The cycling community has been rocked again by the death of two riders in New Hampshire. The Boston Globe reports two women riding in the Granite State Wheelman Tri-State Seacoast Century Ride were killed as they approached a bridge near Hampton early Saturday morning. For some unknown reason a 20 year approaching from the opposite direction crossed into their lane and plowed into them. Two other riders were injured. The report says no determination has been made of what caused the driver to enter their lane.
This follows on the heels of the tragic accident in Clearwater on September 2nd. A driver struck a couple on a tandem bike from behind before dawn on a popular cycling road in Clearwater. The driver in that case left the scene. He later turned himself in and reports say the driver maintained he “blacked out”. One rider was killed instantly. The other was taken off life support in the last several days and, sadly, passed away.
How do these tragedies continue to happen? Every cyclist must be asking themselves the same question. Ultimately there will be an explanation for each of them. What they have in common is that from all appearances the cyclists had done nothing to contribute to being hit. Someone operating a car drove into them. Most often this is the result of alcohol, distraction or inattention. On rare occasions it can be caused by a sudden, unexpected medical emergency, although in my experience many drivers have had other symptoms or were under treatment for the condition beforehand. When that is the case, the incident is probably not unexpected and would provide no defense.
In Florida, when a driver kills a cyclist, rarely is there any real punishment imposed on them unless they were convicted of a crime such as DUI, reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident involving injury. Otherwise, the driver is usually given a small fine for a traffic infraction like Careless Driving.
I believe Florida needs two things. First, judges need the ability to impose more severe penalties for those who cause cycling accidents. I support a Vulnerable User law which gives the judge the ability to impose a bigger fine or jail time when a driver kills or injures a cyclist, pedestrian, road worker or other vulnerable user and the driver was not convicted of a crime. There are efforts underway to have the legislature pass such a law, but these efforts take years.
Second, in the meantime, I am working for greater awareness by drivers of the grave danger their precious cars, SUV’s and trucks pose to cyclists. Motorists just need to keep their eyes on the road and stop doing God knows what while they drive along at 45 mph or more on our roads. Drivers must “watch4cyclists”.
Clearwater wrongful death attorney Jim Dodson has been helping grieving families hold negligent drivers responsible for their wrong doing for over two decades. Jim has written an easy-to-read handbook called the Survivor’s Guide to Florida Wrongful Death Claims, which provides answers to the most commonly asked questions family members have after the unexpected death of their loved one.