This past Monday, my best friend was hit by a car while riding his bike. The driver ran a red light roughly five seconds after the light had changed. Witnesses said she was texting. My friend was out training with his racing team. They had stopped and waited for a green light. They were in the clear. The driver was more focused on her phone than the road in front of her.
Somehow, my friend is fine. Nothing worse than some cuts and bruises and, I would imagine, a really terrifying experience to show for it. The cops came and the driver is going to be charged thanks to the witnesses that stayed at the scene. But given some of the precedents set for drivers killing cyclists, I can’t help but feel like she’s going to get a (relatively) small fine and that’ll be it. Maybe she gets her license suspended for a week. Even though she nearly killed someone over a text message.
I wish I was more angry about this. I wish I was more angry at the driver for almost killing my friend. I wish I was angrier at the government for not having harsher punishments for distracted driving. I wish I was outraged that the convenience of drivers is seemingly valued above the lives of everyone else.
But none of it surprises me. The day I started riding a bike as my main form of transportation 15 years ago is when I realized that I was not as important as a car or the driver within. On a bike, I’m a nuisance on the road. An obstruction from making that yellow light. A five-second delay in getting to the meeting you’re 15 minutes late to already.
After hearing about the accident, another friend said to me that there are two kinds of cyclists: those who have been hit by a car and those that will be.
Every time I get on my bike, that thought never really leaves my mind entirely. I’ve come close enough to being hit by a car enough times (both on my bike and as a pedestrian) that I know it will happen. I do everything I can to avoid it. I stop at all red lights and stop signs. I use bright front and rear lights when it starts to get every remotely dark. I wear a helmet. I do all of the hand signals.
None of it will be enough. I will eventually be hit by a car.
Just so we’re clear, I’m banking on me having similar luck to my friend. I don’t have a death wish, I just understand the risks of riding a bike that have been, in large part, enhanced by our society’s love affair with the automobile and now the smartphone. I accept these risks. Something that is very easy for me to say because I have so far managed to avoid them.
A constant refrain from drivers is, “You’re kind of asking for it. Why don’t you just take public transit?” The reply I generally have to that is, “Why can’t you lock your phone in your glove compartment? Why can’t you leave 10 minutes earlier? Why can’t you think of anyone but yourself?”
The answer, I think, is that they don’t have to. They’re in a car.