Sunday, he was asked about the potential consequences of one of his fellow bicyclists’ being killed by a careless driver.

Paraphrasing my own question here: Shouldn’t a person whose careless driving causes the death of another person face time behind bars as a possible penalty?

Well, the answer seems to be, now paraphrasing Sen. Hogg’s various comments:

  • I’m not sure we should be sending people to prison because of legitimate accidents. (I agreed that not every incident should be resolved by throwing someone in jail, but maintained that the state should allow for jail or prison time as a possible outcome for someone whose carelessness causes death or injury.)
  • Sometimes accidents just happen. (I said we could have quite a long debate over what deadly situations can be prevented and what might be termed – legitimately if vaguely – “accidents.” Most traffic “accidents” can be avoided if people take their driving responsibilities seriously and pay attention to what is going on around them.)
  • We need to do more to make bicycling safer. The Iowa Senate did pass a bicyclists’ Bill of Rights. (True on both counts, but that Bill of Rights is meaningless without corresponding success in the Iowa House and a governor’s signature. What have you done for us lately? What will you do now?)

Presently, I can turn my motor vehicle in front of you as you ride your bicycle down the street, causing a collision that leads to your death, then drive away with a simple traffic ticket and, maybe, a guilty conscience.

As Sen. Hogg and others have asked, in one way or another, “Isn’t it enough that I will have to think about that for the rest of my life?”

Well, no. It’s not.

You should think about the consequences of careless driving before your careless driving kills someone. If you know you could wind up behind bars, maybe you will think harder when it counts.

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Asking the mayor for Bicyclist Awareness Month

Updated 8/27/2010: No response so far to this or to a follow-up email sent later.

* * *

A letter emailed to Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett a few minutes ago:

Dear Mayor Corbett:
You can save lives in Cedar Rapids by doing your part to educate the public about bicycle safety and responsible driving.
My letter is prompted by the death a few weeks ago of Susan DeSotel, who was riding her bicycle when she sustained fatal injuries because of a careless driver, and by this article about similar situations and how another mayor stepped up to help protect citizens:
That town’s mayor declared August to be Bicyclist Awareness Month. I am asking you to do the same for September and to do everything you can to promote bicycle safety and safe driving — before, during and after the Mayors’ Bike Ride on Sept. 6.
I look forward to your reply, which I will post along with this letter on my blog at
Thank you.
B.J. Smith
If you would like to contact Mayor Corbett with your own version of this letter, other advice or even a different opinion, here’s his contact information.
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“The sun was in his eyes” so please feel sorry for him?

Except for the most hard-hearted of us, we can all empathize to some degree with the driver of the vehicle in the collision that caused the death of bicyclist Susan DeSotel.

No doubt it is traumatic to unintentionally cause the death of another person.

In a comment on this story, someone self-identified as a relative of the driver says, in part, “If all of you only KNEW the trauma and suffering he is going through himself right now.”

He has horrifying images in his head and has to live with it the rest of his life. The commenter (identified as “iwubyou“) concludes:

“Prayers go out to Susan’s family and friends for dealing with their poor loss, and also to my uncle who now has to have this on his shoulders, and all the horrible people and horrible comments he will now face from here on out.”

At the risk of being considered horrible, some observations:

iwubyou asserts that the driver is blameless because the sun was in his eyes and he “did not see a little bike pedaling through.”

As motor vehicle operators, we are obligated to see where we are going and to avoid collisions with others on the road. If that means we must wear sunglasses and use visors or other devices to operate safely, that is what we are obligated to do.

There are all sorts of reasons for what we blithely pass off as “accidents.”

The sun was in our eyes.

We were distracted by a child crying in the back seat.

We just reached down to pick up the cell phone.

Reasons. Those are not excuses that should prevent us from facing legal consequences if they result in our causing the death of another person.

Unfortunately, our laws don’t seem to agree. The police call Susan DeSotel’s death the result of a “driving error.” If the driver is cited at all, it’s possible that on top of a fine for the traffic ticket he could face a $1,000 fine and lose his license for six months.

As I maintained the other day, that is not acceptable. I think some time behind bars is appropriate if your driving error kills someone.

The more compassionate and maybe wiser Mrs. Smith suggested that such a driver should be required to speak at some number of driver education classes over the course of a year. (That is an excellent idea. Think about it.)

What do you think is appropriate? Tell me by leaving a comment here. Tell your legislators.

As people are saying, the driver will have to live with the consequences of his driving error for the rest of his life. I’m sorry, but we all live with unpleasant things, some of which we bring upon ourselves and some that others visit upon us.

At least we are still alive.

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Cyclist dies of head injuries following collision

The Iowa woman who suffered severe head injuries in a bicycle collision with a pickup truck died Monday in Iowa City. Susan Milsap DeSotel, 51, was a mother and a member of the Hawkeye Bicycle Association.

According to this article, the driver of the pickup truck might get a traffic ticket.

Additional charges that might apply because DeSotel died could result in a $1,000 fine a six-month license revocation.

Iowa law is terribly inadequate in situations like this.

In an email today to Cedar Rapids city council member Monica Vernon, whose daughter – and my own – attended grade school with DeSotel’s son, I told her:

“If I were the driver, I would fully expect to be charged with a crime and to spend time in jail or prison if my carelessness caused someone to die.
“As a very concerned citizen, I would like to see some official comment from the council and the police chief about the seriousness of this situation.”
No such comment that I have seen so far.
I don’t know why Robert Fleming turned into DeSotel’s path. I’m having trouble imagining how this could be seen as anything other than careless or reckless. We will see what, if anything, the eyewitness to the collision as to say.
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Bad drivers who injure or kill must be punished

The first news reports called it an “accident,” as if the collision between a pickup truck driven by Robert Fleming and a bicycle ridden by Susan DeSotel could not have been avoided. It could have.

If Fleming did, in fact, turn in front of the oncoming bicyclist, who suffered critical head injuries when she slammed into the truck, it is clear that he was responsible and could have chosen differently.

Police apparently had enough information to report that Fleming made the dangerous turn into DeSotel’s path, essentially failing to yield the right of way and endangering her life. Still, they declined to file charges immediately.

When a motorist severely injures or kills another person as the result of carelessness, drunkenness, recklessness or simple stupidity, there must be legal consequences.

Maybe the sight of a bad driver behind bars will inspire other motorists to learn how to drive without endangering the lives of their fellow citizens.

Do not accept less.

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Want respect for bicycles as transportation? Use them that way.

People who are passionate about bicycling are no strangers to hyperbole and bold, sometimes rash statements.

Errands on Bikes at Target
Image by Seth W. via Flickr

Bike advocates ruined bicycling.

Biking is next to impossible in most of America.

Helmets laws discourage people from cycling.

The first example above was made by a New York bike shop owner who seems to be an advocate himself. He favors getting more women on bicycles and reducing what he sees as the U.S. cycling industry’s emphasis on mountain bikes. (I’ve seen no shortage of women riding road bikes, hybrids, cruisers and other variations on the bicycle lately, but I’m not in New York.)

We should be more like Copenhagen, he says. Here’s hoping he does well selling comfortable bicycles that more people will enjoy riding around town.

Bicycling has not been ruined.

The second example was in a blog post about the lack of respect for cycling as a form of transportation in the U.S. The record does seem pretty dismal in our highly motorized society and only tiny percentage of Americans use bicycles for their primary transportation. We have all sorts of reasons for that; many of them are valid.

I suspect the third statement is true in a way. People quote statistics now and then to prove it. Still, I don’t buy it. If people want to ride bicycles, they will do so – with or without a helmet law and with or without a helmet.

Helmet laws make handy excuses. We’re pretty good at making excuses and finding reasons to justify driving where we don’t really need to drive.

One of the biggest reasons there’s so little respect for bicycles as transportation is that so few Americans actually use them for transportation.

Yes, we should go to meetings and write letters and make sure public officials and transportation planners give bicycling and complete streets due consideration. We also need to live what we believe so people see more bicycles being used as everyday transportation and see that it can be done.

Do you drive everywhere you go when you’re not on a club ride or training ride? Take the car for errands when you could pedal? Drive a few blocks to work so you don’t mess up your hair? Haul your kids everywhere in an SUV when you could send them off on their bicycles?

We may never be much like Copenhagen, but we actually can ride a lot more than we do. We can wear street clothes. We can ride any sort of bicycle we want to ride.

We just have to do it.

Pedal on.

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Sidewalk cyclist collides with SUV

Terry Knake said he didn’t see the guy on the bicycle until the bicycle slammed into the side of his SUV.

Bicycle-SUV collisionIf the guy on the bicycle saw the SUV, he didn’t have time to avoid the crash. He tumbled over the hood and onto the pavement.

Just after 1:30 p.m. today, Knake was pulling out of a parking lot in the 400 block of First Avenue East in Cedar Rapids. His vision to the right was obstructed by another SUV, he said, so he didn’t see the cyclist coming down the sidewalk.

When I came across the scene moments later, paramedics were just arriving to help the apparently injured cyclist, who was sitting on the pavement. His bicycle lay a few feet away in two pieces, the front wheel and fork snapped off and joined to the rest of the bike only by cables.

“Dumb kids,” Knake said when I asked him what happened. He said witnesses told him the young man on the bicycle was traveling at a “pretty good clip” downhill on the sidewalk.

I didn’t get the injured man’s name or his version of what happened. He was strapped to a board and hauled away in an ambulance.

Not actually having seen the collision, I’ll point out just a couple of things:

  • This is a great example of why riding on sidewalks and sidepaths is dangerous. Drivers often don’t expect to see you, and sight lines often are less than ideal.
  • On the sidewalk or on the street, if you’re going to ride a bicycle you have to be on the lookout for hazards all the time and have your bicycle under control.

I did not see a bicycle helmet at the scene, by the way. The injured man was fortunate if he managed to avoid cracking his skull along with a few other bones.

If you have news of his condition or other information about the accident, please let us know.

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