This Is A Tragedy, Not Only Because Of What Happened, But Because It Could Have Been Prevented

Written by Boston Biker on Oct 10


This little girl is at her parents funeral, both of whom were killed when they were struck by a truck in Texas while riding a tandem. I look at this picture and frankly it brings me to tears, the row of cyclists like an honor guard and that tiny little bike pin on her dress makes me cry even as I write this. You can read the details on this story here.

As hard as it is to take a step back from such a visceral shock to our emotions as a situation like is I am going to try. This poor little girl is going to spend the rest of her life without a mother or father because of a crash that most likely could have been avoided. In popular language we call them Car accidents, or bike accidents, but in reality almost all crashes are avoidable. Either through better infrastructure, better upkeep of vehicles, better behavior, avoiding drunk driving, better choices etc. There is very little reason that we should ever have to read about people like that little girl.

If you drive a car, or know someone who drives a car you need to take a good hard look at that little girl. She is all alone, and will never grow up with the love of a mother or father, because a truck struck and killed both her parents. The driver of which is not being charged because the police claim he “lost control” of his truck. Which personally I don’t understand. I mean if you lose control of your vehicle and kill two other people isn’t it your fault no matter why you lost control? On top of that if the road had been designed for safer bicycle use it would have been harder for the truck to have struck the couple. If education would have been better drivers would have been more careful around cyclists. If this driver had been charged with vehicular homicide it would have sent a message to other drivers. If laws had been better the speed limit might have been lowered in this area… The list goes on and on, there are so many things that could have been done to make this situation come out different, I find it shocking that it be called an accident.

If you drive a car, and you find yourself honking at cyclists, driving close to them on purpose, harassing them, or even failing to pay attention while talking on your phone or making turns, you could be the cause of another picture like the one above. If you ride a bicycle and you run red lights, take unnecessary risks, and behave in an aggressive way you might also be to blame. But what both groups need to understand on a very deep level, is that most of these behaviors are driven by the absolutely inane desire to “get where you are going faster.”

Cars honk at cyclists, and endanger them so they can get to the next red light several seconds faster. Bikers run through intersections and blow past stop signs endangering themselves and pedestrians simply to get to the next stop several seconds faster. None of which makes any damn sense. Drivers honk at cyclists for “slowing them down” and cyclists hate this. Cyclists run red lights and drivers hate this. But the thing is all these behaviors are driven by the desire to go faster. The result of which is little girls with no parents.

And that is where I stop being even handed and start addressing only motorists. I am talking to the Monique Spencer’s of the world here. Several studies and a lot of personal experience has led me to conclude the vast majority or crashes are being caused by motorists failing to yield to cyclists when turning, opening doors into their path, and striking them when pulling out of driveways and side streets. You might get up in arms about the red light running, and the rest, but all the data seems to point to a very clear thing. Motorists kill cyclists because they fail to be safe around them.

It is going to be hard for motorists to accept this because they react in a visceral and illogical way to cyclists running red lights (yet another reason for cyclists to stop doing it), but the vast majority (in some studies as much as 90%) of crashes are caused by motorists. I have the following simple list of things that you can do as a motorist to make cyclists safer, and to save yourself the tragic consequences of killing someone.

  • Before you make a right hand turn do your best to look behind and to the side of your vehicle to make sure no cyclists are there.
  • When making a left turn remember that you have to YIELD to oncoming traffic, including but not limited to cyclists.
  • Do not pass a cyclist then quickly turn in front of them.
  • Before pulling out of a driveway or side street scan the sidewalk and the side of the road for cyclists IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. I know it is wrong but some Cyclists ride the wrong way down the street, and don’t always ride in the center of the lane where you might be looking.
  • Before opening your door look behind you.
  • The next time you are tempted to honk or harass a cyclist remember that they are a human being, and that even if they appear to be doing something wrong, killing them, or harming them will not help you go faster, or help them change behavior.
  • SLOW DOWN. Speed is not a value, being late is not as bad as being a murderer, being slowed is not as bad as hurting someone, and being delayed for a couple of seconds is not as bad as being an asshole.

If all else fails take another look at that little girl, look into her eyes, and remember that everyone is someones mother or father or brother or sister or son or daughter…

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Posted in advocacy, education, news | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “This Is A Tragedy, Not Only Because Of What Happened, But Because It Could Have Been Prevented”

  1. By Mikiel on Oct 11, 2009 | Reply

    Regarding the speed that the majority of cyclists use, which turns into running stop signs and at times endangering pedestrians and themselves, to me demonstrate the desire for fitness and efficiency that bikes allow. If you are riding a bike slowly and safely, it isn’t really the most strenuous activity, and if being in the saddle is the only exercise you get during the day, you might as well push yourself a little bit.

  2. By Paul Schimek on Oct 12, 2009 | Reply

    This crash took place when on a high-speed road with a very wide shoulder.

    Here’s what the police said:

    “He looked off, he was looking at something else and realized the curve in the road came a lot faster than what he anticipated,” explained Deputy Chief Dale Bennett of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

    Deputy Chief Bennett told News 4 WOAI the office’s hands are tied. He said under current law, unless a driver is drunk or high, it is difficult to prove recklessness. And legally, charges can not be filed for “an unfortunate accident.”

    “Was he texting? Was he on the phone? What was the issue? Why was he distracted? Why did he go off the road? Driver inattention…is basically what it amounts to,” Deputy Chief Bennett said. “And there’s nothing we can do about drivers not paying attention.”

    According to deputies, even if the driver had been texting or using his cell phone, that would not be enough to file charges against him. The deputies said until the laws are changed, there is nothing they can do.

    Looking away from the road for more than a few seconds, especially while going 70 mph, is dangerous and negligent. The courts have long held that drivers have a duty to maintain a lookout in front. This motorist also violated statutes requiring staying in a lane and keeping a safe distance to the left when passing. Causing a death by violating these rules is negligent homicide and should be prosecuted. The problem is that Texas and many other states require *gross* negligence for a conviction, and no juror will say that looking away for more than a few seconds meets the standard of gross negligence. However, properly instructed jurors might find that it constitutes ordinary negligence, despite likely biases against bicyclists (“they shouldn’t be on the road”).

  3. By Brian on Oct 13, 2009 | Reply

    Very sad tale, and thanks BB for bringing it to our attention.

    That said, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop blaming drivers for dooring cyclists. If a cyclist gets doored, it is his/her fault. You cannot expect all drivers to look behind them when they open their doors. It’ll never happen. You know that parked cars will open their doors. If you ride right next to parked cars, it is only a matter of time before you hit one. Blaming the drivers is like blaming a puppy for chewing your nice shoes: sure, the puppy did it, but you knew it would happen, and it’s your fault for leaving your nice shoes out.

    If you want cyclists to be safer, convince them that it’s their fault if they get doored.

  4. By Boston Biker on Oct 13, 2009 | Reply

    Brian, no one agrees with you, least of all the law in this state. The law is clear, it is the drivers responsibility to look behind them before opening their door. If you would like to read it feel free to go here and here.

    I understand you are trying to keep people safe, and I agree if riders act in a defensive way they will be safer, but it is 100% the motorists responsibility to look behind them before opening their door, if they do not do so they will be held legally and morally responsible for their actions.

    Human beings are not puppies, and if they wish to have the responsibility to drive around giant hunks of metal they have to step up and do so in a safe way. If they can not be bothered to take the few seconds it look behind them they should not be driving. Much in the same way that we expect them not to run over pedestrians, not to run into other cars, to drive on the right hand side of the street, etc.

    Your argument is completely without merit. However the sentiment of your statement that cyclists should try to be safer, I agree with. But in no way, logically, legally, morally, are cyclists to blame if they get doored.

    You are in essence making the same argument some make when women are rapped “how short was your skirt” while yes it not always a good idea for women to walk around at night in short skirts, that does not make it “their fault” if they get assaulted.

  5. By Jazzercycle on Oct 13, 2009 | Reply

    Oh man between comment from Mikiel saying we should blow lights for fitness and Brian saying its our fault we get doored, its a sad day if these two are driving or biking. Stop being ignorant, there are people (LIVES) behind all those modes of transport. Grow up, follow the rules and be a contributing citizen not a dumbass, and people can be safer on the roads. Why is it so hard for people to follow some rules? Get over it, it’s not that bad.

  6. By Gary Gagnon on Mar 27, 2011 | Reply

    Excellent article, so glad you found and shared it with us. I will try to post it on my ‘Facebook’ page to share with other fellow riders. I have a friend in California who was broadsided by a car, but somehow survived, That was back in October, he has just gotten back on the bike last week. I’m sure he would be interested in this article…

    Thanks for ALL your work / postings.

    Gary G.

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