Monday, February 28, 2011

A Week of Carnage: Two Cyclists Killed, Dozens of Peds Injured by "Professional" Motorists

In the span of one week, two cyclists were killed and three dozens of pedestrians outside of a nightclub were hospitalized. All three of the horrific instances were the results of the actions of three "professional" motorists--a truck driver, a street sweeper driver, and a taxi cab driver.

1. On February 5, a cyclist, Ben Acree, was struck from behind and crushed to death by a large moving truck on Friars Rd., one of the most dangerous roads for cyclists in SD. Even though the cyclist was struck from behind, the police officer who commented on the tragedy claimed that the cyclist violated the truck's right of way. This notion contradicts w/ the 'first come, first serve' traffic principle. Approaching traffic must yield to the road user before him or her. Why was this principle suddenly suspended when a cyclist was struck from behind? If the person struck from behind was a motorist rather than a cyclist, who do you think the officer would have placed the blame on?

The bias doesn't end there: The NBC San Diego article on this tragedy states 'Acree was traveling east on Friars Road when police say, for unknown reasons, he collided with a box truck as the truck exited the north bound I-15 off ramp going east on Friars Road' [bold emphasis added].

By claiming that 'he collided' w/ the truck rather saying that 'the driver collided w/ the cyclist' the implication is that the cyclist was the agent in charge of his own death. A more appropriate, non-biased wording would be 'the cyclist and the truck driver collided.'

(Photo by NBC San Diego).

While we maintain that, based on what we know, the driver--a professional--should have slowed and yielded when he saw Mr. Acree and his friend riding, it's also true that this area is dangerous by design. The truck driver exited the I-15 freeway and merged onto Friars Rd., a high speed road. There is no traffic control device requiring the truck driver, or any other motorist for that matter, to stop before entering Friars.

2. A week later, a Bike Coalition member, Suntat "Sunny" Peverley, was riding in the bike lane on Genessee Avenue when he was struck from behind by a man driving a privately-owned street sweeper. The 77-year-old street sweeper driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel (at 5:20pm). Sunny was flung from his bike and died from major blunt force to the head.

(Sunny--An innocent victim killed by a negligent driver).

Sunny, a lab technician for UCSD Medical Center, leaves behind a 7-year-old daughter and a high school son.

In both of the crashes, the cyclists were wearing helmets.

3. Later on that night (technically early morning the next day) a taxi driver plowed into three dozens of people outside of the Stingaree night club downtown, sending at 25 to the hospital.

(Photo by NBC San Diego).

The driver admits to falling asleep at the wheel after taking two anti-depressants, including one new medication, on an empty stomach. Taking new medication on an empty stomach while being tired and driving a car in the most populated area in San Diego county at that time of the day is not "accidental."

Why is mainstream America so quick to label so many preventable tragedies as 'accidents'? There are explanations for every 'accident,' more correctly known as 'crashes.' There's a difference between a crash borne out of an accident (like you run over a pebble and it shoots out to the side hitting someone randomly causing them to lose control and crash) and a crash borne out of negligence (like you're really tired but you take some new drugs on an empty stomach anyways and keep driving around thousands of vulnerable pedestrians rather than pulling over and napping).

One of the victims may have to have her leg amputated.

Shouldn't we expect more from "professional" drivers? What can be done to prevent such horrific incidences in the future? There are two main solutions that probably could have prevented this carnage:

-Strict Liability: Under Strict Liability a motorist involved in a crash w/ a vulnerable road user (such as a cyclist) is assumed to be guilty and must prove how he/she could NOT have prevented the crash from happening.

It's reasonable to assume that under the Strict Liability law, drivers would drive far more cautiously. Doing so would create a safer and more pleasant society for all road users; cyclists, other motorists, pedestrians, the disabled, the elderly, and children.

-Another solution is urban planning and road engineering that considers ALL users. One cyclist named Dan Guiterrez proposes a relatively inexpensive solution at the Friars Rd. and I-15 merge that would make this area safer cyclists:

A traffic engineering liaison for the California Association of Bicycling Organizations points out that 'the existing design assumes that traffic on the ramp is only merging with traffic on the through highway and does not recognize that traffic on the ramp is also potentially crossing a line of bicyclists riding at the edge of the road.' Mr. Guiterrez's "dotted" markings along the lane drop aim to eliminate that problem by communicating to motorists that they may be merging w/ bike traffic in addition to auto traffic.

How many cyclists and pedestrians must die before we learn from our mistakes as a society and work to make roads safer for all?

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