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06/08/2010

Bicycle Traffic Guidelines - Did They Cost a Young Teacher Her Life?

288px-MDSHA_W11-1(1).svg On June 1st, a Cleveland area elementary school teacher was life-flighted in critical condition after a head-on collision caused by an oncoming driver swerving to avoid a bicyclist in the right lane.  

After a week long battle, she passed away yesterday.  

Not only is her family in mourning, but so is the family of the oncoming driver while, according to the Ohio Bicycle Federation, the bicyclist should have a clear conscious.

A local news report stated that the bicyclist did nothing wrong. The Ohio Bicycle Federation even encourages bicyclists to ride in the street. In this case, the recommendation cost a motorist her life.

After watching the video of the accident scene it is apparent that there were sidewalks available on either side of the road. Numerous comments following articles about the crash, state that the road is far too busy for bicycles and the sidewalk would have been the better choice.

There has been many a time where I have been driving and have had to swerve into the other lane to bypass a cyclist. When oncoming traffic is heavy, I have to slow to a crawl behind the biker and white-knuckle my steering wheel fretting that the cyclist might turn to look back veering awkwardly and cause me to hit them. My heart pounds. I get sick to my stomach and I even start to sweat a little. When I can finally swerve into the oncoming lane and quickly make my way around the biker, I can breathe again.

The Digest of Ohio Bicycle Traffic Laws is interpreted by the Ohio Bicycle Federation. The group comments on the laws to provide clarity and even offer their own recommendations.

A portion of the Digest covers "Driving Upon the Sidewalk Area." In the comment following, The Ohio Bicycle Federation states: "Although this section allows riding on sidewalks don't do it."  

Recently the Federation recently testified before the Ohio Senate Highways and Transportation Committee to support a bill which would require Ohio motorists to pass bicyclists with at least three feet to spare. Sensible, yes. But if that three feet causes me, as a driver, to swerve into oncoming traffic - I'm not happy. Why is your life as a cyclist now more valuable than mine as a motorist?

It seems to me the Ohio Bicycle Federation has it's values slightly skewed. Instead of finding ways to keep everyone safe, they want bicyclists to be treated as a higher form of transportation. They encourage bikers to not use sidewalks, to support a bill that may cause more head-on collisions, and they are protesting rumble stripes which are implemented to save driver's lives.

If you don't agree with me and instead fashion yourself someone with a "good reason" to cycle in the road, take a minute to think about this: What if you and your bike were the cause for the head-on collision which claimed of this 4th grade teacher? What if you were following the guidelines provided by the Ohio Bike Federation by not riding in the road? Would you have a clear conscious or would you instead be racked with grief?  

Somehow, someway better bicycle safety laws need to be established. If riding on the sidewalk is against the law in your hometown, I'm not recommending breaking any laws or ignoring any guidelines, but if you are biking, please be wise and choose the safest route for all involved.

Maybe the loss of this woman's life will not be for naught. Maybe instead it will encourage Ohio to think about it's bike safety more seriously and encourage the state to make the appropriate changes to it's laws and guidelines.

I just hope something positive can grow out of this heart-wrenching loss. My thoughts are with all involved and their families.

Original Ohio Moms Blog post.

Tésa also blogs at 2 Wired 2 Tired and Westside Cleveland Mom. She tweets @2Wired2Tired as well.

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