By Lee Anne Grace
One morning this past May a volunteer firefighter was driving home after working the night shift. What started out as an ordinary day for him quickly turned into a nightmare. After becoming momentarily distracted while driving on a straight stretch of highway, he hit six cyclists from behind. Despite the driver’s frantic attempts to render first aid, three of the victims died. They were members of the local triathlon club on a group training ride.
In a split second, the lives of their families and the volunteer firefighter were forever changed. Although this horrific accident took place south of Montreal, in Canada, it could have happened anywhere.
In December there were three separate bike/car collisions within the Tupelo city limits. Fortunately, none of these accidents resulted in loss of life. These recent collisions, along with the growing number of cyclists and runners in our area, are the catalyst for this month’s column.
It is not my intent to fan the flames of the hotly debated topic of vehicles, cyclists and runners sharing the road. I simply hope to give people reason to pause and think deeply about their behavior while they are behind the wheel of the car or cycling, or running. Hopefully hearts and minds will be changed to reflect an attitude of hospitality and mutual respect.
With spring right around the corner and the increase in numbers of cyclists and runners on the roads, here are some things for drivers to keep in mind:
n By law, cyclists are extended the same rights as motorized vehicles. A bicycle is entitled to the entire lane, and many times cyclists will ride in the center of the lane instead of the right hand side to increase their visibility.
n Motorists are legally obligated to maintain at least a three-foot distance between their car and cyclists, runners and pedestrians.
n A driver is in control of approximately two tons of steel. A collision that would be a fender bender for another car could be a fatality for a cyclist or runner.
n Driving under the influence causes reaction times to slow. The fraction of a second that response is slowed can mean the difference between life and death.
n Distracted driving is often the cause of accidents. Texting while driving, zoning out while on cruise control, or allowing driving not to be the main focus of attention can end in disaster.
n If you see a cyclist who isn’t following the rules of the road, don’t be tempted to bully him or her with your car. The decision could result in a tragedy that will impact you for the rest of your life.
Cyclists and runners should remember:
n Cyclists do have the same rights as motor vehicles do, but the same traffic laws apply to them as well.
n Runners run facing traffic, cyclists ride the same direction as traffic.
n Dress to be seen clearly by motorists from both the front and the back. Always wear reflective clothing. The goal should be to dress so everyone can spot you from a distance, but you should react to each approaching vehicle as if you are invisible to them.
Despite peoples’ best intentions, accidents do occur. While there is public perception that cyclists are usually the cause of accidents between cars and bikes, national statistics show less than 10 percent of bike-car accidents are caused by cyclists.
There are three main types of car-bicycle collisions.
The most common type involves a motorist entering an intersection or roadway after failing to yield to the cyclist.
The second most common crash type occurs when a motorist is overtaking a bicycle. Remember, if you are passing a cyclist, move over one lane, just as if you were passing a car. Don’t try to squeeze past in the same lane as the cyclist.
The third involves a motorist opening a car door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. All too often the cyclist is thrown into oncoming traffic, with tragic results.
Drivers, strive to see each cyclist and runner you encounter on the road as someone’s mother, father, brother or sister. Cyclists and runners, as you pursue your passion for your sport and love of the outdoors, remember there are people who love you and depend on your safety and well-being. Take every conceivable precaution to ensure your safety.
The residents of Tupelo and the surrounding area are exceptionally caring and compassionate. Let’s extend our hospitality to our streets and beyond, where we can proudly reflect our Tupelo spirit in the decisions we make while out on the road.
Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for three years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.