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Posted by on Oct 15, 2010 in Uncategorized | 34 comments

Will someone please explain this?

And how we change it!

Brad Ash, 41, of Dade City was riding east on the right side of two-lane St. Joe Road at 5:39 p.m. Oct. 4 when he was struck by a 2005 GMC also heading east, said Sgt. Larry Kraus of the Florida Highway Patrol.

The SUV hit the bicycle from behind. Ash, who was wearing a helmet and eye protection, was thrown from the bike. He was flown to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he stayed until he died.

The SUV driver, Jennifer Tuttle, 30, of Dade City has not been charged. Reports showed no evidence of alcohol or drug use.

“There was nothing suspicious,” Kraus said.

Here’s the article.

And another one.

No. There’s nothing suspicious about slamming into the back of a bicyclist on a straight road on a clear afternoon with the sun at your back. It’s perfectly understandable. Could happen to anyone.

Tuesday, a teenager slammed into the back of local cyclist, Marty Katz, who was waiting at a red light on Horatio. Marty is in critical condition at ORMC.

We’re killing 40,000 Americans a year because we refuse to accept responsibility for piloting 4000lb projectiles. Our system for qualifying drivers is a joke. We pay lip service to inattentive driving, but we have no political will to do anything REAL about it. The system is sending a clear message that exposed humans (pedestrians and bicyclists) should bear the risk they take for operating in a system of unconscious drivers encased in steel. You can see that in the lack of charges for gross negligence as well as the justifications police use for harassing bicycle drivers.

Is this really the world we want to live in? If not, we need to get serious about fixing our dysfunctional traffic justice system.

How? Any ideas? We need some radical movement here.

34 Comments

  1. and so it goes. The impetus for resurecting FBA in 1996 was the horrifying crash in Clay County that took the lives of Margaret Raynal and Doug Hill. In 1998 Ray Howland was standing several feet OFF the roadway when he was struck and killed by a driver who ‘had the sun in his eyes’. I don’t believe that justice was ever served in either of those cases. Generally a few points on the license and a nominal fine. For taking the lives of three amazing people that had so much more to give to the world around them. Three people taken from their families and their friends.

    It’s apalling how such deaths are trivialized by our traffic justice system. I think we need to do a better job of creating awareness of our lack of drivers education in the state. Not education for young drivers, education for ALL drivers. Last year I had to renew my DL in person for the first time in over a decade. I had a simple eye test. But that was it. It was more important for me to prove who I was than it was to prove I was competent enough to drive. I doubt I will have to have another renewal in person for another decade. By then I will be over 50 yrs old with the eyesight of a 50 yo. The last time I’d have taken a written drivers exam would have been the day I turned 16.

    But good luck with that – with AARP fighting any type of legislation that might limit seniors’ ability to drive any hope of getting better licensing will not happen. At least not in my lifetime.

    As to creating more awareness – I’d love to publicize these needless deaths. These were not accidents but preventable crashes caused by human error. If the cycling community is to combat this problem care needs to be taken to squarely address the problem – drivers – not cyclists. Cycling is not dangerous and that can’t be the message that gets out to the media, law enforcement, or legislators. Unfortunately, that’s generally the response – mandatory helmet laws for kids under 16, mandatory bike lane laws, etc.

    How about a better job of enforcing basic driving behavior – tickets for not yielding to peds, cutting off cyclists, etc. Mighk and I spoke with state lawmakers at the bike summit two years ago and He advocated for a better law that would better address the issue a bridge between a traffic citation and a criminal reckless driving charge. That may be a first step, but I’d also love to see that civility campaign take off.

    Finally, support better options for people. Make it easier to get around without a car. Stop making the choice be use a car or don’t go at all.

  2. Here in Dallas, cars have been running over us on bikes for years. We are told to get “our Toys: on the sidewalks or bike paths.

    A couple of weeks a jogger was listening to her headphones and not paying attention and turned in front of a cyclist, she was struck and fell and hit her head. Unfortunately she died from her injuries and that is too bad, now people are saying that we need to get “our vehicles” on the street and off the multiuse paths.

    You can’t have it both ways folks.

    • You have some data to support that, or are you simply speaking anecdotally?

      Cyclists get side-swiped (the usual “struck from behind” collision) because they place themselves in the position that communicates to motorists “go ahead and pass me without changing lanes”. The netherworld between being a pedestrian and being a vehicle driver puts cyclists at risk.

      Learn to control your surroundings, and you’ll be amazed at the change. A cyclist has a 3X greater risk of serious injury on a multi-purpose trail like the Katy than riding on a local street (according to the generally accepted Cross Study). At peak hours on a trail like the Katy, the danger is probably 10X.

      That “nether-world” mentality is why the police and the courts don’t actively defend cyclists. As a group, we have not shown we belong on the roads, deserve to be treated with respect, or belong on glorified sidewalks. The legal system no more knows where cyclists fit into the system than do the vast majority of bicyclists. Until we are willing to accept responsibility for our actions, learn to operate our vehicles in a reasonable and informed manner, and respect not only the rights of others, but our own rights, we will continue to be the red-headed stepchildren of transportation: at once children playing with toys, and at once vehicles operators. We must decide who we are and act accordingly. If you expect other people to do it for you, then you should know by now what to expect.

      • I find it extremely offensive that you blame the victims of these crimes.

        • It’s the government that’s to blame for encouraging unsafe cycling…

        • Cycler: As offensive as you find it, and as much as I often disagree with PM, he has a point. When you ride along the extreme right edge of a lane, it communicates to motorists that you are saying it is okay to pass you without changing lanes. TAKE the lane, ride with lights (even in daylight). Motorists don’t intentionally strike cyclists. If they see you, they will avoid you. Not saying the motorist was not at fault, but there are measures cyclists can take to avoid this kind of incident.

        • I think PM was blaming the pervasive netherworld behavior/mentality for the lack of justice. Not the victims of these crashes.

          Lack of acceptance of cyclists as legitimate drivers is the core issue. It may not have originated with cyclists, but it sure as heck won’t be changed as long a cyclists insist on acting like second-class citizens.

      • While cyclists may increase their visibility by not riding to the far right, it still doesn’t prevent all those “accidents” where the drivers admit to simply not paying attention. I recently saw an article where the driver admitted to the police that he “was distracted” (they think he was reaching for something in the vehicle and not looking at the road). Due to being “distracted” he killed a cyclist and it was still ruled an accident with no charges filed.

        • Keri said- “Lack of acceptance of cyclists as legitimate drivers is the core issue. It may not have originated with cyclists, but it sure as heck won’t be changed as long a cyclists insist on acting like second-class citizens.”

          The point to take home here is regardless of a driver being distracted, a cyclist with the proper skill set KNOWS how to scan and identify these conflicts and avoid such crashes.

          Likewise, a motorist with the proper skill set can do the same. We fail to remember that as the operator of a motor vehicle, the prime directive is to operate the vehicle in the most safest manner. Fiddle-farting around with your makeup, radio, cell phone, or “insert your favorite distraction here” is a task that is a detriment to the prime directive.

          Reply is general in nature and not to be construed as directed toward commenter.

          • Having the proper skill set will not prevent ALL crashes. There are plenty of cases where cyclists were operating as vehicles within the law and were still involved in a crash.

            I think the larger point is that educating drivers of automobiles needs to go hand and hand with educating cyclists. We also need to treat traffic fatalities involving cars vs peds/bikes with greater penalties.

          • There are most likely also cases where motorists were operating properly and hit someone, like a suicide jumping into traffic, or someone crossing at a light in front of them when they’re rear-ended. While there is certainly a problem with low penalties where negligence is proven, it’s worth remembering that sometimes a motorist is innocent but can’t prove it.

          • NE2, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that all motorist vs cyclist crashes are the motorists fault, that said, the responsibility for due care is on the motorist and frankly, where there is a fatality the onus should be on the motorist to prove they weren’t at fault.

            I just find it hard to believe that there are all these suicidal cyclists and pedestrians jumping into the paths of cars.

  3. In my opinion, here in Ontario, we’ve got the traffic laws about right. I’ve posted examples of people who have faced serious charges such as “Careless Driving” and “Dangerous Driving” even although they didn’t cause a crash with their careless or dangerous behaviour.

    A police officer or non-police witnesses saw the behaviour and police laid the charges and the courts convicted the driver. All BEFORE the dangerous driver caused a crash or injured or killed someone.

    Also our “reverse onus” civil liability law automatically deems the car driver legally liable for damage done in a crash unless the driver can prove himself to be not negligent. The relevant law is as follows:

    Onus of Disproving Negligence
    When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle.

    Source: Section 193, Highway Traffic Act, at:

    http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm#BK291

    • That may be too close to “guilty until proven innocent” for most U.S. citizens to swallow. But if we were to take due care seriously, killing someone who isn’t doing something suicidal (ie running a red light into moving traffic) would be a pretty clear indication of negligence.

      • Civil liability in both Canada, the USA and other places that inherited a British justice system is not about guilt or innocence. It is about “damage was done, who pays?”

      • I wish the U.S. would adopt the practice of Denmark and The Netherlands where if a motorist hits a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist is ALWAYS deemed to be at fault unless proven otherwise. Of course, those places generally have very low speed limits inside the city which is actually enforced and do not make the assumption as we do that a driver’s license is simply a right for everyone. Makes perfect sense to me, as they stated that the most vulnerable road users deserve the most care and protection. I’m not holding my breath that that will ever happen in our car-loving society though.

  4. There should be a mandatory loss of drivers license when there is a death. The justice system allows drivers to get away with murder intentional or not because of the insurance lobbying. They are only saving money for yours and my best friend the insurance companies.

  5. Last I looked, driver inattention was killing several thousand Americans per year and injuring far more and I suspect these are more cases. As a longtime motorist, cyclist, and motorcyclist, its pretty tough, I tell you, to not see a bicyclist or not be able to figure out how to pass one safely. Screwing up is a willful act of negligence or incompetence.

    Regarding inattention. We recently had a co-worker of mine, a single mom who left two orphans, killed in a head-on wreck when a pickup truck drifted into the oncoming lane during the morning commute on a 50 mph road. The pickup driver has no idea why he was on the wrong side of the road “no drugs or alcohol” of course. Police got a search warrant for his cell phone records (he of course had one of those devices of the devil) and are investigating. Last summer, a motorist drifted all they way onto a shoulder and hit a triathlete squarely in the back with the middle of his car, nearly killing him. That motorist, too, has no idea how his car got ENTIRELY onto the shoulder. WTF??? Obviously, because the motorist was not paying attention.

    The problem is that Keri is right: short of drugs or alcohol, police and more importantly, our Legislators, are willing to assume that this is normal. Accidents happen. Shit happens and you die.

    P.M. Summer tells us that we are encouraging these crashes through bad cyclist position. Of course, in most states, AFRAP and MBL laws result in us being damned if we do and damned if we don’t, as is pointed out in the Traffic Justice link above. But while positioning errors may sometimes be contributory to a crash, most of the 40,000 killed each year are not cyclists. Kinda hard to miss a car, or a double yellow line, or a red light or a stop sign. I’m not saying let our guard down, but let’s stop blaming the victims. Keri is right: society treats CARS like toys!

    • How many 16 year olds are given an automobile (and license) as soon as they become of age? It’s certainly treated as a toy, as a given, not a privilege, which is really how such responsibility should be imparted.

      Even back in my early years, having a pedal car was a special thing, but it was still a toy. Now the youngsters have electric powered toy cars, which only foster the impression that reduces responsibility.

      I shudder to think what is taught in today’s driver’s ed classes, even presuming that such programs exist. If the schools are “teaching to the test” then what is a driver’s ed class going to accomplish? Teach to that test, and don’t worry about the rest of it.

      I was 18 before I got my first vehicle and license and I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I did not recognize the responsibility that I should have. After too many crashes (three) I might have matured a bit.

      Without placing serious responsibiity on the shoulders of the operators, what can truly be accomplished?

      • In Texas, driver’s ed classes are not even required anymore; nor are driving tests. The written test and 6 months of driving with a permit, plus a parent saying they self-taught their kids, is all that is needed to get a license.

        Of course, in most states, AFRAP and MBL laws result in us being damned if we do and damned if we don’t

        Luckily, AFRAP in Texas has several exclusions that allow for sane lane position for cyclists, and at least in Fort Worth, cops don’t hassle cyclists.

      • I was taught in driver’s education (about nine years ago) that it was ok to exceed the speed limit up to seven mph over. I only wish that I had known better at the time and called them out for teaching something so stupid.

  6. All the examples given here are about criminal law. How about civil suits against the car drivers that kill and injure?

    After all, the USA is the country with more lawyers than engineers. Why aren’t kabillion-dollar lawsuits resulting in all car drivers thinking “I know that if I hit a cyclist, I’m going to lose my car, house and everything that I own as I get sued into bankruptcy.”

    • Watch as your rights to use the road get taken away in civil court by expensive lawyers who argue successfully that cycling in the road is reckless.

    • Most people believe — erroneously — that cycling on roadways is inherently dangerous. It will take an exceptionally knowledgeable attorney in most cases to win for a cyclist against a motorist.

    • Civil lawsuits are not a great tool for improving society’s behavior, because they don’t necessarily get at objective truth. The plaintiff attorney is out to get money; the defense attorney is out to trip up the plaintiff attorney, and they use whatever tools work. Some lawyers fight dirty because it works. As an old philosophy professor of mine once said, “Why is anyone surprised when the truth doesn’t arise from a system in which everyone is trying to avoid it?”
      Kevin, is it any different in Canada? I don’t know much about your legal system.
      NE2, you are channeling my deepest fears!

      • In Quebec and Ontario, juries are not used for civil trials. And judges tend to have a dim view of lawyers who use dirty tricks.

        As I quoted before, the law assumes that a motor vehicle operator is negligent unless he can prove otherwise. This is a hard thing to do, since in most cases they ARE negligent.

        The result is that serious injuries or deaths tend to result in the car driver being sued into bankruptcy. It is difficult to get car liability insurance for over one million dollars for this reason. The minimum legally required car liability insurance is $200,000.

        Typically people will sue for lost wages/salary for the dead and injured. If a car driver hits and kills a university student, he is looking at paying a lifetime’s professional salary. This pretty well ensures that his liability insurance will be exhausted, all his assets will be seized and he will be bankrupt.

        It happens every so often. I like for these cases to have widespread publicity in order to change the behaviour of other drivers.

        It seems to work. Ontario’s Ministry of Transport brags about having the safest roads in North America.

      • In addition, civil suits are between individuals, that is unless you are suing a government entity. They are designed less to change society than to extract retribution for a perceived or real injury.

        And, when a government entity is being sued, one can get the wrong behavior. Rather than solving a problem and taking the moral high ground, a government entity may circle the wagons just to minimize damage. I could say more, but I think the case in particular that I am thinking about may still be in litigation.

  7. More people drive than don’t. Try to find a civil liability jury without a majority of motorists. Its the “…there for the grace of God go I…” thinking in the back of their heads.

    • Isn’t it criminal court that requires a jury of your peers? For safe-cycling riders, that’s a pretty challenging requirement, in my opinion. In Volusia County, I don’t know a single other cyclist who consistently maintains a safe lane position.

      Take someone to civil court and it’s exactly as Khal suggests. The drivers are thinking that it could be them, so let’s go easy on the culprit.

      We’re talking cyclists here, but it’s all road users, of course.

  8. Here’s another recent crash that is a 180 degree difference from those you’ve cited, Keri. It involves the all too common right hook, a drunk driver, and a dead pregnant woman:

    http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2010/10/17/Cyclist-killed-at-Biketoberfest-rally/UPI-53621287326618/

    The driver was promptly located, arrested, and charged with vehicular homicide. The difference? The people he put down were on MOTORCYCLES! Apparently the presence of an internal combustion engine makes every bit of difference when it comes to police response.

    Has anyone done a study of the disparity?

    • This deserves further study for sure.

      I seem to recall, many years ago, that motorcyclists’ lives were similarly discounted. Motorcycling has always carried a LOT higher risk than bicycling, but it seems the perception of danger used to be much higher than it is today. The perception of danger is also higher for bicycling than it is for motorcycling.

      There is a profound difference in the way the motorcycle industry and advocates have handled public perception of risk, fear of their product and safety concerns vs the way the bicycle industry and advocates have. This relates back to PM Summer’s comment above.

      • They still have those billboards on the Turnpike: “don’t let this be your first impression of a motorcycle; look twice – save a life”. Obviously intended for motorists changing lanes. I remember something similar for bicycles in Lake County: “I’m a father (?) and a cyclist – don’t honk, give me 3 feet, etc.”.

    • He’s being charged with vehicular homicide because A) he “smelled strongly of alcohol” when apprehended, and B) he fled the scene.

      Had he been sober and stayed at the scene, I bet he would have been charged only with careless driving, or some other non-criminal violation.

      There’s a saying in traffic safety circles: “If you want to get away with murder: be sober, wait until your victim leaves the curb as a pedestrian, hit him, stay put, and tell the police he stepped out right in front of you.”

    • I think the difference is the fact that a drunk driver was involved. If the perpetrator is not under the influence of something, vehicular homicide is a tough charge to have applied.