In a Split Second

I live with it every day
For every step I have to pay
The only thing that they can’t take
The guilt that spirals in my wake
—Barenaked Ladies

The director of Bike Florida, Ron Cunningham, has written a poignant post about the death of a cyclist during last week’s event. Robert Paul King was killed by a distracted driver who drifted into the shoulder:

Mr. King was killed after being struck from behind by a fast-moving pickup truck. The driver, a young man, reportedly told police he had dropped his cell phone and was reaching down to retrieve it when his vehicle drifted into the marked shoulder where Mr. King had been cycling.

Rather than rant against the driver, Ron says this:

It takes only a split second of inattention to transform the mundane into the terrifying. I am certain that the young man who struck down Robert Paul King in an instant of distraction would dearly love to have that split second back. But he can never get it back. And now another cyclist is gone and another young driver’s life has been altered forever.

That is a picture of reality we would all do well to internalize. If we were all mindful of this possibility while operating our vehicles, there would be a lot less carnage on our roads. Unfortunately, the very fact that most people consistently get away with moments of inattention while driving leads us into complacency.

It is in the split second that the direct cause of the crash occurs. However, the split second is rarely isolated from a chain of events. There have been several life-changing split seconds in my own journey. Looking back upon them, it is easy to identify a progression of decisions — even a pattern of behavior — leading to the final split second. More importantly, each chain originated with an attitude or belief which allowed for the destructive decisions or behavior.

Distracted driving laws

There has been much discussion about creating new laws against distracted driving. What seems to be missing is an understanding of beliefs and how they not only drive behavior, but are typically resistant to superficial legal constraint.

I am most ambivalent about anti-texting and cell phone laws. I know they are popular. Of course, I share the same feelings as everyone else of wanting to do something about this irresponsible behavior. But aside from being virtually unenforceable until after a crash, I sense potential unintended consequences.

The driver turned around to talk to her 2-year-old son, who was in the back seat. When she turned back around the cyclist was right in front of her. Nobody saw her talking on her cell phone or sending a text…

In the past year, I’ve seen a number of instances where drug/alcohol impairment or texting is the only referenced criteria for punishing drivers who kill people. It used to be an unfortunate accident if the driver was sober. Now it’s an unfortunate accident if the driver was sober and not texting. Reach for a fallen object, turn around to talk to your child in the back seat, fiddle with your GPS or simply check out into a daydream and kill someone… oh well, that that could happen to anyone.

It would be so like our system to use the isolation of a few distractions to excuse others. Outraged as we are at fatalities caused by texting drivers, we are still unwilling to make ourselves accept the total burden of responsibility for operating a heavy, fast vehicle. Heck, most of us aren’t even willing to stop using our own cell phones. Even as we desire new laws to kick the latest deadly fad, we cling to exceptions for more mundane forms of irresponsible driving. I doubt many legislators will entertain an anti-distracted driving law written so broadly as to include what most of our culture believes are innocent distractions. The good news is, we already have a law against distracted driving.

Inadequacy and opportunity in existing laws

316.1925 Careless driving.

(1) Any person operating a vehicle upon the streets or highways within the state shall drive the same in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. Failure to drive in such manner shall constitute careless driving and a violation of this section.
(2) Any person who violates this section shall be cited for a moving violation, punishable as provided in chapter 318.

FS 316.1923 – Aggressive Careless Driving

“Aggressive careless driving” means committing two or more of the following acts simultaneously or in succession:

(2) Unsafely or improperly changing lanes as defined in s. 316.085.

(3) Following another vehicle too closely as defined in s. 316.0895(1).

(5) Improperly passing as defined in s. 316.083, s. 316.084, or s. 316.085.

(6) Violating traffic control and signal devices as defined in ss. 316.074 and 316.075.

FS 316.192 – Reckless Driving

(1)(a) Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

Driving while distracted is a failure to use due care. We have existing laws and penalties for failure to use due care. When we look closely at the existing laws, their penalties and how they are enforced and upheld, we can see glaring deficiencies and dysfunction. There are seemingly daily examples of this, I’ll offer one that’s close to home.

A driver who was clearly not paying attention rear-ended a cyclist waiting at a red light, seriously injuring him. The driver was cited for careless driving, but the ticket was dismissed due to a loophole which requires the victim to identify the driver. In looking into this, I found the following on a defense attorney’s website:

Commonly issued following a crash, careless driving is almost synonymous with rear-end collisions. In most accident or crash cases, the officer is not present. They arrive at the scene, talk to the drivers and any witnesses, and then issue citation(s) if they can determine that party at fault. Under Florida law, anything you tell an officer at the time of the crash is privileged. Florida Statute 316.066 ( 7) clearly states that any statements made to law enforcement following an accident shall not be admissible into evidence at any civil or criminal trial. Therefore, anything the drivers tell law enforcement at the scene of an accident is privileged and can NOT be used against them, even when fighting a traffic ticket in court. Therefore, when you fight a ticket for careless driving in court, usually the case can only be proven through the testimony of the witnesses or other drivers. So if the person whom you hit from behind is unavailable for trial, and there are no witnesses, you have a good probability of beating the citation. Remember in Florida traffic court the officer is the prosecutor. There is NOT a municipal or state prosecutor. The police or trooper prosecutes his/her own cases. Therefore, they must depend on witnesses or drivers to help them prove the citation that they wrote.

If it’s not bad enough that careless driving carries an inadequate penalty for causing serious injury and death, that loophole is outrageous!

The next step up from careless driving is aggressive careless driving. That citation requires a series of other violations leading to the crash. The crime which carries the most significant penalties is reckless driving. A citation for reckless driving requires proof that the driver was displaying a blatant and intentional disregard for other drivers. As a result, drivers who kill cyclists and pedestrians often receive no more than a minimal fine, if they are cited at all.

“She had the bad luck to hit a cyclist rather than another car, which would have left a dent.”

So, while the laws are in place, we have work to do to fix the penalty structures and close the loopholes. There is no silver bullet. When existing laws are made inadequate by a dysfunctional culture, new laws won’t improve anything. We have to fix the pervasive belief that roads are for cars and that those choosing to operate on them without a steel cage not only deserve their fate but somehow victimize the poor motorists who hit them.

Attitudes, beliefs and values

Fear of consequences only affects behavior if there is a reasonable belief the behavior will result in consequences.

Increased penalties are a means of retribution after-the-fact. But, unless one is a sociopath, the horror of killing someone through negligence should overshadow the fear of legal penalties. Therein lies the problem. Fear of consequences only affects behavior if there is a reasonable belief the behavior will result in consequences. People engage in distracting behaviors while driving because they don’t believe anything bad will happen.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons released survey results which found that although 94% of American drivers believe that distracted driving is a problem, none of those surveyed considered their driving unsafe.

83% of respondents reported that they drive safely, but believe that just 10% of other drivers do so. In addition, 20% of respondents noted they can perform other tasks while driving without compromising their driving ability.

“We’ve learned that we have more work to do to get to people to realize that the behaviors they engage in behind the wheel are more than small habits — they are distractions,” Berry said. “We’ve also learned that there is a disconnect between what many drivers report observing and what they report practicing.

With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine increasing penalties can be an effective measure of prevention. Don’t get me wrong, I do think we should increase the penalties for irresponsible behavior. The current penalties for killing someone with a car are a joke. The lack of traffic justice allows people to keep driving after they have demonstrated time and again they don’t deserve the privilege. It also contributes to our cultural denial and avoidance — brushing off crashes caused by irresponsible driving as unfortunate accidents. But I have doubts distracted driving laws or increasing penalties for existing due care laws will significantly change behavior without other forms of intervention.

Look for the backlash when some nice member of the community faces jail time for the horrific result of a moment of inattention. As I’ve said before, the majority of drivers engage in some form of distraction some of the time, and most get away with it every time. “There but for the grace of God…” right?

Prevailing beliefs are more likely to influence justice than legislative changes.

We must change beliefs to change behavior. Distracted driving originates with a belief that driving can be done with limited attention. Over-confidence is bolstered by the pervasive self-indulgent attitudes. Few people are mindful of the effect of their behavior on others. As a culture, we place little value on our role in the community or the long-term impact of our short term wants (this extends to far more than driving, but it most certainly manifests behind the wheel in a range of destructive behavior that we’ve come to accept as a fact of life).

It also doesn’t help that we’ve spent the last half century purposely engineering our roads to be driven with limited attention. Nor that we’ve bought into land use policy and lifestyle choices which increase time spent engaged in a boring and unproductive activity. It is further unhelpful that the car companies have decided to pander to the desire for in-car distractions.

Virtual reality

We hear a lot of victim’s stories in PSAs, but I wonder if they have the intended effect. They make the viewer not want to be victim. They may even make the viewer mad at the perpetrator, especially if s/he is faceless. But the intention is to change the viewer’s behavior so as not to cause harm to others. For that to happen the viewer must connect with the reality of what it’s like to cause harm to others—not just the split second of horror, but the attitude and pattern of behavior leading to the crash and the long-term social and psychological consequences after it.

Ron Cunningham captured a piece of that. I only wish we had some way to embed the reality of his words into the hearts and minds of every driver: “I am certain that the young man who struck down Robert Paul King in an instant of distraction would dearly love to have that split second back. But he can never get it back.”

“I was looking up every couple seconds or so, like I always did and I just hear a loud scream next to me and the next second I look up and I see a bicyclist crash in the windshield.”

Is it possible to push the public past simple empathy for the driver (which currently makes us unwilling to increase legal penalties) into owning the responsibility to pay attention? The young man in this video (4:13) has told his story as part of his sentence. He says he had done the behavior (texting) and gotten away with it numerous times before the moment he did it and killed someone.

There is no rewind. It’s a nightmare from which you don’t awake. What’s instructive is beyond the split second — the chain of events, the underlying beliefs and a pattern of behavior which previously escaped consequences. Look at that and you can see it coming. That’s the message. It’s not an “unfortunate accident” that can happen to anyone. It’s the result of unexamined destructive behaviors we’ve accepted as normal.

We’re not helpless to change, most of us simply choose not to.

53 replies
  1. NE2
    NE2 says:

    Good post. I’ve had a few such moments, luckily with no ill effects, both on a bike and in a car.

    I’ve done the following on a bike:
    *Cut across the right-turn lane to retrieve a fallen water bottle without checking for traffic
    *Drifted into the gutter (at least an inch below the pavement) and fell left into the lane; this probably convinced me more than anything else that ‘let them honk’ is the best strategy
    *Entered a pair of intersections controlled by a single light on the green, then kept on and waved frantically when traffic from the second intersection began to pull in front of me; here I was in the right since the drivers had not checked that the intersection pair was clear before entering, but it was still a dumb thing for me to do

    In a car:
    *Come close to hitting a pedestrian: I was turning left at a light from a minor road, and was paying attention primarily to whether the opposing driver was turning left or going straight (he turned left despite not using the turn signal), so I forgot to look at the crosswalk; my brother pointed out that there was a pedestrian and I slammed on the brakes; he was crossing the lane next to the one I was turning into, so I wouldn’t have hit him, but I felt like an idiot
    *Run a red: I changed lanes before the light, which was green when I looked back into my blind spot and had turned yellow by the time I returned my view to the front; I decided I could make it but it turned red before I entered (this likely couldn’t have resulted in a crash, just a ticket had there been a camera or officer nearby)

    Each of these incidents shook me a bit and has hopefully had a lasting effect of making me more careful.

  2. Mighk Wilson
    Mighk Wilson says:

    I don’t see any forces in our culture that can or will remedy this problem. Except one: peak oil. Only when driving becomes too expensive will people drive less. I’m not sure if drivers will improve if they spend more time as pedestrians and cyclists, but less driving would simply reduce the impact of inattention.

    • Rodney
      Rodney says:

      Chris Lundberg, below, mostly sums up what I really want to say.

      Here’s an idea. Create a comprehensive education plan for earning our privilege, to operate a motor vehicle. Instead of reading a drivers manual on the weekend and taking a multiple choice test on Monday morning, structure getting your operators permit through community college courses with the States(s)being responsible for the final testing.

      Which do you appreciate more? Something given or something earned? Exactly! Earn the right, um rite, of passage by paying your dues, both in time and money, instead of reaching a magical age.

      One can start here. I did.

  3. Serge Issakov
    Serge Issakov says:

    Here is the main issue, I think: “the very fact that most people consistently get away with moments of inattention while driving leads us into complacency.”

    Because most people consistently get away with harmless moments of inattention, how do you justify severe penalties for the very occasions when the normally harmless moment of inattention turns out to be harmful? Is there any other commonplace and normally harmless behavior which we heavily penalize on the rare occasions when it turns out to be harmful?

    Further, because momentary inattention is so common (ever look at your gauges?), and the consequences for crashing due to unfortunately timed inattention are already significant (including potential death for the driver), how significant of a deterrent can adding high fines or even jail time be for this?

    Having said that, I do think it’s possible that strict liability could change attitudes and make drivers more attentive. But it could lead to bicyclists being more careless as well.

    Regardless, inattentive drivers are not a big concern for me, when I’m driving my car, motorcycle or bicycle. I take it as a given that most drivers are paying reasonable attention most of the time, but that all drivers are not paying proper attention at least some of the time. So, in general, I avoid situations in which my safety depends on someone else definitely paying attention, but when I do require it, I make sure I have that attention before I risk my safety on having it. Therefore, from my perspective, if I even have a close call with someone due to them not paying attention, that’s on me for putting myself in that situation in the first place.

    For example, if I’m approaching an intersection and I’m not already well out in the traffic lane, I’ll move out there (signalling/negotiating as required) to improve sight lines, conspicuousness and vantage. If someone is coming the other way who can and might turn left at that intersection across my path, I’ll try to adjust my speed to prevent simultaneous entry into the intersection. If that’s not practical, then I’ll look for signs (e.g., slowing that is distinctly characteristic of noticing me for there is no other reason to slow like that) that I’ve been noticed before I enter the intersection, and remain prepared to instant-turn right if necessary.

    It’s just seems unreasonable to me to expect flawed human beings to never have lapses in attention or judgment. We’d like to reduce the incidence while driving, of course, but we can’t eliminate it. Therefore we have to take extra precautions, especially when cageless. That’s why I make it a habit – something I don’t have to think about and remember – to verify I have someone’s attention before I depend on that someone’s attention. Anyway, that works for me.

    And speaking of being cageless, the motorcycle community seems to have a very different attitude about distracted driving than the bicycling community, and is more in line with what I’m talking: acceptance and inoculation (defensive driving) rather than this apparent need “to do something” about distracted driving which seems so prevalent in the bicycling community. I don’t think much good can come from it, because 1) distracted driving is very difficult if not impossible to reduce, and 2) talking about it just reinforces the belief that bicyclists are sitting ducks out there in traffic, about to be plucked from existence at any moment. I suggest we follow the lead of the motorcycle community and adopt an approach that emphasizes our ability to protect ourselves regardless of how attentive others may be, rather than hand wringing about vulnerability.

  4. Chris Lundberg
    Chris Lundberg says:

    In Germany, it’s common to see the phrase “der Führerschein wurde beschlagnahmt” in reports of traffic violations. This means that the police can take -on the spot- a driver’s license for certain violations – and the courts there are likely to uphold this or order a forfeiture if the police hadn’t already done it beforehand.

    The fact that Germany has a functioning public transport system plays a huge role – there is no “how am I going to get to work/school/store etc”. excuse. Sometimes, it may not be as convenient to use public transport, but it’s there as an option for those that shouldn’t be driving (and of course, also for those who don’t have or want a motor vehicle). A mature society has to recognize that there will always be some portion of the population that simply should not be operating a motor vehicle on public roads.

    Chris Lundberg

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      That is so spot on!

      Transit is the linchpin of traffic justice. When there is no viable alternative, driving becomes an entitlement.

    • Dwight Kingsbury
      Dwight Kingsbury says:

      In 2009, about 5500 people were killed and 448,000 injured in US motor vehicle crashes that were reported to involve distracted driving (20% of injury crashes were reported to involve distracted driving). There were an average of 1.5 injury crashes involving distracted driving per 10,000 motor-vehicle-miles-traveled.

      Is there a Lake Wobegon effect at work? The public considers distracted drivers to be a menace…so who are all those distracted drivers involved in crashes?

      • Dwight Kingsbury
        Dwight Kingsbury says:

        Sorry, lost a few zeros in my Mac Dashboard calculation. There were 2.979 >trillionon average<.

        However, conflicts involving distracted that do not result in crashes are probably much more numerous. Ratios of conflicts to crashes have been estimated for different types of crashes. For every crash of a given type that occurs, there are usually thousands or tens of thousands of incidents (depending on how "conflict" is defined) in which drivers were on trajectories that would have resulted in crashes of that type, but managed to avoid collision by prompt braking or taking evasive action.

        I don't know that anyone has developed such a ratio for DD crashes, but if there were 1000 rather near misses involving distracted driving for every actual crash, then there would be 1.5 near misses per 10,000 motor-vehicle-miles-traveled.

        Driving without being "distracted" is not quite the same thing as alert driving. Over 90% of crashes could be avoided if drivers were alert, saw what was there to be seen, and took prudent action.

        • Dwight Kingsbury
          Dwight Kingsbury says:

          Hmm..must have lost some text in first paragraph. It was supposed to say there were 2.979 >trillionon average<.

          (But, as I continued, risk of a near miss is probably much higher…)

          • Dwight Kingsbury
            Dwight Kingsbury says:

            Okay, I give up–it looks like using “is less than” and “is greater than” symbols in text causes text to disappear. Is there some other way to express emphasis (use upper case)?

  5. BikingBrian
    BikingBrian says:

    Before cell phones the distractions have usually been momentary, but from what I’ve seen cell phone distractions are on the order of five seconds. “Texting is in its own universe of risk,” compared with other sources of driver distraction, according to the link below. I won’t hold it against a motorist who is momentarily distracted by a sneeze or from a child throwing french fries from the back seat. But a voluntary five second distraction due to texting is inexcusable.

  6. Robin Frisella
    Robin Frisella says:

    As always, a very well-thought out piece, Keri. If we all think for a minute, we could make a list of careless choices we’ve made that could have ended very badly for us, and by some miracle, didn’t. Careless choices while driving, or cycling, could end badly for not only ourselves, but others. We seem to be proving ourselves not to be a ‘mature society,’ as Chris mentioned, and often not to be very civil as well.

    Your work to promote civility on the roads will help us to mature as a society. Thanks, Keri, for all that you do.

  7. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Unfortunately, human nature is resistent to change. As Serge correctly pointed out, there are already serious penalties in place for distracted driving, including the death of the driver. Yet people still do stupid things like use cell telephones.

    I once saw a cartoon where the character was saying “Of course the death penalty is a deterrent. Who would do something that could result in his own death?”

    What made the cartoon funny is that while he was saying this, the cartoon character was smoking a cigarette.

    As the millions of smokers demonstrate, people do not, will not and probably never will engage in rational risk analysis. This is doubly true for teenagers, yet in Florida, 15-year-olds can get a learner’s driving permit and be fully licenced at 16 years of age.

    As any automobile insurance company will attest, allowing such young car drivers is insanely risky.

    But it is not just teen-agers. I don’t think that there is a single human being on the planet that every so often is not distracted and just plain not paying attention to what they are doing.

    Human beings inherently do lousy risk analysis and repeatedly engage in distracted behaviour. That’s not going to change. Even the prospect of imminent death does not change it. The only thing that we can do is harm reduction so that when human beings do what human beings inevitably do, others are protected.

    This is why my #1 favourite bike route is this one:

    Yes, I get a kick out of converting a car-only expressway to a bicycle-only route. But, most importantly, any car that “goes out of control” will be crushed to bits long before it gets to me.

  8. Bill
    Bill says:

    Keri, AMEN. Wonderful piece.

    I firmly believe penalties for injuring or killing a vulnerable road user must be increased before drivers will be willing to exercise the care, responsibility and vigilance necessary to avoid those injuries and deaths. The penalty for any infraction that causes increased risk, injury or death to a vulnerable road user should escalate as the risk and vulnerability increase. The larger the vehicle, the more potential for damage, the higher the infraction penalty.

    Distracted driving is more dangerous for cyclists than for any other road user group. The cyclist depends on other vehicle drivers seeing him/her to avoid collision. There was nothing Robert Paul King could have done to lessen his risk of collision other than not be in the road. The vulnerability of the cyclist and the size and speed differential make the split second of inattention lethal. This same set of circumstance does not occur with pedestrians, motorcyclists or other motorized vehicle drivers when engaged in moving routinely along a roadway.

    The road use culture has to change, driven by penalties that create a heightened awareness of the need to maintain alert attention at all times.

    • Serge Issakov
      Serge Issakov says:

      “There was nothing Robert Paul King could have done to lessen his risk of collision other than not be in the road.”

      I don’t think we can say that that is definitely true, Bill. My understanding of what happened there was that King was riding in the shoulder unnoticed by the driver of the F-250 who apparently chose to attend to some distraction and inadvertently briefly drifted into the shoulder and struck King. I hear about these inadvertent-drift-into-cyclist-riding-in-shoulder-or-bike-lane crashes all too often – seems like there are about 50 per year nationwide, give or take.

      When I was first learning about traffic cycling safety about 7 years ago there happened to be a rash of these types of crashes in Sonoma County, CA where my parents lived, and it got me wondering… since I was learning how to avoid every other type of crash, was there anything I could do to avoid these?

      At about the same time I was reading Cyclecraft by John Franklin, who advocates the practice of cyclists using the center of the traffic lane as the “primary riding position”, and moving aside into the “secondary riding position” closer to the road edge only when safe, reasonable and necessary to allow faster traffic to pass.

      Since these inadvertent drift crashes seem to happen only in relatively light traffic on “ruralish” roads (which makes sense, because it’s only with what appears to be an empty road in front of them that drivers usually feel safe taking their eyes off the road long enough to drift much), I realized the key was grabbing their attention _before_ they chose to take their eyes off the road to attend to whatever distraction was about to beckon to them.

      If you ride with a mirror and experiment with lateral positioning, it doesn’t take long to discover how much and how well motorists respond to different positions. Keri and Mighk have documented this effect with video here recently.

      We don’t know the exact reasons for this, but from reading about inattentional blindness (google it) I know that relevance has a lot to do with whether we notice something, or filter it out subconsciously. It also seems quite obvious to me that a cyclist up ahead riding in a bike lane or shoulder is going to be much less relevant than a cyclist riding in the middle of the traffic lane, and, thus, much more prone to being overlooked.

      So I suggest that Robert Paul King could not only have used this technique to lessen his risk of collision, but he could have reduced it to practically nil. In particular, what I do is position myself out in the “primary riding position” — left of the center of the lane as demonstrated by Mighk — during long gaps in traffic, periodically checking rearward with a mirror glance, just as I do when driving a car, truck or motorcycle, perhaps a bit more frequently.

      Simply by being out in the middle of the traffic lane, the likelihood of being unnoticed probably went down from about 50% while in the shoulder to a tiny, tiny fraction out in the lane. So that alone would have greatly reduced his risk. Further, by doing periodic mirror checks the cyclist can monitor and verify that he indeed has been noticed, by observing motorists approaching from behind slowing down, or changing lanes to pass. I’ve been practicing this method for over 7 years now, and have not had to bail even once yet. But, because I practice this, I suggest it would be impossible for me to be hit in a crash like this.

      And before anyone suggests I won’t be noticed by a distracted rider regardless of where I’m trying, remember that I’m talking about grabbing driver’s attention — by being clearly in their path — 10, 20 or even 30 seconds prior to them reaching me, thus distracting them from choosing to attend to the other distraction. That’s the key, because what happens in these crashes is the driver takes his eyes off the road 5 or maybe 10 second before reaching the cyclist, and drifts during that period. He can’t have taken his eyes off the road prior to that because it’s impossible to stay on the roadway without looking for longer than that.

      I don’t mean to blame the cyclist at all, but these crashes ARE preventable by the cyclist: GRAB their attention with conspicuous lane positioning BEFORE they are distracted by something. That’s the key.

        • Keri
          Keri says:

          Ed, it seems like there have been a bunch of them in Florida, too. Here are stories from recent memory, there are probably some I’ve missed.

          Sept 26, 2010 – USF researcher identified as hit-and-run victim 30-year-old Kayoko Ishizuka had just left her lab around 1:30 Saturday morning, when she was hit from behind as she was riding her bicycle on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, deputies said.
          Investigators said she had the right of way and was in the designated bike lane when she was struck.

          September 29, 2010 – Hit-and-run victim was quiet and dependable, co-workers say Police said that Mr. Smith was following bicycle safety recommendations such as wearing light-colored clothing, using reflectors and riding in the bicycle lane.

          Oct 8, 2010 – Local cyclist killed near finish of cross-country charity ride Grooters was off the road surface and moving along the paved shoulder when he was killed. State troopers report the driver of the pickup truck was "distracted." Charges are pending further investigation.

          Nov 21, 2010 – Cyclist struck from behind, killed on U.S. Highway 27
          A 53-year-old Lake County cyclist was killed this morning when a car veered into the paved shoulder where he was riding on U.S. Highway 27 in Clermont, officials said.

          February 9, 2011 – Bicyclist Killed By Car On Jensen Beach Causeway
          “She veered right into the bike lane, hit him from behind, and I saw his body go like this, and then he fell forward,” said Debbie Gleason, describing the accident. “I immediately pulled over, and I grabbed my phone. I called 911.”

          February 14, 2011 – Cyclist killed in crash near USF was ‘humble’ veterinarian Deputies said Niedbalec had been riding east on Fletcher Avenue on the paved shoulder and that two vehicles were heading in the same direction.

          Feb 25, 2011 – Vero Beach bicyclist, 21, dies after tour bus driver, 83, hits him on edge of road The bus was northbound on 43rd Avenue when "for some unknown reason the bus driver left the right shoulder of the road’s edge, passed several vehicles and hit the bicyclist," said police Officer Doug Bickford.

          March 15, 2011 – Bicyclist Dies After Hit-And-Run Witness Kevin Black said 56-year-old Kevin Blair was riding in the bicycle lane on New Kings Road at Gilchrist Road near Interstate 295 about 1 p.m. when the truck swerved and hit him.

          • Eric
            Eric says:

            Thank you for that summary, Keri.
            I was thinking the same thing, but couldn’t make a list the way that you did.

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:

            Thank you for preparing this list. Such things can be excellent advocacy tools.

            One thing that all these victims appear to have in common is that proper CROW standard protective barriers would have saved their lives. Failure to follow proper engineering design standards kills.

          • Eric
            Eric says:

            “in common is that proper CROW standard protective barriers would have saved their lives.”

            And we would have been reading, ” . . . the bicycle was northbound in the sidepath, when the southbound car turned left into a minor street . . .”

            That’s what almost happened to me when I tried using one. Not much of an improvement.

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:


            CROW is a Dutch acronym for the engineering technology standards organization that regulates transportation, infrastructure and public space. The CROW standards are the world-class benchmark for design in these areas. For more information, see:


          • Dwight Kingsbury
            Dwight Kingsbury says:

            One of these reports is rather curious:

            “September 29, 2010 – …Police said that Mr. Smith was following bicycle safety recommendations such as wearing light-colored clothing, using reflectors and riding in the bicycle lane.”

            The (St. Pete Times) report says Smith was hit “from the rear in the 7300 block of Fourth Street N”.

            Google Earth’s aerial imagery, taken in April 2010, shows no bicycle lanes at this location, nor any sign of road works. (Street View also shows no BLs.)

            The City of St. Petersburg’s 2009 “bike map” shows neither bike lanes at this location, nor any “future bike lane improvements”.

            Smith was hit (about 11 pm) in such a way that “his head struck a metal light pole” (light poles are placed behind the sidewalk); the motorist did not stop. Speed limit is 45 mph at this location.

            On what part of the cross-section was Smith riding?

          • Serge Issakov
            Serge Issakov says:

            Don’t forget that “in the bike lane” often means, even to police, not riding in an official properly marked “bike lane” as we know it, but, simply, riding “off to the side not in the part of the traffic lane normally used by motorists”.

    • Kevin Love
      Kevin Love says:


      The only problem is that penalties are of very limited effectiveness. This is vividly demonstrated by the millions of tobacco smokers, in spite of the fact that tobacco kills.

      As I wrote above, human beings inherently do lousy risk analysis and repeatedly engage in distracted behaviour. The only really effective way of dealing with this is harm reduction so that when the inevitable happens, others are protected.

  9. geonz
    geonz says:

    +1 Biking Brian.
    I just lost a friend who was riding on the back of a tandem with a huge flag and a trailer, on a wide open country road and no, the corn isn’t up yet, and the driver never even braked. It’s painfully obvious his attention was elsewhere — head under dash — for a whole lot longer than a split second. Not texting; reading maps.
    I don’t like the focus on texting/ cell phones either — but I also do think lack of consequence sends a message that the risk isn’t big, either. I don’t imagine a driver saying “Oh, I’ll pull over to check this map because I might kill somebody and there would be a penalty!” I do, however, imagine that when I know there’s a penalty, I know there’s a *reason* — that there is a real and genuine risk. I’d better pull over. (That sounds more logical than most people are — but it’s translated from intuition.)
    And if our culture needs dramatic individual examples to start taht consequence trend, then let it be with specifics. If we can get a few more licenses revoked, we can use *that* to help push the “hey, we need non-car options for people!” And if enough people are run over and injured too severely to drive, then there will be more people who need that… and besides, I think that having to ride a bicycle for transportation is a dandy way to make the punishment fit the crime.

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      “when I know there’s a penalty, I know there’s a *reason*”
      Unfortunately this isn’t always true. For example:
      *Crossing on a don’t walk after checking that no traffic is coming
      *Treating a stop sign as a yield on a bike
      *Going 80 in a 70 on a rural stretch of Interstate

      All of these have penalties, if an officer sees them and decides to ticket. But none have negative consequences (except for the latter most likely using more gas). Perhaps we not only need to increase penalties for dangerous activities, but eliminate them for safe activities.

  10. geonz
    geonz says:

    Oh, and as far as “they’ll live with the horror for the rest of their lives” — yea, verily. Let us help assuage the guilt by putting the penalty of not driving in place. One of the reasons I prefer my bicycle is that I’m less likely to hurt or somebody; if I *had,* I’d find myself saying “I don’t drive. I once hit somebody.”

    • Kevin Love
      Kevin Love says:

      Very true. We don’t excuse any other serious crime of violence by saying “they’ll live with the horror for the rest of their lives.”

      There would be an uprising of outrage if any media outlet were to say “Pity the poor, unfortunate rapist. For the rest of his live he will have to live with the horror he inflicted upon his victim.”

      • Serge Issakov
        Serge Issakov says:

        We lose credibility if we equate intentionally harmful behavior like rape with behavior in which most people engage to some extent and is usually harmless, but once in a while unintentionally harms and even kills others.

        • Kevin Love
          Kevin Love says:


          Car pollution contains lethal poisons – and I believe that as far as acts of violence are concerned, homicide and sexual assualt are both very serious.

          As I previously wrote, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, has produced a report showing how car pollution kills 440 people in the City every year and injures 1,700 so seriously that they have to be hospitalised. Particularly disturbing and heart-rending is Dr. McKeown’s description of the harm done to innocent children, who are particularly vulnerable to these poisons.

          This violence is probably more serious in Orlando; Toronto gently slopes down to the lake, but Orlando is flat – so the poisons generated there are probably more persistent.


          • Serge Issakov
            Serge Issakov says:

            The ever-increasing life expectancy indicates whatever effect air pollution might have in terms of killing, it can’t be all that significant, relatively speaking.

          • Serge Issakov
            Serge Issakov says:

            Anyway, regardless of how harmful pollution or car crashes are, no one pollutes intentionally to harm, and almost no one intentionally harms others by crashing into them, so the comparison to rape and murder as in “We don’t excuse any other serious crime of violence by…” is inappropriate. How harmful a behavior is only one of the factors that determines what the consequences are for engaging in that behavior. Intent is a much more important factor. For example, people get sent to jail for merely attempting to murder, even if no one is harmed at all in the attempt. Behavior is “excused” or justified based on intent, not on how much harm was caused or not caused.

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:


            I must disagree. Intention is irrelevant for crimes such as “Criminal Negligence Causing Death.” For which the punishment here is life imprisonment. See:


            The standard is the same in India. For example, in the Bhopal poisoning, nobody at Union Carbide intended to kill anyone. They were criminally negligent.

            The standard is, “was the harm reasonably foreseeable?” If someone turns on a car engine, then a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the poison produced is death or serious injury. Hence, criminal negligence.

          • Mighk Wilson
            Mighk Wilson says:

            Wind and rain are far more important than slope when it comes to air quality. Breezes generally disperse and eliminate our pollutants. We are heading into our peak ozone period; late April through mid-June; then the summer thunderstorms normally kick in and air quality is generally pretty good.

          • NE2
            NE2 says:

            Are you, then, an accessory to criminal negligence for using products that are transported by truck?

          • Serge Issakov
            Serge Issakov says:

            Unless you tie someone to the water heater in the garage, and then start the car and leave with all doors and windows closed, it is not true that “a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the poison produced is death or serious injury. “

            And NE2 makes a good point. If merely starting and driving a car makes you negligent for the deaths that may be caused by all the combined emissions, then purchasing a bicycle that you know was delivered by a poison-spewing truck and made in poison-spewing factory is equally “criminally negligent”.

            Life expectancy is already pushing 80 years in the U.S., and has exceeded that in some countries. What’s the point? Our biggest problem is already overpopulation, and you want there to be less driving so there is less poison so people can live even longer? How is that going to help anything?

            I suggest we need to be encouraging smoking, drinking, drinking and driving, jaywalking, free climbing, gorging, and, yes, just driving. Let’s see if we can life expectancy back down to something reasonable, like 60. That would fix the social security problem too.

            Obviously, I’m not totally serious here, but I do have a serious point. What exactly are you trying to accomplish, and why?

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:


            So buying something with a Union Carbide product in it makes me responsible for Bhopal? That’s not how ethics or law works. Everyone is responsible for his own actions.

            So the Union Carbide executives who should have prevented it are responsible for Bhopal and everyone who deliberately turns on a car motor is responsible for the deaths and injury that they cause.

            What am I trying to accomplish? A safe, liveable environment where people do not poison myself or my children. Why? Because that’s the sort of planet that I want to live upon.

          • Serge Issakov
            Serge Issakov says:

            I presume you and most UC product consumers would have no foreseeable knowledge of the Bhopal blowup, so the negligence logic cannot apply to them.

            “everyone who deliberately turns on a car motor is responsible for the deaths and injury that they cause.”
            Unless the autopsy report clearly shows that the death of someone was caused by car emissions in general, there is no case, period.

            Even if the autopsy report somehow does show that death was caused by car emissions, how you tie that death to the emissions from any car in particular, or hold responsible all car owners, is beyond me. I suggest there is no precedent for anything like that in our society.

            Even if you can come up with some kind of logic that makes John Doe and every other car owner partially responsible for a death due to foreseeable knowledge, I can’t imagine logic that would do that but would not also implicate everyone who buys anything that needs to be delivered by truck due to foreseeable knowledge about the harm and death truck deliveries cause.

            It is the height of hypocrisy to accuse your neighbor of being guilty of murder for driving his Prius to the grocery store, while you ride your bike to the same store, and purchase products that you know were delivered by trucks way more harmful and deadly than the Prius.

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:


            Good point!

            Let me give a better example than Bhopal.

            Throughout North America, many goods are on sale manufactured in Communist China. These goods are either made in factories owned outright by the Communist government (that is, after all, what Communism is supposed to be all about) or owned or controlled by Communist Party members. As a practical reality, nobody does business today in Communist China without paying off the local Communist Party bosses in one way or another.

            Many of these goods are manufactured by workers who are essentially slave workers, or concentration camp inmates or child workers or working in unsafe work environments. Attempts to form a trade union are met with savage repression.

            A lot of the money made from the sale of these goods is used by the Chinese Communist Party to fund wholesale human rights violations of their Chinese subjects as well as military aggression and military occupation of Tibet.

            Does that make everyone in North America who purchases these goods responsible for the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party?

            My own take on this is that, formally, the answer is “no.” But I boycott Chinese goods anyway to stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:

            Serge wrote:

            “Unless the autopsy report clearly shows that the death of someone was caused by car emissions in general, there is no case, period.”

            Kevin’s comment:

            That’s not how law or ethics works. To be convicted of Criminal Negligence it is not necessary to inflict actual harm upon a person. The legal definition of Criminal Negligence is this:

            “219. (1) Every one is criminally negligent who

            (a) in doing anything, or

            (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,

            shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.”

            In Ontario, car drivers are routinely convicted of crimes such as Careless Driving, Dangerous Driving or Criminal Negligence without actually causing a crash or injuring or killing anyone. Every so often I’ve posted a link here to an example. Here is one such example, from:


            An excerpt:

            “Watch your driving — and your mouth.

            That’s the lesson a 19-year-old Vaughan man is learning after he boasted online about driving 100 km/h over the speed limit and was charged with careless driving.

            York Regional police said Vladimir Rigenco pleaded guilty to the charge and has been banned from driving for six months. He was also sentenced to 12 months probation, must take part in a remedial driving program and pay a $1,000 fine…”

            I note that Careless Driving is also subject to a penalty of up to six months in jail. Presumably due to the circumstances of the case (ie 1st time offender) this person did not get a jail sentence.

            Criminal Negligence charges have also been laid in cases where nobody was killed or injured when Ministry of Labour inspectors have found gross violations of mine or factory safety. And, particularly relevent to this discussion, against polluters.

        • Mighk Wilson
          Mighk Wilson says:

          No doubt Canadian law is tougher than U.S. law in this respect. So Kevin and Serge are arguing from two different legal foundations.

          Laws don’t change values or behaviors; they reflect them.

          That said, using the Bhopal example (which is admittedly getting way off topic) how does a court prove that a defendant who bought Union Carbide products knew that UC was being reckless with their factory management?

          More to the point, proving willful or wanton disregard for life and property on the part of a motorist is very difficult. It requires a pattern of observed behavior leading up to the crash, or a witness who can speak to the driver’s state of mind (usually a passenger). One cannot equate simply getting in the car and turning the key with “willful or wanton disregard” from a crash safety standpoint, since most people get in their cars thousands of times without causing a crash.

          As for pollution, good luck getting a jury to agree that choosing to drive a car is willfully poisoning the community. At least 90% of them got to the courtroom by automobile.

  11. Richard C. Moeur
    Richard C. Moeur says:

    I knew Bob – he rode with my group some weekends.

    It still angers me that that person’s conscious decision to be recklessly negligent with a large piece of equipment at speed ended Mr. King’s life.

    If people treated driving as heavy equipment operation (which it is) instead of just “something you do between calls & texts” it might help. But people have become so insulated from the actual driving _task_ by vehicle design and cultural norms that it’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often.

    A century or so ago, that driver might be looking at a long drop with a short rope, or decades at hard labor. But then again, there’d likely be less of a chance of a crash like that back then.

    The visitation and funeral are tomorrow here in Phoenix. I’m planning on going by the visitation tomorrow before teaching a Street Skills class later in the day.

  12. John S. Allen
    John S. Allen says:

    We lost Dr. Stan Sabin here in Massachusetts Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Stan was 74, semi-retired physician and director of a medical charity, an avid recreational cyclist returning alone from the lunch stop on a Charles River Wheelmen Wednesday Wheelers ride. He was struck from behind, on a clear, open, straight stretch of road, in the middle of a clear, sunny day. The police charged the driver, but what led to the driver’s striking him is not yet known to the public. I was one of over 50 Wheelers on last Wednesday’s ride which paid a shiva call on his widow. Stan is sorely missed. News account here:

  13. Ali
    Ali says:

    The bottom line problem is that humans were not designed to drive. We were not engineered to do an almost mindless activity with rapt attention lest a one-in-ten-thousand chance challenge should suddently arise. Rather than complain that roads have been overdesigned, I would like to know why rear-end collisions are still even possible in the 21st century? At a time when millions of people FLY safely over our heads each year, and each and every air accident is studied in minute detail for the lessons it provides, why on earth do we allow subadult and all-too-human beings to command utterly crude mass weapons of human destruction on the streets in front of our very homes?

    If wild animals were marauding the street, even if they were exacting a random toll only a fraction of what cars do, we would do something about it, no matter what the cost. Likewise, if the offending drivers were all foreigners, or some other easily identifiable group a solution would rapidly be found. But the cars are us. And we see no reason to pay a higher price for greater safety, when we believe that we, ourselves, are really a cut above the average driver. Deaths will continue because we, as a society, are unwilling to pay the price that should be paid to make car transportation as safe as it should be. We are not rational, we do not make rational calculations, nor will we ever drive the cars of today safely. ( Aren’t all the car improvements of the last few decades, including seatbelt legislation, generally about making it safer for the occupant? They are even marketed that way.)

    The solution is to find a way to illustrate and convince the human population what the real risks and costs of driving are and obtain agreement that the risk is worth reducing even at the expense of higher costs. Of course we must continue to signal the grave responsibility of driving through laws and justice, we must improve skills and attitudes, but I grieve when I think of the number of lives that would have been saved by now if a fraction of homeland security funding had gone to life-saving driving improvements.

  14. Serge Issakov
    Serge Issakov says:

    “If wild animals were marauding the street, even if they were exacting a random toll only a fraction of what cars do, we would do something about it, no matter what the cost.”

    Great point.

    That said, we are probably the safest society that has ever existed on Earth, and yet the most risk-averse society as well. And, of course, the root problem to all our issues is overpopulation. So if we’re going to talk about doing the natural, rational and reasonable thing, obsession with saving every single human life is probably not it.

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