Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How we deal with crashes

A newspaper story of a tragic, fatal bike-car crash in Boulder, CO raised some painful contrasts between Boulder and Louisville (Kentucky, not the Louisville in Colorado). The bicyclist, Casey Najera, was riding southbound through an intersection, with the right of way, when a motorist traveling northbound turned left across Najera's path. Najera hit the car and was killed. The motorist said that she did not see the bicyclist and "was terribly upset about the accident," according to her mother.

One could remove all town names and geographic references from the article and know that the crash had not happened in greater Louisville, KY. First of all, the driver was cited with careless driving resulting in death. Colorado Revised Statutes 42-4-1402 defines this as a class 1 misdemeanor. This carries a penalty of 6-18 months in prison, a fine of $500 - $5000, or both. Kentucky law, as best I can tell, has no similar charge. Besides, Kentucky law requires the police to witness the crash before issuing a citation or making an arrest for anything short of a felony. Any media report of a bike-car fatality in greater Louisville hedges about whether charges will be filed, because the only hope for filing charges rests on results of toxicology tests. The Colorado newspaper story gave a different picture: "[The motorist] was cited by police for careless driving resulting in death." The driver did something unacceptable and stands to get punished for it.

I found even more startling the reader responses to the online story. All of them spoke of the tragedy of the bicyclist's death. None ranted against the driver or "the system." None attempted to blame the bicyclist or suggested that bicyclists should stay off the roads for our own good. These reader comments contrast shockingly with those that swarm like flies at the end of any Louisville KY online news story of a bike-car crash.

The news story ended with mention of a recent bike-car crash resulting in a bicyclist's injury, and two fatal car-bike crashes earlier in the year. Yet neither the reporter nor any of the comment writers felt a need to declare an epidemic of bicyclist injuries and deaths or make any sweeping statements about the dangers of bicycling. I guess that the newspaper readers of Boulder, Colorado see bicycling as a good and ordinary activity that sometimes results in crashes, injuries, and deaths. Folks here in Louisville, KY seem to feel that way about driving cars, but not about riding bicycles.

Health and crash data paint a clear picture: the benefits of bicycling vastly outweigh the risks. Here in greater Louisville, we continue to read and hear opinions that bicyclists should, "for their own good," stop riding on streets and rural roads. I hope to live to see the day when anyone stating that opinion will be viewed as a crackpot. In other words, I want the public at large to view bicycling on streets as normal and appropriate. Then, we might have a bicycle-friendly community.


Daniel said...

I greatly appreciate you blogging about this issue. Casey was my uncle and good man. Unfortunately comments have certainly been posted blaming cyclists for such accidents and not recognizing the rights for bicycles on the roads. Ironically enough I work in transportation and met last evening with a local Bicycle Advisory Board to discuss potential bike projects for the future. Before the meeting even began others around the table, that were unaware of my uncle and his untimely death, were conversing about another man that was recently killed by a motorist while riding his bike. Barry, I believe that you are correct in promoting stricter laws regarding accidents such as these but other solutions must be developed as well. Education is key in most things and holds true here as well. Unfortunately this is an issue that is unimportant to most people, that is, until it is thrust upon them by loosing someone important in their life. Kudos to your efforts and please ride safe.

murphstahoe said...

I just got back from Boulder and saw some impressive things that I would love in San Francisco.


But I have read comments in the Daily Camera and especially papers in Jefferson County, comments from the Sheriff in Larimer County. Colorado is better than Louisville most likely, but it's not nirvana.

Amy said...

Indianapolis had a recent cyclist death as well - one which occurred on a training ride with other cyclists, no cars involved - and the comments STILL turned to how cars owned the roads and cyclists ought to stay off them! Is it just the Midwest or what?

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