When I began riding road bicycles as part of my nascent triathlon training, experienced cyclists told me that a bike mishap would be inevitable. I’ve subsequently taken two tumbles off my bike in three decades of riding.
My first ill-fated event occurred 15 years ago when I hit an unknown obstacle – rock, stick, pothole? – that turned my handlebars and sent me flying. A tuck-and-roll saved my head and torso, but my arms and legs gathered road debris as I slid down the pavement. I was shaken but able to ride home, my only ailment a signature case of “road rash.”
My second mishap took place just three months ago while cruising on a flat stretch of road. Comfortable in my aero bars, I put my head down for just a moment. Before I knew it, I heard a crashing sound. That’s about all I can recall. The thing I do remember was sitting on the side of the road after the crash and talking to a good Samaritan who saw the incident and gave me and my bike a ride home.
I had apparently drifted too far to the right and hit a driveway curb perpendicular to the road. This time I incurred a bit more than road rash. The side of my face was bloody – a condition that would have been much worse had my helmet not scraped the ground first – and my shoulder was, shall we say, out of commission. Two hunks of titanium, five screws, and one reverse shoulder replacement later, I’m on my way to a full recovery, thanks to the excellent work of my surgeon, the staff of the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute, and a first-rate physical therapist.
I feel blessed that I weathered these two cycling “episodes” with minimal trauma. I also realize that my good fortune was due to one simple fact: neither of my crashes involved a motor vehicle.
Shawn Bradley was not so fortunate. The retired 7-foot-6 center of the Dallas Mavericks was struck from behind by a car last week while riding his bike just one block from his Utah home. Bradley suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Remarkably, and to his immeasurable credit, the former NBA star said he plans to “use his accident as a platform to bring greater public awareness to the importance of bicycle safety.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just bike safety at issue: pedestrians face even more risk from careless motorists. In Connecticut last year, pedestrian fatalities increased to 65, according to DOT statistics, while six cyclists were killed.
Those chilling numbers are no doubt a major reason the Transportation Committee of the General Assembly earlier this month approved the omnibus pedestrian safety bill HB 5429. The proposed law now moves to the full legislature for deliberation.
Among the eight provisions of the bill are to “increase the fine for operating a motor vehicle while using a hand-held mobile telephone or electronic device” and to “establish a fine for opening the door of a motor vehicle in a way that impedes the travel of a pedestrian or a person riding a bicycle.” But it’s the very first provision that identifies the key problem, requiring motorists to “grant the right-of-way to pedestrians who affirmatively indicate their intention to cross the road in a crosswalk.”
In short, drivers must always pay close attention and locate all pedestrians and cyclists so they can safely allow them their lawful right to the road.
Granted, more can be done, like creating safer walkways and bike lanes, ideas endorsed by the Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven and “Real Hartford” blogger Kerri Provost.
Moreover, pedestrians and cyclists also must act responsibly. Jaywalking is illegal, for instance, and cyclists are required by Connecticut General Statute 14-286b to follow basic rules of the road.
I bristle, myself, when I see cyclists acting carelessly by clogging the roadway, running red lights, or cutting through gas stations to make right-hand turns. Indeed, I admit that it was solely my own carelessness that caused my cycling mishaps.
Still, drivers deserve the bulk of the attention when it comes to safety. It is motor vehicles and their operators, after all, who wreak the most havoc on pedestrians and cyclists.
When I get back in the saddle to ride this spring – something I fully intend to do – my wife will once again tell me to “please be careful” every time I leave. I’ll heed those words even more now. I just hope that the recent effort of legislators to make the roads safer will make everyone else equally heedful – especially drivers.
Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and in his 15th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Email Barth here.
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