In 15 years of cycling, I'd never had a close call with a car. But after relocating from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California this past year, I had a wake-up call. Well, two actually. I was struck by a car while riding in the bike lane, twice, in less than two months.
The first accident was the result of the driver's failure to stop at a stop sign. The second was the result of youth: a 16-year-old test driving a new car with her father and a salesman made a right-hand turn right into me as they pulled into a dealership. Neither accident was avoidable, but luckily I wasn't seriously injured.
These things just happen, right? After all, I could be killed in an airplane crash, or in a car on the crazy California freeways. It's a risk that cyclists have to accept, frightening as that may be.
What was much more of an eye opener for me was the lack of accountability that the drivers in each incident were held to. In both cases, neither driver was cited for any wrongdoing, nor were tickets issued.
How could this be? If a car turned right into another car's path for no reason other than they didn't see it, someone would be ticketed, wouldn't they?
This controversy isn't a new one. Last year, a New York Times article asked: "Is it OK to Kill Cyclists?" The article brought up several incidents in which cyclists weren't only injured, but killed, and no traffic citations were issued. In fact, several cyclists were issued citations for holding a vigil at the scene where one of these accidents took place.
According to Seattle-based cycling attorney John Duggan, this scenario is all too familiar.
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"There have been few criminal prosecutions in bike-versus-car cases that didn't involve a DUI or hit-and-run situation," Duggan said. "The reason is that most of the situations didn't rise to the level of vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter because of the lack of intent or reckless disregard for human life."
"In most situations, it's simply a situation where the car driver fails to yield the right-of-way to the cyclist because the car driver doesn't see the cyclist. Car drivers are looking for other cars, not bicycles."
Be that as it may, bicycles have just as much legal right to the road as a car. It may be true that most non-cyclists view bicycles as nothing more than a toy. Sadly, this point of view causes cyclists to be treated as second-class citizens in the eyes of police and the judicial system. And if this is in fact true, how can cyclists continue to ride on the road without fear? Drivers aren't aware of cyclists, and the justice system has given them little reason to change this behavior.