cycling utah April 2000

Accident reveals how bicyclists are treated by authorities

By Nia Sherar

It was a beautiful fall Wednesday afternoon with sunny, clear skies. I had just finished work and was cycling east on Second South, heading to the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting.

As I approached the 900 West intersection, the light was green. I saw a small white car approaching the intersection from the opposite direction. The driver was looking to his right as he began to make a left hand turn. I yelled "hey, hey!!" trying to get him to make eye contact.

I have commuted to work on my bike for 13 years, rain or shine, snow or heat. I have always been able to make eye contact with a driver. This time I did not. My mind was going in a million directions wondering how I could get out of the way. As I was yelling at the driver, I tried to slow down and to turn out of his path. The driver was totally oblivious to me.

By the time the driver finally decided to look in the direction he was going I was two feet from his front bumper. We made eye contact then!

"Here I go!" I thought to myself. I went up on the hood of the car and through the windshield. The last thing I remember until I awoke in the street was my helmet clamping down over my head. I thought, "my helmet will save me."

The rest of what happened was told to me by witnesses. I went through the windshield, hit the steering wheel, flipped up onto the roof of the car and was tossed out onto the street. I was told I looked like a rag doll, lifelessly sailing through the air.

When I came to I was lying in the middle of the street. I couldn't move. I felt like I had the weight of an X-ray blanket covering my body. It took a few seconds to get my thoughts together. A man kept pacing back and forth and saying, "I'm sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going. I was watching the train."

"Are you the one who hit me?" I asked.

"Yes. I'm sorry. Do you want to go the hospital?"

"No, I just want to lie here for a moment." You know us old cyclists. I was going to get on my bike and ride home. I still couldn't move and my right ankle felt very fat.

A woman in a red suit, kept bending down to look at me and asked me if I was OK. She had a very worried look on her face and I thank her for caring about me. I wanted to cry but I realized I needed to keep control.

The ambulance arrived; I went to the hospital, had a sprained ankle, cuts, bruises, scrapes and sore neck muscles. The next day (Thursday) I called for the police report. They said it would take until Friday. Friday I paid $5 to get a copy of the report. I was furious to find out the driver was not cited and that no damage other than that to the vehicle was done. The report said the light was green and that the driver made a left turn and hit a bicyclist.

End of story.

I called the police department. The investigating officer was even a member of the Pioneer Precinct, the precinct where the bike cops live.

To make a long story short, the Sergeant talked to the investigating officer. The driver who hit me changed his story real fast when the cops arrived. He told her the sun was in his eyes.

No way, it was 4:45 and the sun did not set that day for another 2 hours. Besides, he failed to yield at a green light. The report even said so. The Sergeant said the investigating officer was not going to interview me and she was not going to issue a citation. That was that.

I told him that I had talked to the 4 witnesses and they all said the driver told them the same thing he told me; he was not paying attention and looking in the opposite direction at a train.

The sergeant paused. "I'll personally have this screened with the City Prosecutor."

"When can I expect to hear back from you with the case number?" I asked.

It took 2 and a half weeks of follow-up calls before the Sergeant did screen it with the City Prosecutor. A citation of failure to yield was issued, a summons was served, and the driver had his day in court, pled guilty and was fined $67.

My reason for pursuing the citation was to make a statement that cyclists are deserving of justice and their rights on the road need to be protected just as vehicles are. The attitude I kept coming up against was - hit a cyclist, not your fault...those damn bikers, can't see them, they shouldn't be on the road anyway.

I discussed the lack of a citation with a SLC detective friend of mine. He said he was not surprised that no citation was issued. He told me not to be disappointed if nothing happened from my calls. He agreed with me that there is an education issue. Many law enforcement officers are not aware of the bicycle laws in the state of Utah. An attorney friend who also cycles said that few bicycle/auto accidents end up with the driver being cited. Seems to be general knowledge that cyclists are not protected by the same laws as when we are in our cars, even though the laws give us protection.

The Utah Drivers Handbook has 6 pages devoted to bicycles. It states "bicycle riders on public streets and highways have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers. Drivers of motor vehicles must treat bicycle riders the same as drivers of other vehicles." Further along it states "at intersections, you must yield to bicycle riders on the road..."

I believe one of the first steps to promoting bicycles as a safe form of transportation should be in the education of the SLC police department.

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