In early September, I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle along Dixie Drive. The accident happened when a distracted driver drifted across the shoulder and smacked into the back wheel of my bike. The bike was badly damaged, and I had several injuries, but fortunately I avoided serious injury as I saw the car veer to the right in the rear view mirror I wear on my glasses. That look in my mirror caused me to quickly move to the right off the road to try to avoid getting hit, but the second or so I had to get fully away was not enough.
Back riding for a couple of weeks now, albeit with a bit more trepidation than before, I have been watching vehicles closer than ever, especially when they pass me. I am writing to talk about a troubling pattern that I continue to see after years of riding the roads here in St. George.
The driver who hit me was distracted. I will not address that except to say it is becoming a plague, which should concern all drivers and cyclists. The problem I write about is that a majority of motorists continue to drive closer to the shoulder, and therefore to cyclists, than they should.
Utah law states that vehicles cannot be within three feet of a bicycle. I believe that too many drivers interpret that law to mean that they need to stay only three feet away. As a person who has, to date, between 50,000 and 100,000 miles under his tires, let me state unequivocally — that is a minimum distance.
While I understand and support the reason for the three-foot law, I can tell you that it is generally not enough for cyclists, especially at speeds above 30 mph. Stand three feet from a vehicle going faster than that to understand why. Now think about riding a bicycle three feet from that same vehicle while trying to ride straight within a narrow shoulder and at the same time looking to avoid cracks in the road, sand, rocks, holes, glass, and the myriad other hazards cyclists regularly encounter, but cars only occasionally need to worry about. I encourage all drivers to think about this, both for their safety, and that of the cyclists they pass.
Remember also that while you may be in control of your vehicle, you cannot control what a cyclist does. This is why the more space you can give a cyclist when you pass, the less chance there is of you hitting them if, for some reason, they lose control or need to temporarily move out of the shoulder and into the lane. In my accident, I was in control and the driver was not. Obviously, in these types of cases, the cyclist always loses. It is therefore critical for drivers to always maintain control and give cyclists as much space as possible as motor vehicles generally move much faster, have more space on the road, are far less vulnerable than bicycles, have fewer road hazards to negotiate, and are bigger and more dangerous.
For many reasons related to how both drivers and cyclists negotiate the roads in St. George, I consider this to be perhaps the most dangerous place I have ever ridden my bicycle. The good news is you can help change this. Following are probably the most important ways:
—If you are in the right-hand lane of a four-lane highway and see a cyclist on the shoulder that you will pass, before you do, first check to see if you can move to the left hand lane, or at least safely move farther left in the lane you are in.
—Before you pass a cyclist on a two-lane road, first check to see if you can safely move farther left in your lane.
—If you are, for whatever reason, unable to give a cyclist extra room when passing, are traveling above 30 mph, and there is little or no shoulder for the cyclist to ride on, slow down.
Please consider and follow this three-part request (“plea” is a better word) for how you can share the road more safely for both you and the cyclists you encounter. Everyone will benefit and our community will be safer. Thank you.
Cyclist, motorist, and concerned citizen