A simple form of protection

Published 7:31 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A week and a half ago, the driver of an SUV was heading east on River Road when he neglected to make the curve at Pine Street. The driver hopped the curb and hit a utility pole, snapping it in half, likely totaling his car in the process. No one appeared to be injured in the accident, but for several hours, residents of Washington Park were without power as crews worked to restore the pole.

These are the types of accidents that occur when drivers are distracted. It only takes a matter of seconds for a dangerous situation to arise when a driver’s eyes leave the road. A driver could be distracted by many situations: a conversation with a passenger, switching radio stations, eating, consulting a GPS map, reading a text on a cellphone — all can take up that moment of time between narrowly avoiding an accident and actually having an accident.

Now, combine those seemingly harmless distractions, those mini-swerves outside of the yellow lines, with cyclists and those accidents can become fatal. While a utility pole can also snap under enough pressure, a body, male or female, child or adult, can be broken in space of seconds by those not paying attention to the road.

May is National Bike Safety Month. As usual there are recommendations that come along with the awareness campaign. Among them are:

  • Give cyclists their room — they have the same right to a lane as you do.
  • Check the medians.
  • Leave extra room between your vehicle and the cyclist.
  • Do not engage with or honk at a cyclist as this may scare them into running off the road.
  • Slow down — only pass when it is legal to do so and you have a clear view that there is no oncoming traffic.

Perhaps the best recommendation is don’t drive distracted. If a driver needs to consult a map or talk on the phone or text or eat, pull over. The time it takes to pull over and do so is guaranteed to be much less than the time it would take if driver was to hit a cyclist because he or she was distracted—the time it would take to call 911, wait with the victim until first responders arrive and answer any questions law enforcement might have about the accident. A driver doesn’t have a choice there, as it’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident.

A recent AAA Foundation report found that hit-and-run crash deaths are on the rise, and 65% of the victims of these fatal hit-and-run crashes are pedestrians or bicyclists. Most could be avoided, if only those drivers weren’t distracted.

Protecting cyclists, giving them the space they need and simply being aware of their presence, protects you, the driver, as well.