Driving Cautiously for the Safety of Vulnerable Road Users

We all know how dangerous driving can be. With over 30,000 fatalities on the roadways each year, and last year’s number tragically higher at over 35,000, driving may be the most dangerous activity you do on a daily or weekly basis. However, as dangerous it is behind the wheel or in the passenger seat, it is many orders of magnitude more dangerous for vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. And in fact, thousands of those yearly fatalities are actually vulnerable road users, not those in passenger or commercial delivery vehicles. 4,295 motorcyclists were killed in 2014 alone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Vulnerable road users do not have the luxury of seat belts, roll cages, airbags, or even a thin sheet of safety glass. There is nothing that protects them from the impact of a vehicle or the pavement. And while bicyclists and motorcyclists often wear helmets, pedestrians have no head protection whatsoever. Because of the extreme vulnerability of these road users, drivers must be on extra high alert when they see a pedestrian, motorcyclist, or bicyclist, or if they are driving an an area where vulnerable road users are more prevalent, such as downtown or near a school.

Dangerous Driving Behaviors that Cause Fatalities

Perhaps the most dangerous activity in which a driver can partake is operating their vehicle while intoxicated. Roughly one-third of all traffic fatalities are caused by drunk drivers. Secondly, using a cell phone while the car engine is on is a sure way to become distracted. This includes looking up directions, texting, scrolling through music, and of course answering emails. Even responding to a call takes a driver’s eyes and mind off the road, slowing reaction time and causing unintentional swerving or lane drifting.

How to Pass a Cyclist Safely

The United Kingdom’s Department for Transport recently found that bicyclists were 17 times more likely to die than car occupants for every mile travelled. The road infrastructure conditions and driving behavior here in the U.S. is even more dangerous for bicyclists, which is why making a safe pass is so important. Imagine yourself riding along a narrow shoulder of a winding country road and a large (compared to you) vehicle approaches from behind at three times your speed. How would you prefer to be passed? The answer is likely this: with care and caution. When you come up on a bicyclist or group of bicyclists, the safest and most humane way to pass is to slow down, if you are traveling at more than twice the cyclist’s speed, and to pull over as far into the other lane as safely possible. Or if it is not safe to pass at that time, to slow down and wait until it is safe to do so. In many states, there exists a “three foot law” for motorists overtaking a bicyclist going in the same direction, which requires the motorist to give no less than three feet from the side of their vehicle (including the side mirror) to the outermost part of the bicyclist (usually the shoulder or hip). Many vulnerable road user advocates are pushing for a five foot law, as three feet is not actually enough space in most cases. No such law exists in Missouri. However, Missouri has its own definition of a safe pass, as described by the Missouri Department of Transportation, “The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway…shall leave a safe distance, when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.”

Many motorists do not realize that Missouri state law gives bicyclists, riding solo or riding two abreast (side by side) the right to either an entire lane of traffic or the right hand shoulder of the lane, depending the speed of the bicyclist, the specific circumstances of traffic, and the road conditions. Specifically, the law states that while riding less than the posted speed limit “or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway” all bicyclists “shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.”

Approaching Intersections with a Pedestrian in Mind

The Governor’s Highway Association predicts a 10 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2014 to 2015, which is a larger rise in fatalities than motor vehicle occupant faced within the same time period. Many pedestrian fatalities and injuries are caused by motorists while passing through intersections or while making a left or right turn onto or off of a street. This is one of the most prevalent circumstances in which a collision occurs because a sidewalk obviously does not carry on through an intersection and the pedestrian is forced to cross onto the roadway. While turning off the road you are on or going through in intersection, follow the guidelines below to ensure that you do not cause a pedestrian fatality or injury:

-Ease off the gas when approaching any intersection, and do not speed up when the light turns yellow;

-Follow the posted speed limit at all times, and especially while in city limits and in school zones;

-You may not be going the same direction as the pedestrian, which is why carefully scanning up and down the road for pedestrians is always necessary when making a turn;

-While making a right hand turn, especially if you are currently stopped or were stopped momentarily at a light, always look over your shoulder for pedestrians or bicyclists approaching from behind;

-While turning, keep in mind that the pedestrians parallel to the street you are turning off most likely have the right of way; and

-Keep an eye on all crosswalks as you approach them.

If you were injured in a traffic collision, whether you were a vulnerable road user or not, you have the right to pursue compensation for the damages that were caused to you. Call the Kansas City, Missouri, attorneys of Krause & Kinsman Law Firm today for more information.

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