By Lee Anne Grace
In northeast Mississippi three cyclists have died and several others have been injured in the past several years after collisions with vehicles. Those injured include Jan Morgan, a 57-year-old triathlete from Starkville. She was riding on an open stretch of road in Clay County in May when a car struck her from behind. She spent 29 days in the Critical Care Unit at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and is currently undergoing inpatient rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
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, cycling, or running. Hopefully hearts and minds will be changed to reflect an attitude of hospitality and mutual respect.
There are many people in our area who are passionate about cycling and running. Involvement continues to grow as more people decide to get off the couch and adopt a healthy lifestyle. With motorists sharing the road with an increasing number of cyclists and runner, here are some things for drivers to keep in mind:
• By law, cyclists are extended the same rights as motorized vehicles.
• Motorists are legally obligated to maintain at least a three foot distance between their car and cyclists, runners and pedestrians.
• When you get behind the wheel of a car you are 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.
• 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.
• Distracted driving has become a huge problem in recent years. A recent study by Car and Driver Magazine concluded that that texting while driving, checking email or talking on a cell phone delay reaction times comparable to driving while under the influence. There is no email, text or phone call that is so important that you need to put lives at risk to read or send while driving.
• 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
• Cyclists do have the same rights as motor vehicles do, but the same traffic laws apply to them as well.
• Runners run facing traffic, cyclists ride the same direction as traffic.
• Always dress to be seen clearly by motorists from both the front and the back. Invest in bright reflective clothing and wear it every time you are out on the road. The goal should be to dress so everyone can spot you from a distance, but you should react to each approaching vehicle as if they can’t see you at all.
While there is public perception that cyclists are usually the cause of accidents between cars and bikes, national statistics show otherwise. Cyclists are at fault in less than 10 percent of bike-car accidents.
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.
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, sister or friend. Cyclists and runners, as you pursue your passion for your sport and a healthy lifestyle, remember there are people who love you dearly and would be devastated should tragedy occur while you were out on the road. 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 roads, where we can proudly reflect our Tupelo spirit in the decisions we make while behind the wheel or pursuing our passion for cycling or running.
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.