That’s all it took to result in an accident ending the life of McPherson College sophomore Paul Ziegler while he was riding his bicycle on Sept. 23, 2012.
If we’re honest, most of us have had a similar few seconds of distraction while driving, with our eyes taken from the road. It’s likely we don’t give these moments a second thought, but it’s time to think again.
Eating while driving, texting or talking on a cell phone, reaching to pick something up from the floorboards, fiddling with a radio or music player, an involved conversation with a passenger — any of these distractions take drivers’ attention away from the road. Even the space of a less than a second can be too long to react to a sudden hazard. As with Ziegler, it can mean the difference between life and death.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16 percent of motor vehicle accident fatalities and one of every five crashes resulting in injury involved distracted driving in 2009 (the most recent year figures were tabulated). That’s 5,474 people killed and 448,000 people injured in the United States for preventable reasons.
Along with reducing or eliminating distractions, there also are steps motorists can take to prevent motor vehicle/bicycle accidents specifically. These include:
• Be consciously aware for bicycles. Bicycles have lower visibility — especially at night — so motorists need to be particularly vigilant for them to prevent accidents. Be sure your headlights are working and properly aligned. Always double-check your blind spots by turning your head before turning or changing lanes. Check behind you before opening your door when parked curbside. Also, check again before pulling out from a curb.
• Treat bicycles like cars, only better. Give a bicycle as much (or more) space and right-of-way as you would a car. Allow them to take a lane of traffic and pass them only as you would another car by changing lanes or passing in the oncoming lane when safe. Give bicyclists extra space when following — they don’t have brake lights. Yield right-of-way to a bicycle as you would to another car.
• Assume bicyclists won’t follow rules of the road. That way, if they do make a mistake, it will not result in an accident. If they ride correctly, it won’t matter. In particular, slow down and be cautious around young cyclists. They are less proficient riders and less likely to know or follow the rules of the road.
When there’s a question of who’s responsible for bicycle safety — cyclists or motorists — the answer is always “both.” If you’re driving in and around McPherson on Oct. 5, watch out for participants in the Pedals for Paul event
Page 2 of 2 - Pedals for Paul begins at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 5 with a free bicycle safety rodeo for kids 9 and younger at Harnly Gardens. Bring your own bicycle.
The Pedals for Paul ride also begins at 9:30 a.m. nearby on the front steps of Melhorn Science Hall, with five, 10 and 20 mile routes planned. Check-in and warm-up begins at 9 a.m. If you can’t make it, log your miles and email it to Anna Ruxlow at email@example.com. There’s no entry fee, but preregistration is required at www.mcpherson.edu/pedalsforpaul and donations are accepted for the Paul Ziegler Memorial Scholarship Fund.