Monday, June 22, 2009

If I Didn’t See It, It Didn’t Happen

Saturday morning’s ride ended in a bang. Well, more like a bang, a pop, a crack, a squeal and a thud.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s the end of the ride. We have about 2 miles left. About 20 of us are riding down Park Road Extension behind Carolina Place Mall. There is a BJ’s gas station on our right. There is a beige Lincoln MKZ approaching us in the oncoming lane. It merges into the turn lane to enter the gas station. That’s when I found myself screaming before I even knew why.

“CAAAAAAAARRRRR LEEEEEEEEEFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTT!” The driver had turned into our group.

Bill was first in line. He did some fancy riding swerving and hopping the curb to avoid the car. Shane, the guy behind Bill, had his wheels taken out by the front end of the car. His bike is destroyed, but somehow he came away with barely a scratch. Hal, third in the line, hit the front side panel of the car, endo-ed into the windshield, cracking it, slide across the hood and landed in the middle of the road. I was behind Hal and was the first one to reach him. He lay in fetal position breathing heavy in a state of shock until paramedics arrived.

I’ve witnessed several bike accidents in my years of riding. Generally, what I’ve found happens is half the group of riders surrounds the fallen rider to keep him/ her safe from more traffic while assessing the damage and calling 911. The other half of the group surround the car and driver so he/she doesn’t leave the scene (you’d be surprised how often people just try to take off – I’ve witnessed that, too). But this driver, an 80 year old male, did not try to escape. Instead he got right of his car and informed us that he “didn’t even see us.” Of course that set off the cyclists who start arguing, “How the hell did you not see a group of 20 cyclists?” I mean, at that point, we’re a bigger entity than a Ryder Truck.

Pineville Police were on the scene about a minute and a half after the accident. Paramedics and Pineville Volunteer Fire Department arrived a few minutes later. Hal was coherent as he was put on a stretcher and loaded into ambulance. Officers talked to all of us. Shane reported that the driver was looking over his own shoulder; not even looking in the direction of us.

Although there is animosity between cyclists and motorists, I have to believe that MOST motorist really do not want to hurt other people. The driver was visibly shaken. Literally shaking. I felt bad for him, too. He must have realized his mistake. He stood over Hal with a deep look of concern in his eyes. I don’t even recall him walking over to look at the damage to his car. It was just a bad situation for all involved.

Regardless, the accident was still his fault so there was no doubt in my mind that he would be ticketed. I mean, with all those witnesses, how could he not?

Here’s how. That little statement, “I did not see them.” That’s what the driver told the officer. Apparently, in NC, those 5 words keep you from being cited. It seems like a grave injustice for cyclists and pedestrians alike that there’s not a better law to help protect them from blind motorists.
Hal was released later that day with only scrapes and bruises, which is unfathomable to me given what I had seen. But, still, I'm grateful that my fellow cyclists were able to walk away from this one. Too often, that's not the case.


Tamara Fraser said...

No ticket - does that mean that the driver's insurance won't cover Shane's bike and Hal's hospital bills!?!?!?

Jodi Winterton said...

I have since learned that he is liable for all damages and hospital bills - yes, his insurance will cover that. The issue of the ticket is at the officers discretion. In this case, the officer didn't issue a criminal citation because the driver said he didn't see us, in other words, he didn't do it on purpose and so it wasn't criminal activity.

I still think it's crap.