By Jim Langley In case you missed it, road cyclists and pedestrians received grim news last week courtesy of the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety. In a widely reported article titled Hit-and-Run Deaths Hit Record High, the AAA gave some shocking and worrying stats including,
- More than one hit-and-run crash occurs every minute on US roads
- These resulted in 2,049 deaths in 2016, the highest number on record
- Which is a 60% increase since 2009 or 7.2% increase per year
And then, there’s this,
- NEARLY 65% of PEOPLE KILLED IN HIT-AND-RUN CRASHES WERE PEDESTRIANS OR BICYCLISTS
The only thing I find surprising about this news is that it took so long for an organization like AAA to take notice. Here in Northern California we’ve seen the fatalities and serious crashes escalate for years – not all hit-and-runs, but the outcomes are the same.
I don’t remember all the riders affected. I try to not think about it or else I might become afraid to ride. But some of the incidents haunt me, like the Tesla driver who veered across four lanes and killed Santa Cruz County Cycling Club riders on a beautifully sunny Saturday morning. Or the California Highway Patrol officer who did almost the same thing barreling through a longtime established weekend groupride in the San Jose area. And, the Masters NorCal time trialer who was hit head-on and killed during an organized event with posted road signs.
Clearly – to me at least – something fundamental has changed. Where once drivers understood that their first responsibility was driving safely, many now are completely ignorant of how dangerous their car is. Or else, how could any rational human text while driving?
Only a few weeks ago, my former teammate Matthew – now a semi-pro criterium racer – was run down from behind while spinning through Davenport, California – a sleepy little town with signs and flashing amber lights before and after the city limits alerting drivers to slow down and pay attention.
But, it didn’t help Matthew. The car behind the car that mowed him down said the driver simply drove right over 6-foot 2-inch tall Matthew who was riding his Specialized on the shoulder of the road. Matthew was knocked unconscious and had to be airlifted to a hospital in the Silicon Valley where he underwent emergency spinal surgery. He survived, but his future as a cyclist is uncertain.
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe future autonomous cars will help. But not if we let them operate like the Uber that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March. Yet, if we had cars that actually couldn’t hit things – no matter what, it might reduce the deadly errors so many American drivers routinely make today.
Reworking our speed limits might help, too, but that’s not easy to change or police. Here in California, for example, speeders determine what the speed limit is – believe it or not. Meanwhile, in Europe it’s understood, accepted and proven that lowering speed limits is one of the easiest and best ways to reduce deaths and injuries to cyclists and pedestrians. It’s because once cars are allowed to travel 30mph or faster, crashes with pedestrians and cyclists are far more likely to be fatal.
There is a little hope, though. Such as organizations like Vision Zero, which started in Sweden in the 90’s and holds promise for improving safety for all road users. It’s a unique and different approach, with the goal of preventing all traffic collisions. I encourage you to read about here. Our Community Traffic Safety Organization has started a local Vision Zero program, maybe you’d like to, too.
And can driver technology help? Bicycle Retailer reported just yesterday that ten different manufacturers have joined the efforts of Ford and Trek to develop advanced automobile software to warn drivers about nearby pedestrians and bicycle riders. The bicycle to vehicle (called “B2V”) technology would be part of a cellular communication network that connects vehicles with “everything,” including bikes, pedestrians, road infrastructure and safety warnings and other elements.
As May is National Bike Month in the USA, it will be nice to see a bunch of new riders take to the roads for Bike to Work Week, May 14-18 and/or Bike to Work Day, May 18. But, if we don’t hurry up and change something with the way our roads, vehicles and laws work, it’s unlikely these newbies will stick with road riding very long.
Ride total: 8,891
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Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.