CYCLING AND SAFETY: Injuries from bicycle-motor vehicle collisions are rising. Who is to blame?

Cyclists ride in a dual paceline down a local road. Motorists and cyclists alike must work together to stay safe on streets. (Courtesy photo)
Joe Stull was involved in a serious bike-motor vehicle collision this past June while riding in Whitley County. (Photo provided)

At 48 years old, Joe Stull had “dodged the bullet” for the majority of his cycling life when it came to major accidents.

Until last June, that is.

Riding eastbound on a county road in Whitley County, Stull approached an intersection where he had the right of way. He eyed a car going northbound heading toward the stop sign at the intersection.

“I looked their way a few different times … watching them,” Stull said. “Next thing I knew, he hits me.

“The first thing I thought of was ‘I can’t believe this’ as I flew.”

Stull landed in a field about 100 feet from the point of collision, a testament to how fast the car was going, which was judged to be between 50 and 60 mph.

Paramedics arrived on the scene relatively quickly. Due to the speed in which he was struck, it was thought that Stull may not survive. He was flown to Parkview Regional Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with multiple fractures.

Four months later, Stull is still undergoing therapy and treatment for the injuries sustained in the accident. The driver was cited for ignoring a stop sign and being on his cell phone.

Stull’s story is just one of many such incidents involving bikes and automobiles every year in the area and across the nation. According to www.pedbikeinfo.org, 818 cyclists were killed in 2015 in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes. That number constitutes a 6 percent increase from 2006.

Locally, recent incidents have put a spotlight on bike safety.

In October of 2016, 24-year-old Nick Mruk was killed on a bike in a hit-and-run on Hand Road.

In July of this year, a cyclist was seriously injured after being hit by a car on Lima Road.

Every accident involving a bike and a motor vehicle is different. Sometimes, the driver of the vehicle is to blame, while other times it is the cyclist that is in the wrong. The one constant is the fact that cyclists and drivers alike need to be educated on the rules of the road.

“I feel that 99.9 percent of the driving public accepts bicyclists,” said Steve Pequignot, a 68-year-old Fort Wayne resident and a frequent cyclist. “They may not like it, but they tolerate us and are respectful.

“Our obligation as cyclists is to be respectful of them as well.”

One of the major “complaints” that cyclists hear from passing motorists is the trusty “Get on the sidewalk!” yell. Sounds simple, but it is indeed illegal. By law, bicyclists are not allowed to ride on sidewalks.

To Stull, one of the major safety issues on the road today is also an inherent danger to cyclists on the road.

“A huge danger is cell phone use,” Stull said. “It is a really scary thing. You see it multiple times a day when you’re out on the road. You have some people with their cell phones on their lap while others have it at eye level.”

Cyclists have found that there is both strength and safety in numbers. While more problematic to motorists looking to get around, a group of riders command the respect sometimes not given to an individual rider.

Interestingly, it is believed that the more road cyclists take up, the safer they are. Cyclists frequently use a “dual paceline” in which they ride two abreast and several deep that takes up most of a lane of a road. This is not only completely legal, but also forces cars to slow down and pass at a safe location, as opposed to simply using the other lane of traffic to get around them.

Conversely, Indiana state law states that a group of cyclists that are holding up a certain amount of cars behind them must pull over to let vehicles pass safety.

As with everything, sharing the road between cyclists and motorists is a give and take situation.

“You basically have to trust and believe that others are going to do the right thing,” Pequignot said.

COMING SATURDAY:

The efforts that the City of Fort Wayne has made to make bicycle traffic safer for both cyclists and motorists alike have been considerable in recent years. Do local riders believe it is enough?

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