McPherson resident Vangie Bender has been riding bicycles for 40 years.

McPherson resident Vangie Bender has been riding bicycles for 40 years.

She has seen many paved roads, quiet towns and steep hills.

But during the last decade, she has seen in increase in something she doesn't like — inattentive vehicle drivers. Whether that is talking on their cell phone, eating or changing the radio station, Bender knows she has to be aware of cars that meet her on the road.

“I watch people's eyes, and I can tell they're not aware of their surroundings,” she said. “Their driving is compromising. It's just crazy.”

And even if they aren't distracted, Bender says drivers of motor vehicles do not always follow the rules of the road.

“I think it's gotten a little scary,” she said. “There have been close calls.”

In May, a woman was struck and killed by a driver in Salina.

In September, Bender said she was riding about 10 minutes behind another college-age bicyclist when he was struck and killed by a vehicle. It shook her when she realized it could have been her.

“I realize every day that I go out there, that maybe it will be the last. I take precautions but it doesn't work every time,” she said. “It's a wonderful sport. Fear (of injury) can't take away a joy it is to us.”

The cycling veteran realizes, however, that some bicyclists are also at fault for being uneducated. She recently had a Facebook conversation with an adult that was debating cycling road rules with her.

Two rules she has found are the most commonly debated involve riding location and passing rules.

According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, bicycles must drive on the right side of road, just like motor vehicles. They are to be as far right as possible, except for turning and other necessary situations.

In July 2011, a law went into affect that stated motor vehicles must allow three feet between themselves and bicyclists when passing. Although no previous law specifically listed the procedure for passing bicycles, bicycles were to be treated like other road vehicles.

Ron Peters, an avid bicyclist from McPherson, does not approve of the law, which he believes put cyclists in more danger.

Several years ago, he was a part of putting up signs along McPherson County roadways to encourage motor vehicle drivers to “share the road” with bicyclists. Since the law took effect, he has seen signs in other counties that state the specific three-foot distance. This, he said, makes cyclists more of a target.
He gave the example of a semi-truck driver who can't see the right side of the vehicle correctly, and misjudges the distance while passing.

“Somebody hit by a semi that fast is dead in the ditch,” he said.

According to, there were 677 deaths in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2011.

Peters said he plans to talk to legislators about the issue.

“It's a bad, bad law,” he said. “It seriously needs to be changed.”

Mike Terry, assistant chief at the McPherson Police Department, said in 15 years he has never issued a citation for incorrect passing of a bicycle. However, he also thinks the law does not give enough room to safely pass.

“It's a start in the right direction,” he said. “But I don't know if three feet is far enough. You can misjudge a foot easily.”

Terry advises both parties to be careful.

“The motor vehicle operator has to be very careful,” he said. “And the cyclist has to be aware of his surroundings.”

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel