This post has its origins in my brush with fate this week, and before that in fall 2010, when two things happened within a few days of each other: Arleigh Jenkins AKA Bike Shop Girl (a blogger whose work I read) was hit by a car, then Matthew Hardie, a young rider in Spokane, was hit. He spent several months in a coma, then passed away just before Christmas 2010.
Because of Matthew the Spokesman-Review covered the “bicycle accidents” of 2010. But–possibly because no one has died recently–no such article was written as a round-up of statistics for 2011. “If it bleeds, it leads” still holds in the news business.
I have described my close encounter earlier this week with a driver who didn’t see me and pulled out in front of me. I was lucky–I had enough room and time in which to avoid the impact.
Matthew was not lucky. He was heading northbound on a steep downhill with the right-of-way on Lincoln; given the steepness of that hill he had to have been going faster than I was on my flat stretch between intersection stops the other day.
He collided with a car whose driver pulled out from a stop sign at Fourth Avenue. It was a classic failure-to-yield on the part of the driver (Matthew had the right of way). But because the initial reports said the cyclist hit the vehicle they made it sound as if it was the rider’s fault, to which the biking community reacted quite strongly.
Arleigh was also not lucky. She put out a comment on Twitter that she was still struggling to reconcile the fact that she’d put much of her passion into promoting biking and had been injured riding her bike by a driver who turned left into her when she had the right of way. She’s back in the saddle now, but it took a while, with quite a bit of off-road riding before she re-entered traffic.
It has been over a year since these incidents happened to others. My own is fresh and vivid, and made me think back to their stories.
With each of these events I get more passionate about two things.
For the first I need to thank Cindy Green, a bike-commuting former Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board member who works at the Spokane Regional Health District. She got me to pay more attention to my language and usage—ironic since I majored in English and linguistics.
1) The word “accident” often used in these incidents does NOT apply when someone is in error. The someone could be the person on the bike, too, but that wasn’t the case in these two collisions, nor was it the case in my avoided collision.
“Accident” means “no one could have done anything to prevent this from happening.” The Spokesman-Review’s characterization of four fatalities in 2010 as “bicycle accidents” is thus way, way off base.
In two of the cases cited in the Spokesman piece the drivers were drinking. Putting down a few shots or beers and getting into your 4,000-pound vehicle-turned-lethal-weapon car is not an “accident.”
It’s a stupid, stupid choice. Those deaths were 100% preventable: no drunk driver, no dead cyclist.
When a driver doesn’t see a cyclist, that potential collision is also preventable if the driver:
- looks again,
- is one who is aware that bikes are on the road so the “look” isn’t really just a token head turn without eyes focusing and looking for moving objects that aren’t vehicles (admit it—you’ve done that, and the driver I encountered earlier this week certainly did that),
- drives mindfully,
- doesn’t text,
- isn’t reaching for a Big Gulp or fiddling with the radio station or….
Ditto for the person on the bike who is:
- looking down to adjust the fitting on a shoe,
- sneaking up (illegally) on the right side of a car into the driver’s blind spot to duck past a long line of stopped cars,
- riding on the sidewalk and then popping out into the street unexpectedly and unpredictably,
- assuming that driver sees him/her (since I’m more vulnerable on my bike than you are in your car I tend to figure it’s in my best interests to own more than 50 percent of the prevention planning),
- blowing a stop sign because he’s too cool to unclip and put his foot down….
Let’s all ban the word “accident” from our vocabulary except when it truly applies. It’s a collision or a crash or an impact when a driver hits you or you hit a driver or someone hits a pedestrian or a pedestrian steps out in front of someone using wheels–but it’s no accident.
- It Pays to Pay Attention
- Stickman Knows: A safety campaign from the Spokane Regional Health District encouraging greater awareness by all of us who share the streets
- Friday the 13th, Or, Why Some People Need to Lose a Driver’s License (on my personal blog, Bike to Work Barb)
- 3 Words for 2012 Biking
- That Was No Accident
- Thanks, Mr. Pickup Driver. I Mean That.
- Don’t Do This! A Post in which I Complain about People on Bikes
- Do you think about the language used to describe [euphemism alert!] “negative interactions” between people on bikes and people using other forms of transportation?