Monday, December 13, 2010

Upon Reflection

Thinking about my “near death” experience last Friday still gives me the heebie-jeebies:

I had intended on just trying to forget about it, but something has been gnawing at me all weekend. I did a 60 mile ride today before the rain. It was a beautiful day with almost eerily light traffic, so I had some time to think.

In the way of disclosure, 99% of the reason I write this blog is simply just for me. It’s nice that I have people choose to read what I write, but I write for me. Sometimes I need to vent, as I did in my previous post.

Nevertheless, I do hold myself accountable, and I apologize for my comments about people who have, or may be in the process of losing their jobs. I meant no offense. In fact, I thought I was being clever, which I was not. Even if it was, sometimes being clever isn’t the right thing to be.

Out on the bike today, I tried to process what happened on Friday, what I did, and what I should have done. My conclusion is that it was my fault that the incident occurred at all. If I had been 100% focused on the traffic that was overtaking me, I would have picked up that gold Chevy Luv pickup in my mirror, and I might have had time to act accordingly. The major reason I put up with the occasional “Dorky mirror” comment from cycling buddies is because of the huge safety factor it adds to be able to “profile” the vehicles (especially pickup trucks) behind me. Without a mirror I wouldn’t have even had a clue as to what was about to occur. I don’t know if that truck was hidden in a blind spot behind another car, or if I just failed to pick up the color on an overcast day.

I ride my bike all over the metro area and well beyond, and I have most of the danger spots well categorized in my memory. That little bridge on Issaquah Hobart just south of May Valley Rd. is certainly a hot spot and potentially very dangerous for cyclists. I’m usually hyper vigilant riding that section of road, but this time I let one slip through the cracks. I recall once coming to a complete stop before the bridge while travelling southbound because the overtaking traffic just didn’t feel right.

Last Friday, I just had the miserably timed misfortune to not have 100% focus at the very split instant that one of the “one in a million” asshole drivers spotted me in a very vulnerable spot on the road. You know, the one driver I did not want to be passing me at that time and place with some type of bizarre attitude in his head. “Tommy Timing” was not in play on this one.

I normally don’t have a bad temper. I never threw or broke clubs when I played competitive amateur golf. Yeah, I’d utter the occasional swear word, but I tried to mutter under my breath. The temper does fire up when I feel that my life has been threatened by some moronic fool. It’s difficult for me to control my temper and think rationally in that situation.

There is no way I should have tried to provoke a confrontation with the idiot who close passed buzzed me. I was irate, but I absolutely should have not done what I did. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I shudder to think what possible outcomes could have resulted.

Tracy is acquainted with a very experienced Washington State Patrolman. Here is what the patrolman told us:

"In regards to your question it would be tough to investigate the incident after the fact. I could think of a couple of charges which could be brought against somebody for intentionally driving so close to a bicycle that it forced it off the road. One would be reckless driving and the other would be reckless endangerment. But to prove these or charge them there would have to be a positive ID on the suspect driver. A person could always be given an infraction for negligent driving second degree, but still the driver needs to be ID.

The other thing is, who's jurisdiction does it belong too? The State Patrol can investigate a crime in any jurisdiction. But if the incident occurred on a county road or city street then the local agency has right of first refusal. If the incident occurred on a State Route or Interstate in an unincorporated area then we don't have to ask the locals if they would like to investigate the incident. It really doesn't matter because the locals usually want to give it to us anyway.

The final thing that can be done is a letter can be sent to the registered owner of the car. This letter would advise the RO their car was observed driving recklessly which puts them on notice."

So even if you have a witness (I did, as another driver stopped to see if I was OK), you still have to have a positive ID on the driver. That's tough to do if you only saw the back of his head through the car's back window as he sped away. It's hard just to think clearly enough to get the license plate #. Nevertheless, if this happens again, we will contact the Patrolman to see if he can have a letter sent to the offender.

Making the driver aware that Big Brother is watching is better than nothing.

My Candian friend Johny commented on my last post. He was riding his bike in a small town when a driver actually hit his pedals while passing and just drove away! Somehow he managed to not crash, but he was incredibly frustrated by the lack of response from the local law enforcement agency. Last week, eight cyclists were killed in Southern Italy when run over by an oncoming motorist who was under the influence of marijuana:

As cyclists, we have to face the facts. Cycling and sharing the road with cars is certainly a potentially very dangerous pursuit. Anytime you throw your leg over the toptube, one must assume a definite level of risk.

I am going to continue trying to stack the deck in my favor. As always, I will be super cautious, as visible as possible, and constantly alert. In addition, I am going to continue to be as courteous as I can to car drivers. I view myself as a “professional” cyclist, not in terms of racing, but in terms of commitment. I’m going to act accordingly, even more than I already do.

For some time now on the group rides that I lead, I and the other leaders of the ride have pretty rigidly enforced a policy of stopping at stop signs and rolling away slowly so that trailing riders don’t have to blast through the intersection to stay in contact. The ride goes more smoothly, and we certainly set a better example than many of the groups I see around town.

I’ll continue acknowledging oncoming drivers in rural areas with a friendly nod, and I’ll keep giving a little wave when drivers give me a nice wide berth when passing. When I approach a four way stop with a car perpendicular to me, I slow and wave the car through the intersection, even if I was at the stop first. I guess I figure that by doing that, I may influence that driver to react differently the next time they are sharing the road with a cyclist. Who knows, that cyclist might be me.

Honestly, when it comes right down to it, I get a lot more discouraged by what I see cyclists doing than by car drivers. Although there will always be those occasional jerks who get behind the wheel of vehicles, I am going to do my best as a cyclist not to aggravate them.


Mark C said...

Tom, I've been thinking about your post myself, as well as the stories from other parts of the country. There's the South Carolina case where a rider got killed and several others injured and the driver who ran them all over blamed the cyclists for being on a narrow country road. Or the six cyclists killed in Tampa in 6 different accidents in less than a year. I think there are a lot of distracted drivers here, but very few malicious ones like you encountered. The malicious few are prominent because we just don't have to deal with them often.

Tom Meloy said...

Then there is the recent Vail, CO case of the surgeon from New York run over by the stock broker from Denver. It was hit and run, and the guy was seriously injured. The judge let the stockbroker off, citing something like "this person is successful, and a felony conviction would hurt his career."

Mark C said...

I don't know if you saw the latest. The money manager's attorneys say he suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea and fell asleep at the wheel. They said his car went into a ditch so he couldn't see the cyclist lying by the side of the road. My wife has sleep apnea, and it means she doesn't sleep well when she does sleep, not that she falls asleep at the wheel. Go figure.

Tom Meloy said...

I did see that. It sounds like a pack of lies that the court just accepted for some reason.

B Griffith said...

Tom, thanks for your articles, very imformative. I have ridin those roads many times, with you and the Sun. group, and with other groups, i dont think i would ride out there alone, you have more clout with a group. Some of those sections are too narrow for me anyway, and traffic runs way to fast, people in a hurry going no where.
I actually think we saw you out there on that Friday that you say it happened. take care my friend.

John said...

Tom, I was reading your post myself. I'm glad you're okay. I recall a similar incident, except the passenger in the truck grabbed my arm and dragged me down.

Since that time, I've come to realize that he who has more metal wins. In other words, I keep my screaming and hand gestures to myself, as it will do no good against an idiot who is encased in steel.

All the Best,