Healthy Living

Kalamazoo Tragedy: Why Cyclists and Drivers Need to Agree

On Tuesday, June 7th a group of middle-aged cyclists took off for a weekly ride. Only a half hour into their ride they were struck by an erratic driver killing five and injuring four. My heart breaks for the second tragedy in Kalamazoo, the first being the shooting rampage that happened in mid-February.

As an avid cyclist, it only reminds me of the dangers of riding my bike. I have been a cyclist for nearly five years participating in cycling events such as the Make-A-Wish 50-mile charity ride that happens every July. It has taken me a long time to figure out what type of exercise was a fit for me. Once I discovered cycling there was no turning back. There is a freedom in just the open road and your bike.

Which is why this type of tragedy hits home. Most of my cycling is done in mid-Michigan, mostly the greater Lansing area, which thankfully has many open, country roads. However, my rides in and out of the city are always unpredictable. There are drivers who give me room and slow down when going around me and there are others who are quick to get around me even cutting in close to me. It is terrifying and I often find myself throwing my hands up in the air hoping they catch me in their rear view mirror.

"However, my rides in and out of the city are always unpredictable."

Which is why I want to take the time to highlight a few rules for both the cyclist and the driver, specifically in the state of Michigan.

The Cyclist:

1. According to League of Michigan Bicyclists, a cyclist is to behave like a vehicle when traveling on roadways but must remain as far right as possible. I think this distinction is important because there are cyclists who do not act like a vehicle and do whatever they please, which is not safe for either cyclists or drivers.

2. That being said cyclists are required to use hand signals to tell other riders and drivers where they are going (right, left, or stop).

Hand signals as determined by the state of Michigan
Hand signals as determined by the state of Michigan

3. As much as drivers wish cyclists would not be on the road at all it is actually a lot safer to ride on the road than on the sidewalk. According to Michigan laws if a cyclist is on a sidewalk they have to yield to pedestrians which tend to slow down cyclists.

4. If there is a bike lane present the cyclist is not required to ride in the lane.

A cyclist should stay as far right on the road as possible unless there is debris, they need to pass other cyclists, they are preparing to turn left, or when the cyclist is in a lane that is right-turn only but intends to go straight.

5. Cyclists are required to have blinking lights on the back of their back 30 minutes before sunrise and sunset as well as when the light is not present.

The Driver:

1. According to the same source, a driver should give sufficient room to a cyclist when passing and do so at a slow speed.

2. A driver is not allowed to open their door, or park, in a bike lane.

3. Drivers are not allowed to have cyclists grab onto the side of their car to "hitch."

4. Drivers making a right-hand turn should yield to a cyclist.

5. Treat cyclists as vehicles since they abide by the same traffic laws as a vehicle.

If both the cyclist and driver can keep these basic rules in mind we can avoid dangerous situations. Bottom line if you are about to get into a car and drive be aware of what you are about to do. While driving is a leisurely activity you are still in control of a machine that can crash or hit anything if you, as the driver, are not at full attention. Put the phone away, hand the keys over if you are intoxicated, and focus on the road and all it may contain- roadkill, running squirrels, and cyclists.

While it is still unclear why the driver of the truck was driving so erratically one thing is clear: he was not paying attention and ran away after he hit the cyclists. Own up to your actions and don't drive if you are going to behave in this way.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those killed and injured.

I cycle for you.

Me preparing for my 50-mile ride with Make-A-Wish
Me preparing for my 50-mile ride with Make-A-Wish