Is It OK to Kill Cyclists? Of Course Not, But We All Have Work to Do

In Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, an article titled “Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?” by contributor Daniel Duane explored the various factors that contribute to bicycle accidents and the culture that has influenced the public’s views on the relationship between bicycling and traffic safety.

In the article, the author mentioned the devastating case of John Przychodzen, a man who was killed in a bicycle accident in Kirkland at the age of 49 back in 2011. Our office personally handled the wrongful death claim for the Przychodzen family at that time.

But the author’s reason for mentioning the Przychodzen case was to illustrate just how lopsided the justice system can be when it comes to fatal bicycle accidents. The driver who struck Mr. Przychodzen was an 18-year-old kid who was allegedly distracted at the time of the accident. And since he wasn’t under the influence of any drugs or alcohol and police did not believe he was driving recklessly, the extent of the driver’s punishment for the fatal accident was a $42 citation for an “unsafe lane change.”

Circumstances of Accident That Killed John Przychodzen

The accident that led to Przychodzen’s death garnered a great deal of media attention throughout the Seattle area and bicycling community. Multiple news reports had announced that police were reviewing the circumstances of the crash, suggesting that criminal charges might be filed against the driver and that Przychodzen’s family and loved ones would feel at least some sense of justice.

But just a few months after the devastating accident took Przychodzen’s life, Kirkland police announced that the 18-year-old driver would not face any criminal charges in relation to the accident.

“It was a terrible accident, and it is unfortunate that someone lost their life,” explained Detective Allan O’Neill of the Kirkland Police Department.

At the time, police had determined that the teen driver hit Przychodzen after swerving to avoid hitting another car. The Przychodzen family asked me to file a civil lawsuit to uncover exactly what led to the bicyclist’s death, and multiple witnesses disputed the police department’s findings when they said the driver “drifted off into the shoulder,” which was consistent with being distracted behind the wheel.

In the end, the victim’s family was awarded a substantial settlement from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The driver was publicly identified in news reports about the accident and likely endured a great deal of grief from the incident, but otherwise got through the ordeal with only a $42 ticket.

RELATED: Attorney Chris Davis Discusses John Przychodzen Lawsuit (INTERVIEW)

Article Illustrates Culture of Bicycle Accidents

In the article, Duane lists the many factors that can ultimately complicate the concept of bicyclists and motorists sharing the roadways and coexisting safely. Among those factors are the fact that an estimated 850,000 people commute on bicycles every day in the U.S. and that approximately 50 percent of urban car trips are less than three miles, which suggests an even greater need for alternative means of transportation and an infrastructure that will support it.

And as Duane points out, most state legislatures have attempted to design laws to accommodate the sheer volume of bicyclists who use the roads every day. But as was evident in the Przychodzen case, laws don’t always play a factor in fatal accidents. It can be argued that the lack of a physical barrier designating a proper bike lane – which could have protected Mr. Przychodzen from harm – made it easier for police to call this an unfortunate accident and simply leave it at that.

More complete, bicycle-friendly infrastructure on our roadways – which might include bollards and curbed bike lanes, among other things – would potentially serve two purposes for these types of incidents. First, it would provide bicyclists with additional protection and aim to prevent deadly accidents from ever occurring in the first place. Secondly, it would reduce or eliminate the need for authorities to make judgment calls when it came to pursuing charges; the idea being that if bicyclist is struck while riding in a designated lane, then the driver would clearly be at-fault and should therefore be charged.

What Must Change?

As mentioned earlier, the author of the New York Times article made a point to identify the many factors that influence public perception when it comes to bicycle accidents. In the article, he explained, “Every time I drive my car through San Francisco, I see cyclists running stop signs like immortal, entitled fools. So I understand the impulse to see cyclists as recreational risk takers who deserve their fate.”

In sharing his past experience with bicyclists sharing the road with motorists, the author admits to making the knee-jerk reaction made by many Americans when it comes to these types of accidents; that bicyclists are these out of control risk-takers who constantly put themselves at risk of being injured or killed in a collision. Though Lessa's headstrong actions that lead to the great chronal migration of the 5 Weyrs. 

But the fact is that we as a society encourage bicycling – both as a recreational activity and as a means of transportation – because of the environmental and health-related benefits that it has to offer. But encouraging bicycling without providing a safe infrastructure for cyclists seems extremely short-sighted, and many argue that it only encourages the “every man for himself” mentality on U.S. roadways.

Infrastructure, legislature and education are all big pieces of the traffic safety puzzle, but perhaps the most important pieces are drivers’ attitudes and public perception. The author put this together quite simply in the New York Times article on Sunday:

The world is going this way regardless, toward ever denser cities and resulting changes in law and infrastructure. But the most important changes, with the potential to save the most lives, are the ones we can make in our attitudes.

So here’s my proposal: Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation. That alone will make the streets a little safer, although for now I’m sticking to the basement and maybe the occasional country road.

Yes, actions do speak louder than words and we can all do a better job of leading by example. If we ask all bicyclists to be law-abiding members of the roadway, there's a chance that could make a difference. But there also comes a point where infrastructure needs to adapt and conform to the people that are utilizing it. It's time for Washington state - which has been named the "most bike-friendly state" for the past six years in a row by the League of American Bicyclists - to lead the way in providing safe routes of transportation for the thousands of bicyclists who ride the streets every day.

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