On May 24, 2013, the Lansing State Journal had an article entitled Bicycle Safety. The story included a number of encouraging facts including the fact that the League of American Bicyclists ranked Michigan as the 12th most bike-friendly state and quoted a Lansing police officer Robert Merritt, who noted that bicycles are welcome on the roads, are “supposed to be on the road” and are “supposed to be treated like a car.” However, the article also concluded that with more bicycles on Michigan roads, there has been an increase in accidents.
- In 2011, there were 1,895 people involved in bicycle-car accidents.
- Twenty-four of the people involved in bicycle-motor vehicle accidents, in the same year, were fatally injured.
The article also reported that there have been five accidents between bicyclists and cars in Lansing this year. However, the statistic that was the most striking to us was the fact that two of these accidents involved hit-and-run drivers. In fact, our office represents a cyclist who was injured in a hit-and-run bicycle-truck accident in East Lansing, this year, and was not included in the story. It is amazing to think that in forty percent of the accidents involving a bicycle and a car in Lansing, the motorist left the scene before police arrived. According to most sources, approximately 10 to 11 percent of automobile accidents across the country involve a hit-and-run driver. This includes motor vehicle accidents involving other automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians.
One has to wonder why there is such a dramatically higher rate of hit-and-run accidents involving bicycles. The answer may be in the attitudes of some motorists towards cyclists, which was put on striking display in a noteworthy news story from England, earlier last week. Emma Way, a motorist in Norwich, England recently hit a bicyclist with her car and later sent out a tweet which read, “I knocked a cyclist off his bike. I have right of way, he doesn’t even pay road tax.” Fortunately, a citizen notified the Norwich police of the tweet and Emma Way was promptly arrested.
We have seen many motorists on Michigan’s roads display a similar attitude towards bicyclists, often swerving close to them and screaming “get of the f*&$%* road” and “get off the road, you don’t pay taxes.” The belief that bicyclists don’t pay taxes and that, as a result of this mistaken belief, shouldn’t be allowed to use the roads is hard to comprehend. In reality, most cyclists pay income taxes (statistics suggest significantly more than average), property taxes, and own cars (paying all taxes that go along with owning a car including sales and gas taxes). More importantly, as noted by Officer Merritt and Michigan Compiled Laws 257.657, cyclists have the same right to use the roads as motorists. In the end, it is really about showing respect for everyone on the road, whether they are in a car, on a bicycle, on a motorcycle, walking, or running. Hopefully, as the number of bicyclists grows, motorists will become more aware of the rights of bicyclists and demand they be treated with respect.