Cyclists are collateral damage for careless drivers

Scott Christopher, Outreach Program Manager with Bicycle Colorado, showing one of the safety tips about extending yours arms out when making a left or right turn

From the Denver Post

About 10 cyclists die a year on Colorado roads

By STEVE LIPSHER

Perhaps this is the definition of irony: Longtime bicycle-safety advocate Alan Snel got creamed from behind by a car a couple of weeks ago and ended up in the intensive-care unit of a Florida hospital.

Perhaps this is the definition of insanity: The cop investigating the crash declined to issue the driver a citation, even though the 65-year-old claimed variously that he was using an inhaler, that he was blinded by sunlight and that he suffered from severe sleep apnea — leading the officer to conclude that he was inattentive and perhaps asleep at the wheel.

“The fact that he was not even given a ticket for obviously careless driving … he wasn’t held accountable,” said Snel, a friend of mine and a former reporter for The Denver Post who is recovering from a fractured vertebra in his neck, a lower-back injury and a conk on his head that shattered his helmet and knocked him unconscious.

All too often, he said, bicyclists are discounted by police and policy makers as “collateral damage” on the roads, and drivers responsible for crashes get off with a light slap on the wrist — or less — even when they kill another person.

All of this comes to mind as warmer temperatures here in Colorado lure more bike riders out onto the roads, and the inevitable conflicts arise with motorists. The state has averaged about 10 bicyclist fatalities annually since 2002, including a record 16 last year, according to Colorado Department of Transportation statistics.

I’ve never felt more vulnerable than the day I was riding up Deer Creek Canyon near Chatfield Reservoir — a very popular bike route — when a pickup towing a trailer full of firewood blew past me, the driver leaning angrily on the horn as he approached me from behind, even though I was well to the right of the white line and not impeding traffic in the least.

The thought of several tons of steel, rubber and wood squashing me like a bug for no reason other than a hothead’s evident frustration with bicyclists has remained in my consciousness ever since, and regretfully, I often worry about my safety as I embark on a ride.

I’ve had motorists throw beer bottles at me, curse me, flip me off and cut me off — and I’m one of the most conscientious riders out there: I use hand signals before stops and turns, I stop at stop signs and red lights, and I strive to avoid angering that guy roaring up behind me in a 4 ½-ton Nissan Titan XC or Dodge Ram 1500…

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