Mindful Driving, Mindful Biking and “Accidents”--Part I

I started this post last fall when two things happened within a few days of each other: Arleigh Jenkins AKA Bike Shop Girl (a blogger whose work I read) was hit by a car, then Matthew Hardie, a young rider in Spokane, was hit. He spent the last few months in a coma, then passed away just before Christmas.

Matthew was heading northbound on a steep downhill with the right-of-way on Lincoln. He collided with a car that pulled out from a stop sign at Fourth Avenue. It's a classic failure-to-yield on the part of the driver but because the initial reports said the cyclist hit the vehicle they made it sound as if it was the rider's fault, to which the biking community reacted quite strongly.

Arleigh put out a comment on Twitter around the end of November that she was still struggling to reconcile the fact that she’d put much of her passion into promoting biking and had been injured riding her bike by a driver who turned left into her when she had the right of way. Her ongoing challenge coming to grips with the collision led to my blog post back in early December trying to help her get rolling.

With each of these events I get more passionate about two things. For the first I need to thank Cindy Green, a bike-commuting former Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board member who works at the Spokane Regional Health District. She got me to pay more attention to my language and usage—ironic since I majored in English and linguistics.

1) The word "accident" often used in these incidents does NOT apply when someone is in error. The someone could be the person on the bike, too, but that wasn’t the case in these two collisions.

"Accident" means "no one could have done anything to prevent this from happening." The Spokesman-Review’s characterization of four fatalities in the last year as “bicycle accidents” is way, way off base.

In two of the cases cited in the Spokesman piece the drivers were drinking. Putting down a few beers and getting into your 2,000-pound vehicle-turned-lethal-weapon car is not an “accident.” It’s a stupid, stupid choice. Those deaths were 100% preventable: no drunk driver, no dead cyclist.

When a driver doesn't see a cyclist, that potential collision is also preventable if the driver:
  • looks again,
  • is one who is aware that bikes are on the road so the “look” isn’t really just a token head turn without eyes focusing and looking for moving objects that aren’t vehicles (admit it—you’ve done that),
  • drives mindfully,
  • doesn't text,
  • isn't reaching for a Big Gulp or fiddling with the radio station or....
Ditto for the person on the bike who is:
  • looking down to adjust the fitting on a shoe,
  • sneaking up on the right side of a car into the driver's blind spot to duck past a long line of stopped cars,
  • riding on the sidewalk and then popping out into the street unexpectedly and unpredictably,
  • assuming that driver sees him/her (since I’m more vulnerable on my bike than you are in your car I tend to figure it’s in my best interests to own more than 50 percent of the prevention planning),
  • blowing a stop sign because he’s too cool to unclip and put his foot down….
Let's all ban the word "accident" from our vocabulary except when it truly applies. It's a collision or a crash or an impact when a driver hits you or you hit a driver or pedestrian but it's not an accident.

The second item speaks to the fear I hear from people who thinking riding a bike is inherently unsafe. I'll post that tomorrow.

1 comment :

  1. Good post, I'm looking forward to tomorrow! I can't help but hear this kind of thing and think why put myself in jeopardy. I actually spent about two weeks after getting my road bike last spring 1. afraid to ride it because I would fall trying to un-clip then 2. afraid to ride it because falling while un-clipping was actually the least of my worries. I finally did start ridding, but only early on Saturday and Sunday when vehicle traffic is light.


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