That’s a photo of me on my bike above.
Yes, I am an avid cyclist (150 road miles a week in the good weather) and a Central New York bicycle accident lawyer representing injured cyclists all over Upstate New York. So a New York Times article about a recent horrific car-on-bike crash, caught on camera, also caught my attention.
Before you read on, you might – or might not – want to take a look at the video of the crash. You will see a car run a red light and T-bone an SUV, plowing it right into the cyclist:
That poor cyclist! It all happened so fast, he had no chance to evade.
The irony is that the victim, Jose Alzorriz, who died instantly, was a bike safety fanatic. The tragic lesson here is that no matter how safe as a cyclist you are, negligent drivers can obliterate you in a heart beat.
Sadly, the driver who ran the red light was only 18 years old. I have a son that age. I feel his, and his family’s, pain, too. His adult life is not off to a good start. He has been charged with manslaughter.
This was the 19th cyclist killed in New York City this year, and we still have more than four months left in the year. Why so many biking deaths? The simple answer is that there are a lot more cyclists on the road than a decade ago. Biking is all the rage in big cities these days, partly because of bike-share programs such as “Citi Bike” and partly because of the recent surge in electronically assisted bicycles. More bicycles on the road means more car-on-bicycle accidents, right?
Not so fast! Do we really have to succumb to the fatalistic notion that more bicycles means more bicycle deaths? I don’t think so. We can make our roads safer!
The response by many cyclists and their families to this tragic accident was – predictably – angry. Many are calling for harsher criminal sanctions against negligent drivers who injure cyclists. They want the 18-year old driver who caused this particular crash to do hard prison time.
They are taking a page from the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) playbook. Remember MADD? Their public awareness campaign and lobbying efforts forced legislators to ratchet up criminal sanctions for drunk driving.
Although I am all for holding negligent drivers responsible, it bothers me that even Mayor DeBlasio is calling for this young man to spend time in prison, as is Andrew Gounardes, a state senator who represents parts of southern Brooklyn. We don’t know yet what caused this young driver to fail to see the red light. News sources so far say he was not texting, and there is no indication of drug or alcohol use. It might have been a simple moment of daydreaming/distraction. Do we really want to put people – especially young, inexperienced drivers – in prison for that? I don’t think our prisons need more bodies.
Instead of locking negligent drivers up, a more sensible solutions is to make our roads and bike lanes safer. Brooklyn and Queens, for example, are building 30 miles of additional bike lanes per year, with protective barriers. Now that’s a good idea! Additionally, a bill sponsored by Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn would impound vehicles that get at least five red-light or speed-camera violations in a one-year period. Those car owners would have to take a safety course to get their cars back on the road. That’s another great idea.
In the area of New York State where I usually ride, Ontario, Seneca and Cayuga Counties, the highways could use wider shoulders so that cyclists are not riding dangerously close to passing vehicles. There have been several fatal cycling accidents in recent years where the cyclist was riding on a narrow shoulder and was “clipped” by a passing car. And many of the small cities and villages around here could use more bike lanes.
In sum, cycling has some inherent dangers. The main one is motor vehicles. When a motorist injures or kills a cyclist because he was texting or was drunk or high, he should face criminal sanctions. But if the negligence was of the garden variety type, he should not. Such criminal sanctions are unlikely to make cycling any safer, and will cause undue hardship on the driver and his family. Instead, we need to work on safer road and bike systems.