With the most recent report that a distracted motorist killed another innocent person riding a bicycle, many in the cycling community are grappling with grief, anger and an underlying desire to do something, anything that might make a bit of a difference and help prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel reports on his blog Off the Couch that well-known Nordic skier David Landgraf died Monday as a result of injuries he sustained when he was hit while riding his bicycle on Hwy. 27 south of Hayward. Landgraf was one of only three people to have skied in every American Birkebeiner since its founding in 1973.
Held reports: “According to the Sawyer County Sheriff’s report, a 24-year-old woman from Hayward turned to speak to her children while driving south on Hwy. 27 about 6:50 p.m. Friday. She turned back and saw Landgraf, but too late to swerve and avoid him.”
How sad that one seemingly harmless moment of distraction could cause such devastation: an innocent person dead; the lives of the victim’s friends and family in havoc; a loving mother now a killer.
Other than keeping them in our thoughts and prayers, is there anything else we can do for those who suffered collateral damage from these recent tragic deaths? Is there any legislation we can pass, road we can reconstruct, or law we can enforce that will keep this from happening to another innocent person riding a bicycle? While there may not be any wand to wave that will magically protect the vulnerable users on our roads, I think there is something we can all do that has the potential to help enormously.
We can all be the change we want to see.
About 2.5 million people ride bicycles in Wisconsin every year. What would be the result if every one of those people pledged to leave life’s distractions behind when they got behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? What if half of Wisconsin made a promise to the innocents who have died recently that we will honor our responsibility as drivers and pledge to do the following:
- Never exceed the speed limit, and often drive slower when around people on foot and bicycle.
- Pay full attention to the road when driving; leave the phone and other distractions for outside the car.
- Stop to let pedestrians cross the street at crosswalks whether we are behind the wheel or in the saddle.
- Give three feet when passing people on bicycles.
- Stop for red lights and stop signs when riding bicycles.
If every cyclist who is outraged and saddened by the recent spate of senseless deaths took this pledge, our roads would become safer overnight. We could redefine critical mass as a group of law abiding cyclists. We could act as neighborhood pace cars limiting those behind us to the speed limit as we drive safely through our cities, villages and towns. We could help school children cross the street simply by stopping and waving to let them do so. We could lead by example and spread our message through our influence with friends and relatives.
Most people who ride bicycles also drive. I can’t tell you how many times I have been a passenger in the car with cyclist friends behind the wheel who were speeding, texting, talking on the phone, even eating oatmeal. As a passenger, I have bit my tongue countless times as friends blindly motored past people waiting in a crosswalk at uncontrolled intersections. When I am on a group bike ride, I always feel compelled to let others know that I stop and wait at red lights. I make this announcement to avoid confusion at traffic signals because so many cyclists ignore them.
Who among us has had enough? Who wants to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem? This isn’t about any particular road user earning the respect of others; this is about respecting the law. We can’t bring back David Landgraf, Sam Ferrito, Jeff Littman or any of the four people who died so tragically this year while riding bicycles, but we can make a difference, one waiting pedestrian at a time; one red light at a time; one missed call at a time and one speed limit sign at a time. Each one of us has the ability to make our roads a little safer every day if we only work to be the change we want to see.
I’ll take the pledge. Anyone want to join me?