By now you’ve seen the news reports that a man in a pickup truck hammered into a group ride, killing five riders and injuring another four. Nine riders down. It’s unlike anything any of us have heard in our lives. I know people who have ridden in that part of Michigan and they are as you would expect, devastated by the news. The geography doesn’t matter. We should all be shocked by the carnage.
I’ve tried to gain some perspective on this, thinking about group rides I’ve done in the past. I’ve done group rides with more than 100 riders and you couldn’t have removed five riders without removing a friend of mine. The depth of this pain in that community will never heal.
News reports say the driver, a 50-year-old male, was operating the pickup erratically and had already been reported to police in multiple calls prior to the crash. We don’t know yet if the underlying factor in his driving was DUI or something else, but statistically, extended erratic driving is usually not caused by anger or a medical condition.
What I find especially chilling about this tragedy is how many news reports include a statement from the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club’s safety director, Paul Selden. He was quoted saying, “What I have seen of these riders in the past and the way [they] organize the rides, they always were led in a safe manner.”
There’s an undercurrent here, one that cyclists constantly need to dispel—that we may be responsible for our demise, as if riding can get you killed. It’s a variety of victim blaming that doesn’t receive enough pushback.
Let me be frank: I’ve been a member of group rides that behaved in ways that embarrassed me, made my rethink my participation. I’ve stopped at red lights only to be screamed at by other riders for not following the group. And there were other times when I followed the group and thought, “I could never justify this to my wife from a hospital gurney.” I avoid rides like that now in an effort to better my odds, but that’s just me.
I mention this for an important reason. Idiotic behavior by any cyclist doesn’t matter. It’s utterly irrelevant. Nothing any cyclist does justifies running them over with a two-ton hunk of metal. Nothing. There’s nothing that a cyclist can do that absolves a driver of the responsibility to avoid hitting a cyclist. Sure, riders have done things and will continue to do things that have made striking them unavoidable, but no amount of two-wheeled idiocy frees a motorist from the obligation to try to avoid said idiot—you have to try. Not hitting things is a fundamental responsibility of anyone operating a vehicle and goes to the heart of licensing. All license holders are alleged to understand that you don’t hit things.
No hitting. It’s the same deal as kindergarten, right?
So as we work to convince the world that hitting a cyclist is a “crash” and not an “accident” we must also begin the process of educating the world that just as short skirts don’t cause rape, the manner in which a cyclist rides does not cause cars to hit them.
Our hearts go out to the bereaved. We owe it to all the deceased and injured to educate those who don’t ride.