28 September 2018

Three Feet: Better Than Nothing?

Two years ago, one of the most horrific car-bike collisions I've ever heard of occurred near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel were out for the ride they took together every week for more than a decade.  Sheila Jeske, Paul Runnels, Jennifer Johnson and Paul Gobble joined them.

As they pedaled, a blue Chevy pickup truck was barreling along the road in the same direction--"erratically", according to three people who called it in to the police.  

Moments later, that truck plowed into the cyclists.  Jeske, Runnels, Johnson and Gobble would spend months in recuperation and therapy.  They are riding again today, though with more difficulty.

Still, they are more fortunate than their riding buddies:  Bradley, Fevig-Hughes, Nelson, Paulik and Sippel were killed almost instantly.  

In response to that tragedy, and others, a law was proposed earlier this year.  It would have mandated that motorists give cyclists a five-foot berth when passing them.  The law in the Wolverine State, like that in many others, said only that vehicles had to pass "at a safe distance."

In fairness, it should be pointed out that, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, studies have reached conflicting conclusions about the efficacy of such laws in preventing car-bike collisions. For one thing, on narrow roads, it is difficult, if not impossible, to give such a wide berth, especially if there is traffic coming from the opposite direction.  Also, such laws, like the ones against texting or using a cell phone while driving, are difficult to enforce.

Still, such a law is probably better than nothing for protecting cyclists. (Also, as some have pointed out, when it's enforced, it makes driving too close to cyclists a ticketable offense.)  I think that is what Michigan legislators were thinking when they passed a law, which takes effect today, requiring drivers to give cyclists a three-foot berth when passing.  

It's too late for Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel.  But, one can hope that it will save other lives.

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