Motorists urged to stay aware while on the road
By Tom Held and Breann Schossow of the Journal Sentinel
Aug. 8, 2011
Two bicyclists have died after being hit by distracted or inattentive motorists, according to law enforcement reports, bringing the number of cycling fatalities to six since July 1. In at least four of the deaths, the rider was hit from behind.
Leaders from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and AAA Wisconsin said the rash of fatalities should remind motorists and bicyclists of the grave consequences that result from a momentary lapse on the road.
“It used to be we were focused on where we needed to go. Now, people are talking on the phone, eating, grooming, conducting business and doing other things in the car, in addition to just piloting the vehicle,” said Pam Moen, vice president of public affairs for the motoring club. “Any time we are dividing attention, we are taking our focus off of safety,” she said.
The latest victims: Devin Kunich, 22, who was working at Bristol Renaissance Fair, was struck while cycling on Highway H in Pleasant Prairie about 12:30 a.m. Sunday; and David Landgraf, 62, the only skier to race in all 38 American Birkebeiner ski races, was hit on Highway 27 near Stone Lake on Friday night.
In Kenosha County, prosecutors charged Quashae D. Taylor, 18, with felony negligence in the crash that killed Kunich.
According to the criminal complaint, Taylor told an investigator she closed her eyes for a second, which she described as a “long blink,” then she heard something hit her car and her roof. Kunich was found lying unresponsive on the road; his backpack, shoes, books and iPod strewn for roughly 200 feet.
Kunich had reflectors on his bike, but investigators found no lights.
Taylor reported that she was driving without glasses or contact lenses, although she is legally blind in her left eye and has cerebral palsy. She struggled to see in the fog, and the complaint also said she received several calls on her cellphone about the time of the crash.
Landgraf died of his injuries Monday afternoon.
According to a report from the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department, a 24-year-old woman from Hayward turned to speak to her children while driving south on Highway 27 about 6:40 p.m. She turned back and saw Landgraf of Bloomer, but it was too late to swerve and avoid him.
Her Mitsubishi Galant hit the retired teacher and threw him into the ditch.
The report said the driver, Anna Amparo, has been cited, but it did not provide specifics.
Dave Schlabowske, communications director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, said that cycling remains a safe activity, based on crash rates and statistics. Surveys found that 2.5 million people bike each year in Wisconsin, and the death rates are far below those of motorists and even people walking down stairs.
On average, 11 cyclists are killed in collisions with motor vehicles in the state each year.
“Despite the fact that riding a bike is still very safe, the recent spate of crashes, those that appear to be due to inattentive driving, should remind us all what a tremendous responsibility it is to drive a car,” Schlabowske said. “The potential is always there for tragedy, and it’s really our responsibility to treat the right to drive with the respect that it deserves and really focus on what we should be focusing on.”
Being hit from behind is one of the most deadly and unavoidable threats to cyclists.
Schlabowske recommends cyclists plot their routes to stay on roads with shoulders or bike lanes as much as possible.
Landgraf taught physical education at Bloomer Middle School and helped coach dozens of youngsters and adults over four decades in Nordic skiing. In the group of Birkie Founders, Landgraf was one of just 35 people to take the start line in Hayward for the inaugural Birkie, and he continued to post exemplary results even as he crossed into the 60-plus age group.
In the 2011 Birkie, Landgraf finished in 2 hours, 43 minutes, good for second place in his age group and 468th overall.
Friends anticipated that Landgraf would continue to ski into his 90s, thriving on the exhilaration he first found in 1973.
In a 2004 interview, Landgraf described his Birkie experience: “It’s changed my whole outlook and lifestyle in the winter months. Now, I ski as much as I can, and I try to stay in shape on the off-season.
“I got out there and I’m always racing against myself to see how good I can do. I try to take everything in and try to enjoy the race and the people the festivities afterward.”
Landgraf described himself as a recreational cyclist who preferred the paved roads with minimal traffic around his hometown.
Safe cycling and driving
Tips for safe cycling and driving, provided by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and AAA Wisconsin:
- Cyclists are legal and intended users of the road and as such must follow all the rules of the road. This means riding in the same direction as traffic, obeying traffic signals and stop signs. When riding at night, a white front light and red rear reflector are required, but using bright front and rear lights can make you much more visible to motorists.
- Ride predictably, in a reasonably straight line, staying about three feet away from parked cars and the edge of the pavement. It is generally less safe to hug the edge of the road.
- Third, evaluate where you intend to ride and know where crashes are more likely to happen. Most crashes occur at intersections. In urban areas with frequent intersections watch out for cars turning left across your path and those who might cut you off by turning right in front of you. In rural or suburban areas, crashes on narrow roads where traffic moves at higher speeds are often fatal. Try to avoid high-speed roads unless they have a paved shoulder or bike lane.
- Wearing a helmet can reduce your risk of injury in the unlikely event that you are involved in a crash.
- Drivers of motor vehicles need to share the road with bicyclists. Be courteous – allow at least three feet clearance when passing a bicyclist on the road, look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space, and yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals. Be especially watchful for cyclists when making turns, either left or right.
- Make a visual check for bicyclists by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic.
- Stay alert, avoid all distractions while driving.