Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel Blog Off the Couch has more news on this tragic crash. You can read his full report here. It seems the driver of the car was legally blind in one eye and required to wear glasses when driving, but was not. It also appears she received three cell phone calls just prior to the crash. She has been charged with negligent homicide.
In a recent post, I pointed out the statistics show that riding a bicycle is generally a very safe activity. Sadly, I must tell you that early this morning a person riding a bicycle at night in Pleasant Prairie was killed by a person who reportedly admitted to talking on a cell phone and closing her eyes while driving. In the Fox 6 television news report, two cyclists suggest it is dangerous to ride a bicycle at night, but is it? Unfortunately WordPress will not let me embed the video from this source, so you will have to watch it at the link below.
This is the new report about the crash from WITI-TV
Before we look at night riding more closely, let’s look at what the law requires and and then discuss best practices for safety. To legally ride a bicycle at night in Wisconsin, a bike must have a front light and rear reflector.
Bicycling at Night
347.489 Lamps and other equipment on bicycles, motor bicycles, and electric personal assistive mobility devices.
To improve your visibility and reduce the risk of not being seen, bicyclists really should ride with a bright front light as well as a bright rear light and rear reflector. There are many such lights, but Madison-based Planet Bike has a wide variety of inexpensive and very bright lights that have become the defacto industry standard. Many manufacturers even make excellent front and rear light combination packages that can be purchased from any local bike store for as little as $25. That is a small investment to comply with the law and reduce your risk of being hit at night.
In a previous post I argued that riding a bicycle is safe based on statistics. So is it dangerous to ride night? According to a crash typing study done by the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation, more than 83% of crashes occurred during daylight hours, and of the 12.3% of crashes occurring at night, only one out of ten occurred without some sort of light present. So this is a very rare crash, but probably because so few people ride at night where there are no street lights.
Despite the statistics in the crash study, the numbers are too small to generalize from and we just don’t know enough about exposure hours and frequency to definitively answer that question. Certainly most crashes do not occur at night, but the majority people do not ride at night, so that fact has little value in assessing the relative risk of riding in the dark. All we are left with is common sense based on other relative risk factors.
People who ride bicycles in an urban environment are probably at the lowest risk of being involved in a fatal crash because the speed differential between motor vehicles and bicycles is small. People who ride on higher speed roads are probably at the highest risk of being involved in a fatal crash. Common sense says that you greatly increase your risk if you also ride on a road with no shoulder or other bicycle accommodation at night when you are less visible and there are more intoxicated people driving home from the taverns.
So bottom line is that yes, it is certainly more risky to ride at night, on narrow roads with higher speeds. Because I ride at night often, I have invested in pretty expensive front and rear lighting systems that rival the brightness of motor cycle lights. If you search this blog, you can read about some of the systems I use. On the rare occasions when I have to ride at night in rural or suburban areas, I try to choose routes with wide shoulders, even if they take me a bit out of my way.
As the report above mentions, we don’t yet know if the victim had lights and a reflector. The video does mention that the popular bicycle route doesn’t have shoulders, a bike lane or a parallel side path, which make it a riskier place to ride at night. A complete street there might have saved a life, but it sounds like the driver was talking on the phone with her eyes closed, so who knows.
While we wait for the complete police report, our thoughts and prayers should be with the victim, his family and friends. This and other fatal crashes should serve as a sobering reminder what a tremendous right and responsibility it is to drive a motor vehicle. We can all do our part to keep the roads safer by keeping our complete attention on our driving when we are behind the wheel.