Saturday, May 14, 2011

Two wheel safety

From the Milford Daily News, March 30, 2011, by Brian Benson: “A 74-year-old Wellesley doctor died Wednesday after being hit by a car while riding a bicycle on Rte. 115 in Millis…. Stanley Sabin, 74…, a retired pulmonologist… and director of the MetroWest Free Medical Program, was traveling north on Rte. 115 at 1:07 p.m. when a Nissan Sentra… struck him. [The driver] was charged with one count of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation....Sabin was taken to Milford Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead soon after arrival.”

As an avid bicyclist, a human, and a child of God, this story breaks my heart, especially on these warm spring days as the roads are filling up again with bikers and cars. Sabin was actually killed on the route I bike the most.  What a waste of a good life, a terrible ending.  What a horrendous tragedy for the driver. She’ll always carry that man’s death with her.  No winners and with a little courtesy and a little more attention it all would have been avoided. 

These deaths and serious injuries happen a lot.  Last spring in Boston, in just the span of seven weeks, two cyclists died in accidents.  Worse, neither was wearing a bike helmet and both took unexplainable risks in traffic. One attempted to pass a bus on a very busy city street.  The other ran through a red light and collided with a car.

As one who is an enthusiastic, committed and experienced cyclist, I’m doubly sad for the fact that just by following basic rules of bicycle safety, these tragedies might have been avoided.  I say this as one who has biked thousands of miles in thirteen years of long distance road biking.  I’ve biked over a wide variety of roads: narrow rural streets, packed city avenues, stretches by the sea, long mountain hills.  I’ve ridden in charity rides from Boston to New York, Raleigh to Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to Los Angeles. This summer I’ll ride for the second time in the Pan-Mass Bike Challenge.

In all of those miles and all of those years I’ve never once gotten on a bike without first strapping on a helmet.  That’s a given for anyone who takes biking seriously.  A bike is not a car.  A bike weighs twenty or thirty or forty pounds. A car or truck, of course, weighs a ton or more.  A bike is nimble.  A car traveling along at the speed limit cannot maneuver so quickly. Whenever those two vehicles collide, the biker always loses.  No contest. And when cyclists lack head protection, these accidents go from bad to worse to downright terrible. 

                        The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nationwide, in 2008, 716 cyclists died in accidents, and 52,000 bikers were injured in bike/vehicle accidents. Ninety-one percent of those killed were not wearing helmets. No doubt some of these collisions ups were the fault of rude, unthinking, texting, talking on the phone, not paying attention, in a rush drivers.  But we bikers need to own up to our part of that equation too.  When we fail to wear a helmet.  Fail to keep a straight line on the road and stay within or on the road’s shoulder.  Fail to ride single file.  Fail to obey the rules of the road: stopping for lights, making hand signals, acting responsibly as the vehicle on the road that we are. Fail to be safe and wise in sharing the road.    

So here is a simple plea to bikers and drivers as we both go out for rides in this the busiest biking time of the year.  Drivers: please watch out for us.  If the road is narrow give us some space.  Hang up the phone and watch the road.  If you see a biker coming down the street and you are tempted to quickly pull out, please consider letting us pass by first. If you’re parked on a busy city street and are about to open your door, take a quick peek behind to see if a biker is coming.  Please take care as you share the road with us. Thank you.

Bikers—wear a helmet, always, everywhere, no questions asked. No excuses.  No whining about how much it messes up your hair or how hot it makes your head.  Nothing compares to a traumatic brain injury. Nothing.  Follow all the rules of the road.  All of them. It is our responsibility (and the law) to do so.  Give up riding double or triple file so you can chat with your buddy.  Talk when you get home. It is rude to drivers and rightfully frustrates folks behind the wheel.  If you ride in a group, police the other riders too. Bike etiquette is everyone’s responsibility.  Keep a straight line when you bike. Drivers expect this—no weaving.  How you bike, with consideration or thoughtlessness—this reflects on all the other bikers out here.  Too often when I tell folks I’m a recreational biker they tell me how arrogant or clueless so many bikers seem to act on the road these days. 

And parents? Don’t just tell your kids to wear their helmets. Wear yours’ too.  Insisting that your kid stay safe on her bike, while you go bareheaded, isn’t exactly the wisest of examples. Legislators? How about making the wearing of bicycle helmets mandatory for all ages, not just those 16 and younger, the present law in Massachusetts?

Every time before I go out for a ride I say a little prayer to God and ask for a safe ride.  That’s my spiritual insurance.  But so too, I also try my best to ride safe and to ride smart.  As the proverb might note: “Pray to God but bike with safety.”   We all travel a common road.  So please watch out for us two-wheeled travelers and we’ll watch out for you.

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