The Green Valley News has a quite good article on Jerome Featherman, who was killed by an inattentive motorist on September 3. It seems that Mr. Featherman was a skilled and cautious cyclist, but his care and skill was no match for the man who drifted into the bike lane and drove into him from behind. Jerome never had a chance.
The reporter working on this article called me because he could not believe that you can run down a bicyclist in the bike lane and kill him and get away with only a civil traffic violation. He wanted me to explain that to him.
So I told him that we do have a statute in Arizona, the negligent homicide statute, which would apply to these crimes, but unfortunately it is never applied to motorists who kill bicyclists.
Negligent homicide is appropriate when a person causes the death of another person with criminal negligence. A.R.S. 13-1102. Criminal negligence occurs when “a person fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” A.R.S. 13-105.
Does the failure to perceive the risk of driving in the bike lane constitute a gross deviation from the care a reasonable person would take? You could argue that this was merely momentary inattentiveness, but the fact that thousands of drivers sped past Jerome Featherman in his lifetime without crashing into him suggests to me that reasonable people do indeed take the needed precautions not to strike bicyclists from behind.
I currently have two bicycles in my office that belong to victims of hit-from-behind incidents, and I look at them every day. They both look very similar, with bent rear stays and wheels that have literally been cut in half.
One bike belongs to a young woman who was hit at about 45 mph or so. She flew into the air in a frightening arc and slammed into the pavement, but, miraculously, was more or less okay. She didn’t even break any bones.
The other is from a man who was also hit at about 45 mph, and did not survive. He was run over by the vehicle that hit him.
The difference, it seems to me, lies completely in the design of the car. Neither cyclist ever had a chance to avoid these accidents, but one was hit by a compact car that was braking, and her center of gravity was such that she went up onto the windshield (as did the folks hit last week in the Shootout Ride).
The other man was hit by a pickup that was accelerating, and he went down, instead of up.
So ride carefully, and try to remember — mile for mile, cycling is safer than driving. Our job is to make it safer still, and from my vantage point, that primarily means changing the habits of motorists.