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Michigan Must Pass Laws to Protect Cyclists

After two years of a dramatic increase of bicyclists killed by car crashes in Michigan, there is a clear connection between these deaths and the lack of laws to protect cyclists.

There seems to be a disconnect in Michigan when it comes to identifying public safety issues and implementing positive changes for bicyclists.

At the start of 2016, Michigan had a strikingly obvious problem with bicycle safety looking back on the previous year. In 2015, 33 people were killed by motor vehicles while riding a bicycle in Michigan. This was a sharp 57 per cent increase from 2014. In our opinion, it seemed like there was clearly a connection between the lack of laws to protect cyclists in Michigan and the fact that so many people lost their lives lawfully riding bicycles on Michigan roads in 2015. In 2015, Michigan was one of only seven states without a law requiring a safe passing distance between automobiles and bicycles.

For years, the number one legislative priority for the League of Michigan Bicyclists and other advocacy groups has been a safe passing law. In the years up to 2015, there was very little interest in the Michigan Legislature to pass a safe passing law. While those of us that are dedicated to cycling rights mourned the loss of 33 cyclists; no, 33 humans, we hoped that something good would come from these losses of life and that Michigan would become a safer place for cyclists. Yet, to our surprise, there was not a measurable increase in the interest of the Michigan Legislature to make a difference and pass any type of legislation for the benefit of those that ride bikes in Michigan, at the start of 2016.

It is possible the Legislature’s failure to act was due to the fact that at the beginning of this year the dramatic increase in Michigan cycling deaths seemed like a horrible deviation rather than a trend. There were few reported bicycle/auto collisions during the first five months of the year. However, on June 7, 2016, tragedy struck in Kalamazoo, when the driver of a pickup truck struck a group of cyclists, killing five and seriously injuring four. The crash seemed to raise awareness of the rights of bicycles to utilize Michigan’s roads, the need to look for bikes, and the obligation of motorists to drive in a manner that is not only safe for other motorists, but all roadway users, including cyclists.

However, that didn’t seem to make a difference, and fatal bicycle/automobile crashes continued at an alarming rate in Michigan. There were at least 20 deaths in the last seven months of 2016. They included:

6/7/16 – Five cyclists (Fred “Tony” Nelson, Larry Paulik, Debbie Bradley, Suzanne Sipple, and Melissa Ann Fevig-Hughes) were killed and four cyclists injured when their group ride is struck from behind by a truck driven by a man charged with numerous crimes including operating a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance.

6/11/16 – A cyclists was struck and killed at an intersection while participating in an organized ride in Eaton County

6/24/16 – A cyclist was killed by a hit-and-run driver in northwest Detroit

6/27/16 – Another Detroit cyclist was killed by a hit-and-run vehicle

7/7/16 – A 60-year old cyclists was run over and killed by a car in Macomb Township

7/26/16 – Eric Snider, a former elite master’s racer, was struck from behind and killed while commuting to work, in Clinton County

8/7/16 – Tracy Butler, was killed by a car when she was riding on the shoulder of US-31 and was struck from behind by a 66-year old who was reportedly under the influence of prescription medication, in Emmet County

8/17/16 – Charles Driggers, a 66-year old accomplished triathlete was killed while training for the Ironman Triathlon. He was struck from behind by a hit-and-run driver, who was later found, arrested, and charged

8/26/16 – World champion triathlete, Karen McKeachie, was killed by a pickup truck that crossed the center line and struck her head-on while attempting to pass a car on a two-lane road in Washtenaw County

10/3/16 – a 54 year old cyclist, was killed in a hit-and-run SUV/bicycle crash in Hazel Park

10/7/16 – Two cyclists, Deborah Patterson and Mary Massengill, were killed by a 76 year old driver who crossed the fog line and struck them from behind in Jackson County

10/24/16 – A 19 year old cyclist, Curtis Yerrick, was killed when hit by a passing vehicle, driven by a 22-year old in Lenawee County

11/3/16 – 17 year old cyclist died when hit by a city bus in Kalamazoo

11/3/16 – John Pastunink was killed when hit by car in Ottawa County

11/5/16 – Kevin Clay Fletcher was killed by hit-and-run driver in Macomb Twp

Following the June 7, 2016 tragedy in Kalamazoo, Senator Margaret  O’Brien introduced a bill that would require motorists to pass cyclists at a distance of at least five feet and an additional bill that required a minimum number of hours on bicycle (and motorcycle) awareness and safety in all drivers education classes. The legislation unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and passed in the full Senate with overwhelming support. Yet, similar legislation was never given a vote in the Michigan House and therefore, the legislation expired at the end of the 2015-2016 legislative session.

While Michigan failed to pass laws to protect cyclists, its neighbor, Ohio, did pass a safe passing law. As a result, Michigan is now one of only six states without a safe passing law.

The lack of action by state politicians to act has motivated local governments to take matters into their own hands.  In 2015, the City of Grand Rapids passed a five foot passing ordinance. Following the Kalamazoo tragedy, numerous cities in Southwest Michigan passed similar bicycle safety laws, including Kalamazoo, Portage, and Battle Creek. Most recently, Ann Arbor adopted a five foot passing ordinance. However there is no question a uniform statewide safe passing law and other laws are required to improve the safety of Michigan cyclists.

What We Can Do

In 2017, cycling advocates, cyclists, friends and family members of cyclists, must work together to let their state and local politicians know that continuing to ignore the deaths of Michigan cyclists is not something we can tolerate any more. We must demand action and in our opinion, it is best accomplished if we work together through one central advocacy group. The League of Michigan Bicyclists is the one organization that has taken the lead on this issue and will continue to be the organization with the ability to lead cyclists toward positive change. Check www.lmb.org for updates and to learn what you can do to help. Better yet, become a member of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, attend Lucinda Means Advocacy Day in Lansing on May 24, 2017, and consider making a financial contribution to the League of Michigan Bicyclists.

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