Roads Grow More Deadly for Bicyclists

Roads Grow More Deadly for Bicyclists


Sun staff writer September 15. 2006 6:01AM

When a University of Florida graduate student died last month after a
car struck his bicycle, he became part of a sad and apparently growing

Bicycling fatalities have risen almost 25 percent nationwide since
2003, according to 2005 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety

Florida figures mirror the national findings with a 23 percent
increase in bicycling fatalities from 2003 to 2005. Last year’s 124
bicycling deaths in the state were the fourth-highest over a 30-year
period, the NHTSA reported.

The national numbers prompted Andy Clarke, executive director of the
League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C., to send a letter to
the U.S. Department of Transportation, calling for more to be done to
ensure safer travel for cyclists on the country’s roadways.

“At some point we need to take responsibility for our actions as
drivers and not tolerate people simply for not paying attention when they
are in charge of a powerful machine,” said Clarke, who had heard about
the Aug. 27 crash in Alachua County that killed Welch McNair Bostick

“There is responsibility that goes with driving just as there is with
cycling and crossing the streets. They are simply not paying attention
and the cyclist isn’t doing anything wrong . . . They are still getting
hit and still getting killed and there is no accountability for that,”
Clarke said.

The Florida Highway Patrol agrees, saying that it’s not only that more
people are on the state’s roads but that distracted driving is causing
more crashes, whether drivers are behind a wheel or riding a motorcycle
or bicycle.

“Small mistakes lead to big crashes,” said FHP spokesman Lt. Mike

Distracted driving apparently led to Bostick’s death, information from
FHP’s preliminary investigation shows.

Bostick, 34, had been riding on the paved shoulder of Williston Road,
about three miles west of Gainesville, when he was struck from behind by
a car at about 7:25 p.m. He was wearing a helmet and had about a
half-hour of sunlight left.

Andrew C. Day of Micanopy, the car’s 18-year-old driver, had been
reaching to get something off the floorboard when the crash occurred,
Burroughs said.

Witnesses told troopers the car swerved abruptly into the

A national study has shown that eight out of 10 of all crashes could
be the result of a motorist looking away from the road.

The study, called the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, released
this year, was conducted by the NHTSA and the Virginia Tech
Transportation Institute.

The study tracked driver behavior for more than a year in 100 vehicles
that were set up with recording equipment.

With more technology, from cell phones to televisions inside vehicles,
officers believe drivers have become even more distracted in recent

And the attitude among drivers is that it’s OK to do other things
while driving instead of focusing only on the road, troopers say.

Florida law does not specifically define distracted driving, making it
difficult for officers to cite motorists when distraction is the
suspected cause of a crash, Burroughs said.

Day, the motorist in the collision that killed Bostick, now faces a
traffic citation for failing to maintain a single lane that resulted in
serious injury or death, Burroughs said. Because there was injury or
death, the person must make a court appearance, Burroughs said.

The driver can be assessed up to a $1,000 fine and will have a
mandatory one-year license suspension.

Cracking down Some have called for tougher laws or requirements for
motorists involved in bicycling accidents with an injury or death.

FHP, for example, follows a policy to request a voluntary blood sample
from a motorist where a death occurred, even if there isn’t probable
cause to require the blood draw. Troopers didn’t ask for the voluntary
sample in the crash involving Bostick because it did not initially appear
his injuries would cause death.

Changing the law and giving officers the right to require a blood test
in all traffic crashes involving a death may result in more criminal
charges instead of only traffic citations against drivers in fatal
accidents, said Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeanne Singer. But, she
said, people may not support that kind of legislation.

“It’s a real balance because each of us who has a driver’s license are
routinely in the custody of a deadly weapon. The citizenry may not be
willing to make laws that would put each and every one of us who are
behind the wheel under the possibility of being imprisoned for what is
not willful and wanton (reckless driving),” she said.

But some legal changes around the country show there has been a change
in the way people are thinking about bicyclists and their place on

Earlier this year, Iowa increased its penalties for drivers who kill
or injure others, such as motorcyclists, bicyclists or pedestrians. The
punishments are similar to Florida law and add a fine and driver’s
license suspension when there is a serious injury or death. A similar law
also went into effect in West Virginia this year.

Starting Oct. 1, a new Florida law will require vehicles to pass
bicycles and other nonmotorized vehicles with at least a 3-foot

Friends and co-workers of Bostick’s plan to meet, starting today, to
discuss bicycle safety issues. The meeting will be held starting at noon
in Room 122 of Rogers Hall at UF.

“I guess the general feeling is we claim that Gainesville is a
bicycle-friendly community. But there are many, many incidents where you
wear a helmet and are in the bike lane and you’re still struck. This is
not a bicycle-friendly community. We want to let everyone know that, and
we want to do something to make this a bike-friendly community,” said Jon
Lizaso, 53, a research associate with UF’s agronomy department who worked
with Bostick. Four people in the past two years who have worked with
Lizaso have been injured in bicycle crashes, he said.

Problem areas Some of the worst areas for bicyclists in the county are
U.S. 441 and County Road 225, said Bob Newman, president of the
Gainesville Cycling Club. Motorists sometimes drive at a high rate of
speed on U.S. 441 and are tired from long trips. The other road is
narrow, has no bike lane and is traveled by trucks.

Areas around the university where traffic is heavy and congested are
always a potential problem area for bicycle accidents, said Gainesville
Police Lt. Don Dennis, who oversees the department’s traffic unit.

Preventing these kind of accidents comes back to how motorists and
cyclists treat each other, Newman said.

“Safety is a two-way proposition,” Newman said. “Motorists must
realize people on bicycles are essentially helpless targets that in many
cases don’t even realize they are approaching. Cyclists must be aware of
the same thing and never venture out on the roads without an approved
helmet and a mirror. Whether riding in the road, on a shoulder or in a
bike lane the cyclist should ride defensively as far to the right as
practical, make frequent use of their mirror and obey all traffic

Bostick’s wife, Carmen Valero Aracama, is working with others who knew
her husband to create a memorial for him. Her husband was also survived
by their 9-month-old son.

“We just hope there will be more drivers aware of the bicyclists so
this doesn’t happen anymore in the community,” she said.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or [email protected].


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