A 2016 bicycle accident in Kalamazoo, Michigan that sent shockwaves through the community is still having an impact over a year later. On June 7, 2016, 5 bicyclists were killed by a speeding driver, and on September 27, 2017, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on a group of bills designed to change state laws in order to protect cyclists. According to Mlive, survivors of the crash Paul Gobble and Jennifer Johnson say that they have observed “animosity towards bicyclists using the roads” and that “it's time to make Michigan safer." The proposed bills aim to do just that.
The Kalamazoo crash was the worst in Michigan’s history, killing 5 and seriously injuring 4 others. A social cycling group called The Chain Gang had departed out on a ride to Plainwell, Michigan and back. About half an hour into the ride, a speeding, blue Chevy pickup truck came flying down Westnedge Ave, driven by Charles Pickett Jr., and collided with the group from behind. Tony Nelson, 73; Larry Paulik, 74; Debra Bradley, 53; Melissa Fevig Hughes, 42; and Suzanne Sippel, 56, were all pronounced dead at the scene. Sheila Jeske, 54, and Paul Runnels, 66, survived along with Gobble, 48, and Johnson, 42. The survivors say they are still dealing with the physical and psychological effects of the crash.
Sen. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage and Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, introduced a package of bills aimed at protecting cyclists on the road. The bills now heads to the Senate floor. Currently, Michigan is one of only seven states to not have laws requiring cars to pass cyclists safely. The proposed bills are as follows.
Proposed Bicyclist Road Safety Bills
Senate Bills 123 and 170 require cars to observe a five-foot passing zone for bicycles.
Senate Bill 124, sponsored by O'Brien, requires driver training courses to include at least one hour of education on the laws pertaining to bicycles, motorcycles, and other vulnerable roadway users.
Senate Bill 330, sponsored by O'Brien, allows prosecutors to count a driver whose license had expired or suspended in another state as having a suspended or revoked license when they are charged with operation of a vehicle causing death while holding a suspended or revoked license or registration.
Senate Bills 580 and 581, sponsored by Knezek, expand the prohibition on texting while driving to include the use of a computer, tablet, camera, or other internet-based communication device, and update sentencing guidelines.
Mlive reported that Pickett was charged with 5 counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death, 5 counts of second degree murder, and 4 counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing serious injury. Also, According to a police report, officers found marijuana, a small amount of methamphetamine, rum, vodka, beer and wine in Pickett's pickup truck after the crash." Nearly a year and a half after the crash, Pickett’s trial still has yet to occur. It was originally scheduled for April 24, 2017, and then rescheduled for September 19.
In that time, Pickett was denied application for leave to appeal his second degree murder charges. Pickett’s attorney, argued that evidence used to charge his client with second degree murder was insufficient. His lawyer says that an interview between his client and a detective that took place in a hospital directly following the crash violated Pickett’s constitutional rights, and therefore could not be used as evidence. His lawyer also argued his client should be charged with reckless driving causing death, but not second degree murder. The court denied the application, “for failure to persuade the Court of the need for immediate appellate review." Pickett plans on pleading insanity to the charges.
This past June, on the one year anniversary of the accident, a mass was held to honor the victims. The Chain Gang also held their first annual Finish the Ride Memorial Ride, a 27-mile bike ride to remember the victims and honor the survivors of the tragedy, following the same route the riders were planning on doing the day of the crash.
Bike accidents are unfortunately common in the United States, with many receiving little to no media attention. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), bicyclists made up 2% of all traffic related deaths and 2% of all crash related injuries in 2014. In 2015 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 1,000 cyclists deaths, and over 467,000 bicyclists were injured. The NHTSA also found that bicyclists deaths were more likely to occur between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM, and in urban areas. This is likely due to decreased visibility when the sun goes down, and congested city streets. Bicyclists who are killed are usually males between the ages of 20 and 24. The NHTSA notes that, “a large percentage of crashes can be avoided if motorists and cyclists follow the rules of the road and watch out for each other." The NHTSA also provides the following tips for motorists and cyclists to safely share the road.
Safety Tips for Motorists
Yield to bicyclists as you would motorists and do not underestimate their speed. This will help avoid turning in front of a bicyclist traveling on the road or sidewalk, often at an intersection or driveway.
In parking lots, at stop signs, when backing up, or when parking, search your surroundings for other vehicles, including bicycles.
Drivers turning right on red should look to the right and behind to avoid hitting a bicyclist approaching from the right rear. Stop completely and look left-right-left and behind before turning right on red.
Obey the speed limit, reduce speed for road conditions, and drive defensively to avoid a crash with a cyclist.
Give cyclists room. Do not pass too closely. Pass bicyclists as you would any other vehicle—when it’s safe to move over into an adjacent lane.
Safety Tips for Cyclists
Check your law to make sure sidewalk riding is legal.
Watch for pedestrians.
Pass pedestrians with care by first announcing “on your left” or “passing on your left” or use a bell.
Ride in the same direction as traffic. This way, if the sidewalk ends, you are already riding with the flow of traffic. If crossing a street, motorists will look left, right, left for traffic. When you are to the driver’s left, the driver is more likely to see you.
Slow and look for traffic (left-right-left and behind) when crossing a street from a sidewalk; be prepared to stop and follow the pedestrian signals.
Slow down and look for cars backing out of driveways or turning.
Drivers and bicyclists learning to share the road with each other is key to reducing the number of cyclist injuries and fatalities due to car accidents. While those on bikes are the ones most likely to be injured or killed, both parties need to be aware of and watch out for each other. While bicycle car accidents can’t be avoided altogether, drivers and bicyclists can work together to ensure travel safety. Whether it be by following tips from organizations like the NHTSA, or through bills like the ones Senators O’Brien and Knezek are hoping to pass, bicyclists need more protections on the road so accidents like the one in Kalamazoo don’t become the norm.
While drivers and cyclists can both work to ensure that those traveling on bikes are safer, bicycle car accidents still happen. What's worse is that bicyclists are more likely to be injured and to suffer more serious injuries than those in the motor vehicle, when involved in a bicycle car accident. If you or a loved have been the victim of an automobile collision, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free legal consultation. Let our highly experienced attorneys handle the legal matters while you focus on recovering from your injuries.