You Need to Watch Out for Me
by P. Arthur Stuart
Copyrighted May 2013
April 21, 2013, a cyclist was struck and killed around 7:30 PM. The rider was in the bike lane and it appears that the vehicle driver was not DUI or speeding. The news report, made shortly after the accident, stated that the police were going to investigate, to determine if the driver should be cited; I never did find out if the driver was cited. No other details were given. The question is, “Why do these types of accidents happen?” I think in many of these cases it’s a matter of attitude, as explained in the following observations.
“You Need to Watch Out for Me,” seems to be what most people feel and expect others to do, regardless of who the others are. It’s a real shame that this attitude pervades our society these days. You can see it everywhere in the behavior and manners, or more appropriately the lack of manners, that people exhibit in their interaction with others. I cannot count the number of times a rider or pedestrian has crossed in front of my vehicle without looking to see if I were stopping or if I see them. Their attitude seems to say, “I have the right-of-way, I dare you to hit me.” By way of example, on March 24, 2014, a woman was hit and killed crossing in a crosswalk in the evening. A friend with her said, We assumed the car would stop because there was a stop sign. However, the car seemed to speed up. The comment was reported on March 30, 2014, on the evening news.
Moving on to a more personal accounts. It was mid-November around 5 PM and getting dark. Seeing in general was difficult and most cars had their headlights on. I was on my way to do some shopping on a main thoroughfare that had a speed limit of 55 mph, when I noticed a dark figure up-ahead that appeared to be moving. It was a cyclist. He was very difficult to see because the colors of the clothing he was wearing were all dark and blended in with the background darkness. His bike did not have proper lights or any reflectors. From a novice I would expect this, however, for a rider that appeared experienced it is truly irresponsible.
The worst case I experienced of a “You Need to Watch Out for Me,” rider occurred, late one night when I went for a takeout dinner. As I was leaving a small mall parking lot, I approached the sidewalk slowly and stopped just before crossing it. I was turning right to enter the flow of traffic. The street lighting was poor and there was no moon light, it was dark and seeing was difficult. When I saw a break in traffic, I checked my right to see if anyone was on the sidewalk. I checked my left again, to be sure traffic was clear and lifted my foot off the brake. The car began to move slowly forward. Just before I moved my foot to the accelerator, a cyclist sped by in front of me; he gave me a dirty look. I quickly reapplied the brake and froze with fear. I was very thankful I hadn't hit him. After several minutes I regained my composure and tried again. I was successful and proceeded on my way. Once I settled down, I reviewed what had happened. I realized that I was not at fault. If the cyclist had been one second later, literally one second, I would have hit him, or he would have crashed into the car. And it would have been his fault. The cyclist did several things wrong:
I know that he felt that I was responsible by the way he looked back at me and gestured. If I would have hit him I believe the police would not have cited me for any wrongdoing and it is not likely he would have collected anything from my insurance company. Even though he was completely wrong and that any resulting accident would have been attributed to him being at fault, I know if I had hit him it would have haunted me for a long time, probably the rest of my life.
Another example of, “You Need To Watch Out For Me.” I was getting ready to turn into our street as we returned home from dinner. It was after 6:00 pm, Feb 2012, and dark outside. The corner I was turning at is poorly lit. I began to slow from 35 mph. I saw a man walking toward my corner, in the same direction I was going. He was dressed in dark colors and very difficult to see. If it had not been for background lighting that he crossed in front of, I am not sure I would have seen him. He was about ten feet from the corner and we were on a collision course. I know I would have hit him, had I been distracted and not seen him. He stepped into the street without looking or hesitation. It wasn't until he was in front of us that my wife asked, Where did he come from? Had I not been paying attention, been intoxicated, texting, or otherwise distracted, I surely would have hit him. Although, I used a pedestrian in this example, I constantly see riders doing the same thing; crossing in front of vehicles without looking at the driver to see if the driver sees them. I know it is my responsibility to yield in this case to a pedestrian. Common sense should tell us that we should always look before crossing.
The last example: As we were leaving the coffee shop parking lot on our way to an appointment, a bicyclist, oblivious to our car leaving and dressed in hard to see clothing, sped by us without a hint of concern. Had I been doing any one of the things that drivers do that distracts them, like—talking or texting on a cell phone, smoking, eating, putting on makeup (I don't use makeup), reading, stroking their pet (okay, you can take you mind out of the XXX zone, I've seen drivers with a cat or dog in their lap) or a myriad of other things that would shift a driver's attention, I might well have interfered with the cyclist and cause an accident. Yes, I would be at fault, however, I would not have received any physical injury as he might well have. Cars get damaged, minimal, and riders get injured or killed. If I caused him to swerve into traffic, he might have been killed or very seriously injured.
I remarked to my wife, that I thought the cyclist was stupid. He took no precautions (defensive riding) to avoid being hit, e.g., look at the driver to see if the driver sees you. Further, he was wearing dark colors that blended with the surrounding, even in broad daylight, which it was, and did not have any warning lights—front or rear. I have seen riders with bright blinking lights on the front of their bikes, which makes them standout and easily seen—from a long way off. My wife concurred, adding a few comments and off we went. I began to think about how we all do dumb things and still manage to survive, although there are quite a few who don't. Visit “The Darwin Awards Site,” to see just how stupid some people can be.
Shifting gears, in one of our local medical center's commercials that used a cyclist as an example. It went something like this: I was a cyclist before I was injured by a vehicle. I thought I would never ride again. I went to the medical center and now I'm a cyclist again. The intro view shows a cycle lying on its side and the closing view shows a cyclist on a roadway. The problem is that in both cases the bicycle did not have adequate safety lighting and in the second scene the rider was wearing dark clothing. One would think that he would have learned something from the accident and taken all the precautions he could to avoid it happening again.
While thinking about these events, I flashed back to when I was doing my graduate work in business administration. One of my classes required that we write a paper and make a presentation on a topic of choice—I chose safety. After the presentation students were given a sheet to fill out that critiqued the presenter. The only negative comment I can remember receiving was, “Safety is such a boring topic.”
As I thought about the comment made many years ago. I had to agree, safety is boring. You present a multitude of statistics and a list of do this or don't do that, blah, blah, blah. It’s hard to find something funny in preventing injury or death. So, if I were to present that paper again I would change my approach. To begin, I would title it, “Safety is Boring, Until. . ..” Like the title would be now, “Safety is Boring, Until, you’re one of those people above that I might have missed seeing and seriously injured or killed.
While I was watching the evening news there was one segment about a cyclist that was killed in an accident. The reporter was interviewing a few cyclists that were in a club that was protesting riding conditions in a particular area. I got angry at how many of the riders were dressed “Unsafely” and how many of the bikes were lacking proper safety gear. It is easy to see the absence of lights and reflectors. What is really upsetting is that this was an organized club, a group of experienced riders. I wonder if any bike club has a position for overseeing safety in its group or even provides its members with safety guidance?
Dec 10, 2012: On the evening News it was reported that cyclists killed in accidents has risen. When I watched the report I immediately thought, “How many of the drivers said, I didn't see him or her? For reference a car traveling at twenty-five mph will cover eighteen feet in one half second. Twenty-five is a typical city street speed limit. On main streets, divided thoroughfares and highways the speed limit is higher thereby increasing stopping distance.
There is a saying, “Never point an unloaded gun at anyone.” I would add, “Always, always take every safety measure you can.” It is an unfortunate reality of the times that, 24/7, vehicle drivers are frequently tired, distracted by a multitude of things that they shouldn't be doing or are impaired because of things they shouldn't have done. Add in darkness and the effect is compounded.
It’s important to understand that in general, vehicle drivers are not looking for cyclists; even those on large motorcycles. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not trying to take the responsibility away from a vehicle driver. My point is: While in numerous cases the vehicle driver is probably at fault, it just doesn't matter who’s at fault if the rider ends up crippled or dead. I would bet that people injured in an accident would give up any settlement to have their lives back the way it was before the accident.
Remember, don't expect the other guy to be looking out for you; you need to look out for yourself. Ride defensively. Although it’s redundant, I need to repeat for emphasis, “Don't expect others to look out for you; you need to look out for yourself.” Take all the necessary precautions. Yes, safety is boring until you're a victim, someone you care about gets hurt, or you injure someone.
I was speaking with a parent of two teenage boys that I had ask to read this piece and provide me some feedback. During our conversation, I asked him if his boy’s bikes were properly out fitted and do they dress appropriately. He replied, “We don't ride at night.” I pushed a little, stating, “It doesn't matter if it’s day or night, riders are hard to see if they aren't wearing bright colors and have flashing lights. Add in a distracted driver and you have a recipe for disaster.” Somehow, we move back to my paper and its various needs for improvement. The response I would have hope for is, “We already have lights and dress appropriately or, at least, I have to equip the bikes and have the kids start wearing bright colors.” What parents and riders fail to see is that even if the riding is on a family street a car could inadvertently back out without seeing a rider.
His response is typical—I call it the Denial Phenomenon. Throughout my life, work and personal, I observed that this form of denial is very prevalent. We have this tendency to shift blame, the devil made me do it, or rationalize our behavior to make it acceptable. April 21, 2014 a man stated to police that he had only gone in for a few moments to speak to his wife. His car was stolen by a 15-year-old girl, while his 3 children were still in the car: ages 7, 3 and 1. They caught the girl awhile later and the children were okay. I'm not saying it was okay for the girl to take the car because the keys were inside. I'm just pointing out that had he taken the keys, his kids, and locked the car, the theft would not have occurred. If he had just taken the keys the theft probably wouldn't have happened. While this particular incident does not directly relate to bicycle riding and outfitting a bike, it does reflect the typical Denial Phenomenon and the need to take precautionary measures, which numerous riders failed to do.
Some food for thought: In 2010 there were 618 deaths—a little over 1.5 per day. One report stated that in half the accidents the cyclist was at fault. So, in any situation the only thing we can really control is our self, and sometimes we can't do that very well. You cannot control anyone else or predict what they will do. For a cyclist the best we can do is strive to make drivers aware of our presence. As one of nature’s top survivors/predators our instinct is to shift our gaze to moving objects, bright colors, and flashing lights, even when we are preoccupied and not directly looking at them. As riders, we should do these things because it makes sense and perhaps, we might just catch the attention of a distracted driver or one that just wouldn't see us otherwise and thereby avoiding getting hit. Rarely do I see riders or pictures of riders without a helmet. I assume they wear a helmet to prevent or reduce head injury in case they are hit or fall. So, why not take precautionary measures that might avert being hit in the first place. Wear bright colored clothing, outfit the bike with front and rear flashing lights and use them day and night, and follow the rules. Further, think about this: in a confrontation between a rider and a car, the car always wins.
Let me end this by asking you to do a couple of things. When you drive, make some observations. Check out just how difficult it is to see a rider that is dressed in dark clothing without lights—day or night. Ask yourself, When did I first catch sight of the rider and was the rider easy or difficult to see. Take a close look at your bike and determine if it has all the necessary safety gear. If not ask yourself why. Examine what you wear when you ride. Are you easy to see?
Oops, one last note: March 28th, 2013, I saw a rider that had a relatively large triangular group of lights mounted on the rear of his bike. It consisted of one red above two that were orange. The lights were about three inches in size, LEDs and bright. The red one was flashing. It turns out the orange ones were turn signal lights. He also had on a helmet and wore bright colors; it made my day.