Thursday, August 11, 2011

2 Cyclists die in Montreal this week

I started my day today by learning that a 17 year old cyclist involved in a collision yesterday didn’t survive the night. He was the second cyclist to die in Montreal this week. The first one was a 56 year old man who got crushed by a cement truck turning right while he was trying to go straight on his green light. The case of the young teen is a debate on who went through a red light. Whatever the reasons or the blame to lay, 2 people are needlessly dead.

Now this prompted a big debate over the local media about cyclists being chronic scofflaws or drivers being homicidal maniacs. The numbers are in about this. Of the 800 incidents involving bike collisions last year, the Montreal Police reports that responsibility is split 50/50 between cyclists and drivers. I admit that I see bikes blowing red lights and stop signs. What we need for that is more regular enforcement. Cops on bicycles should do regular operations to enforce traffic laws for cyclist as their counterparts in cars do with motorists. The occasional spot checks don’t work. Cyclists here know that getting a traffic ticket while biking are in the same range of odds as winning something at the lottery.

The biggest concern in my opinion however, are the riders who go out there and ride unaware. Unaware of the risks and dangers. Unaware of the consequences of ignoring basic safety issues. Unaware of the fact that they are invisible to most drivers and since a lot of drivers are also out there unaware, collisions are bound to happen. Riding a bike with your brain switched off is suicide.

Here are some tips that will keep you safe and hopefully alive out there:

Be aware

Make sure all your senses are available for the task. No ear plugs, both hands on the handlebars and your eyes open for traffic next to you, behind you, in front of you and beyond. Anticipate so you don’t get caught reacting at the last moment.

Assume nothing

Prepare for the worst scenario every time. Don’t assume that the door won’t open, that the car driver is going to go straight, or stop or go or turn or see you or anything else for that matter. Hoping for good things to happen instead might get you killed. I did that mistake only once and ended up flying in the air launched from a car windshield. I assumed that the driver saw me while I was crossing the street on foot, on a green light and he was about to turn right in my path. Luckily I survived unharmed, you might not.

Respect traffic laws

Riding on sidewalks with pedestrians present is dangerous, get off your bike and walk. Pedestrians should get the respect that you expect from drivers on the road. Stop and wait at red lights. I know that it’s a bummer when there is no traffic but leaving on a red while cars are waiting only perpetuates the myth that all cyclists are bums. If we want respect from drivers, we need to share at least a little of their time wasting frustrations like this one. Slow down at stop signs at the very least, proceed through only if there is no traffic present whatsoever. Don’t ride against traffic. The reasoning that it’s less dangerous to have traffic in front of you being safer is absolutely stupid. Drivers get confused when they see you and this could actually cause you harm. If you are paranoid about cars behind you, get a mirror or two. They are cheap and available everywhere in all sizes.

Be visible at night

Forget riding in the dark with only reflectors, they are unidirectional and a driver might see you only when it is too late. Less than $10 will get you a blinker for the front and back of your bike with enough power to last an entire season. Want to stand out big time? Get one of those lime yellow reflective vest, you will never go unnoticed.

Wear a helmet

I’ll mention this sticker I saw on a courier’s helmet: “I wear a helmet because of the way you drive.”. You just never know when your head will smack the pavement. It is proven that helmets reduce the risk of major head trauma by 70 to 80 percent. Use your brain and put a lid on it.

Physics, it’s the law!

And it’s always right. That should be your prime concern when riding. A 3000 pound car will always win against your flesh and bones. This law prevails over any traffic law when riding. Yeah you may have had the right of way according to the traffic code but if you are 6 feet under pushing daisies you won’t really care about the slap on the wrist that driver gets.

After reading all this you might wonder if I ride like a paranoid maniac all the time. No I don’t. Becoming aware is like anything else, you get used to it and it becomes second nature after a while.

If you wish to keep your head in the sand and still ride with an attitude that it won’t happen to you, here’s another story that happened this week as well: A man turned himself in yesterday 5 years after hitting and killing a cyclist. He hit a 43 year old Father of 2. The driver took the time to unjam the bike from under is truck one kilometre away from the collision and tossed it in a field before he drove off. He didn’t bother calling 911 to get help to his victim which he left to die by the side of the road. I’m not saying that every driver is out to kill you but if you ride as if they are, you’ll have an edge and have a much better chance of avoiding a collision.

Hopefully this post motivated by this sad tragedy might prevent someone, somewhere from getting hurt bad or dead.
To both families, my heart and sympathies go out to you.

Ride safe and ride free.



David J said...

Great post Gerry!
I am terribly sorry to hear of these deaths.
A while ago I obtained some rather old books on cycling that mentioned an old fashioned concept called 'Roadmanship'. Imagine if riders and drivers once again began to pride themselves on their skill, knowledge of the road and their machine and their manners and respect for other road users?

Although I am an advocate for cycling and cyclists I often see riders doing acting terribly on the road and paths of my town. Seeing people speed past pedestrians particularly children infuriates me.
I am equally astounded by the logic of those who ride against the traffic and have often made exactly the same observations as you have written about this situation. The increased speed of impact alone must multiply the danger factor enormously!

As a motorcyclist I learned the art of defensive Riding, as a cyclist I try to ride according to the same principals. This is one part of the Art of Roadmanship.

It'd be great to see a resurgence in this Chivalrous Art.

Gerry Lauzon said...

I hear you David and I totally agree with you. It seems that mediocrity is King in these times. Maybe pride and honor will come out of hiding some day before we kick it.


Anonymous said...

I say no more law-enforcement for bikes. I find there's already too many rules for cars..and bikes are not equal to cars. There more nimble at can see much better whether it's necessary to stop at a red-light for example.

Gerry Lauzon said...

I don't know about where you are but around here it's a free for all. You're right, bikes are more nimble, stop faster and visibility for the rider is unmatched. However, blowing a red light in front of a bunch of motorist is bad PR in my opinion. It just perpetuates the myth that all cyclist are bums. We have to make an effort as well.



Dodgers323 said...

Great site, just bought my first cruiser after having a BMX a few years ago. Checking out the communities and i'll probably buy another bike since i discovered you can build a motorcycle for so cheap :)
Let me see, i have on uncle who had his share of motorcycle accidents and was nearly killed. Another uncle has a steel rod still in his leg after going up against an SUV with a GSX-R.
It's funny, just the other day i was coming home on my skateboard late at night where it's usually dead and you can get a little careless.
So i'm approaching this intersection and see a Mercedes stop, i slow down and wonder if i should go for it. The guy takes off at the last moment just a few feet in front of me and i ditch my board. I stopped there for a moment and had a good chuckle because I KNOW better, i should have KNOWN! Who knows if i could have made it going full speed, who knows if this person saw me, you can't be having these brain farts. That late the pricks would probably just leave you there and take off too. I think i'm going to add some lights to my bike, i know all about staying paranoid on two wheels.
At least we aren't trying to navigate around Mexico City or somewhere like that, now that's a free-for-all!

Gerry Lauzon said...

Thanks, glad you ride smart. The last time I had a brain fart like that, I did a 20 foot flight and landed on my head.

Be safe.

Gerry :)

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