Monday, September 1, 2008

Life Cycles: Road safety responsibility of cyclists too

By Anthony Siracusa, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Monday, September 1, 2008

Scott Wilson has been commuting by bicycle in Memphis since 2003.

On July 19, Scott left his job at Spindini restaurant around 1:30 a.m. He glided down South Main toward the intersection of Vance and Main, when suddenly, a car slammed into his right side. The car had run a stop sign.

Though some eyewitnesses reported seeing a beer bottle in the car, the responding officer chastised Wilson for requesting a Breathalyzer test for the driver.

The final police report stated that the driver was charged with not yielding at a stop sign and driving without insurance.

There is no Tennessee ordinance that speaks plainly to what happens when a bicyclist is struck by a car.

The Tennessee Bicycle Protection Act of 2007 protects cyclists when passed by a car, stating that a car "shall leave a safe distance ... of not less than 3 feet and shall maintain the clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle."

The law in Tennessee says bicycles are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle, but three colleagues on bikes have been hit by cars in the past month, causing some in the cycling community to feel that bicycles are not treated as vehicles in such situations.

Danny Fagden, a cyclist of 30 years, was seriously injured after being struck by a car on July 3.

For officers investigating the scene of such accidents, without laws specifically governing a collision between cars and bicycles in the roadway, determining fault and appropriate citation within a legal framework is difficult.

Cyclists do not ride for health, fitness, recreation and transportation more often because they do not feel safe or protected in the road. A lack of laws and understanding among officials only heightens the lack of protection for bicyclists.

Safety is the number one factor in whether people will ride bicycles, and maintaining roadway safety is a two-way street. More than 70 percent of bike-car collisions result from unsafe bicycle riding.

A gap in education and awareness for cars and bicycles exists in Tennessee, and this is reflected in Tennessee law governing bicycles.

When a cyclist is at fault in a crash, a class on safe road sharing between bikes and cars should be required.

The same should be true when a car is at fault.

With more bikes on the road than ever before, safely sharing the road must become a priority.

Your turn

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Memphian Anthony Siracusa is a student at Rhodes College, a member of Memphis' Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, executive director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop and a daily cycling commuter. Contact him at

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