Bikes aren’t hard to see if drivers pay attention

When my father had his heart attack, one of the last things he said was that if he didn’t make it, he wanted me to have his car.

He didn’t.

So about a week later, I found myself driving back home from Colorado in a 1983 Olds Delta 88. Not exactly my kind of car; but when your Dad’s dying wish is for you to have something, you take it. And you treasure it.

Whenever I got behind the wheel, I felt a little closer to him, and that awful pain eased up just a bit. Until finally after a few years, I was able to let the sadness, and the car, go.

Maybe my old man knew what he was doing after all.

It was huge car, seemingly the size of a small tuna boat, with a curb weight of over three-and-a-half tons. And with its baby blue paint job and white vinyl top, it was kind of hard to miss.

Yet somehow, the woman who rear-ended it while I was stopped at a red light did just that, saying she just didn’t see my car sitting directly in front of her, despite two working brake lights. Or at least, they were working before she hit me.

So how can we expect drivers to see something nearly 20 times smaller?

Like a cyclist, for instance.

Oddly, though, I never seem to have any trouble spotting riders on the road, whether I’m on my bike or behind the wheel.

Yet drivers are constantly told to watch carefully for bikes and pedestrians, because we’re so hard to see. And frankly, I’m getting pretty fed up with it.

Because the simple fact is, bikes aren’t hard to see. In fact, we’re everywhere. You just have to look.

All drivers have to do is stay sober, put down their phones, stop texting or fixing their makeup. And pay attention to the road in front of them as if their life — or someone else’s — depends on it.

Because it does.

We get that. As bicyclists, we know that we have to pay attention to every person and vehicle on the road, and it’s long past time that we started holding drivers to that same standard.

Drivers must be held accountable for failure to see something or someone directly in front of them. Or failing to use their mirrors or check their blind spots to see riders off to the side or behind them.

A reader recently emailed a story of barely avoiding a collision as he rode in the bike lane on Venice, when the driver of a pickup nearly turned into him without bothering to check his mirrors before suddenly lurching to the right.

The part that really bothers me is, why is the refrain “I didn’t see you” so easily accepted as a legitimate excuse, not only by the drivers involved, but by the cops and other outsiders.  The subtext of this statement is, “I didn’t bother looking, you are just some person on a bike, and I really don’t owe you anything.”  Would these following excuses fly? “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”  “I didn’t realize the four cocktails made me too drunk to drive.”  All of these indicate a lack of any responsibility on the part of the person making the excuse.   That’s all they are, excuses.  Being a driver and saying “I didn’t see you” means you didn’t do what you should have done, which is to look, to pay attention.  I was driving down the freeway the other day and was about to change lanes into another car because, although I checked my mirrors, I didn’t check my blind spot.  If I had hit the car, would “I didn’t see you” work to absolve me of any fault?  Probably not.

This morning, if this guy driving the truck would have glanced in his big truck mirrors, he would have seen me coming down the bike bath for hundreds of feet behind him, easily.  You will never see a thing when you aren’t looking.  It’s a very simple request, always be looking, with eyes open for all possibilities.

The Brits call it SMIDSY — Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You. We need to start calling it what it is.

An admission of guilt.

And stop telling drivers that bikes are hard to see, because we’re not.

They just have to care enough to look.

………

Flying Pigeon looks forward to next weekend’s Streetsblog fundraising ride. Neon Tommy offers a great look at the Bicycle Kitchen. LAist looks at the new Fountain Ave sharrows, while Damien Newton offers a great summation of the celebration and controversy. KPCC says it’s time for Critical Mass riders to Harden The F*** Up, ‘cause things could have been a lot worse. Streetsblog looks at Saturday’s Bike and Pedestrian Workshop in Culver City. Taking a M*A*S*H ride through the sets at Malibu Creek State Park. A San Diego pedestrian suffers a fractured skull when she’s struck by a hit-and-run bicyclist. Why Modesto should not be part of next year’s Tour of California. The RAAM riders contend with wicked weather through the West. The sky’s the limit for a 14-year old Arizona bike racer. Tucson Bike Lawyer discovers the joys of a separated bike path, while his Chicago counterpart looks at the joys and risks of alleycat racing. Should police crack down on illegal cyclist behavior or focus on the big machines that can kill people? Slow riding on separated bikeways means sucking in less smog. Michigan may follow California’s lead and ban texting while biking. Pondering empathy for everyone on the road. Slovenian rider Janez Brajkovic breaks through to win the Dauphine for Lance’s Team Radioshack. A British rider is killed during a time trail when he’s struck from behind by a car. A Paralympian’s perspective on riding the length of Great Britain. English soccer fans ride 8,000 miles to support the Three Lions in the World Cup; that’s a long way to go to watch a draw, not that I’m rubbing it in or anything. Irish riders may get numbered license plates even though the law doesn’t require it. Ottawa businesses say parking is preferable to bike lanes. A Canadian cyclist says bike paths are for bikes, period; I dare him to say that on the beachfront bike path through Santa Monica. Arabs, Jews and Bedouins bike for peace in the Mid East. Maybe you should be snacking on cherries after your next ride.

Finally, three Florida cyclists are injured when a driver swerves into a group of riders, then throws a beer out his window. There are no words that even begin to address the sheer needless stupidity.

Seriously.

13 comments

  1. Zeke says:

    Sadly, even when they “see you” they often don’t really see you. Yesterday on my commute home, I was riding on the main thoroughfare through a local town when I noted a large 4 full door pickup with passengers come to a stop at a side street. I made eye contact with the passenger in the front seat and the driver was looking in my direction. I maintained my line and speed (approx 20 mph)until I couldn’t… The guy pulled out right in front of me with the passenger looking at me and saying something to the driver. They came close enough that I could have touched the side of the truck if I weren’t trying to avoid them. I understood better when I saw their out-of-state tag from the country’s most dangerous state for cyclists…

  2. Jim Lyle says:

    Of course, you didn’t see me! If you had seen me and then proceeded to run me off the road, it would have been assault!

    Good blog. I believe (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that saying, “I’m sorry” after a traffic accident used to be used in court as an admission of guilt. (I think that was recently changed in CA and no longer applies.) Maybe we need to have SMIDSY accepted by the courts as an admission of failure to keep a proper watch and proof of liability.

  3. [...] Also from Across the Pond, What is SMIDSY (Biking in L.A.) [...]

  4. Michael says:

    Good post today. ‘SMIDSY’, I never knew our in-laws across the waves had an acronym for it. Too many people become lazy and complacent when faced with repetitive, routine tasks, especially when these tasks take place day after day for years on end. They get lulled into a false sense of security, and that is when problems occur, whether it be at work, play, or on the road. Driving is a full time responsibility, where lapses, as we see all too often, can have serious consequences.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by VA Bicycling Fed., LACM and Jamie Orchard-Hays, Santa Monica Dude. Santa Monica Dude said: Bikes aren’t hard to see if drivers pay attention: When my father had his heart attack, one of the last things he … http://bit.ly/aAWJJz [...]

  6. Michael says:

    By the way, the bike for peace in the Middle East link brings up the Irish license plate story.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks, Michael. I’ve fixed the link; I seem to do that every few days.

      And you’re doing a great job with your blog. Nice to get a perspective from the far east.

  7. The TricksterNZ says:

    Yeah, I still want to see that LA Times article you told me about but had the wrong link to :P

    Btw… fricking YES! Drew with Slovakia :D It was streaky, but a draw is a draw :D

    As you can tell we have very low expecatations here.

    Then again maybe we can produce another Wynton Rufer. That man was by far the best player we’ve ever produced. So good that he was included in the World 11 or whatever its called on the FIFA World Cup 2010 game. :D

    • bikinginla says:

      I think this is the one you wanted to see, no? But don’t blame the Times — they have much higher standards.

      You blew my surprise, though. I was going to give you a shout out in the morning — I watched today’s game cheering for the All Whites to pull it out. And you don’t have to talk to me about the benefits of a draw.

      FYI, I’m just like you, England is my number two, as well. I’ll be wearing my Rooney t-shirt any time they’re not playing the Yanks.

      • The TricksterNZ says:

        Nah, the one about how conservative America has moved drastically further to the right in the last 10 years or so.

        I was sitting there the whole time going “we don’t even look like scoring”, then Winston Reid scored and I think I was jumping around my lounge by myself for a good 10 minutes shouting F**KING YES! F**KING YES! My flatmate went down to the pub to watch it – game finished at 1:30am, he didn’t get back until 4.

        Can still give your shoutout though ;)

        Speaking of upsets – how the hell did the Spanish lose to the Swiss. That would be almost like the Italians losing to us (fingers and toes crossed)

        • bikinginla says:

          Oh that one… try this. It’s funny, I campaigned for Reagan in 1980 and used to consider myself a conservative. Now I’d call myself a moderate and usually vote Democratic. It’s not that my opinions have changed, just that the political landscape has shifted under my feet.

  8. MellowVelo says:

    Good post. “I didn’t see you” is a lame excuse for any kind of accident.

    We’re not hard to see if the driver isn’t on a cell phone, or texting, or eating, or putting on makeup, or reaching into the back seat to grab an item or a small child. A lot of it has nothing to do with a cyclist being hard to see; it’s that the drivers just aren’t being good drivers, which is a danger to everyone – vehicle, cyclist and pedestrian alike.

    I work really hard to make myself visible. I wear bright colors if I’m riding in high-traffic areas. When I’m coming up to a turn or an intersection or a place where people are flying off a highway, I sit up, signal well in advance of a turn and keep my arm out for a long time so I’m hard to miss. I make eye contact whenever possible and wave at passing cars who took a few extra seconds to not hit me. A lot of people wave back, often looking surprised that I took the time to thank them.

    Yeah, it can be annoying if you’re training, but I’d rather not get smacked by a car, especially where I live. There aren’t many cyclists on the road so drivers aren’t used to seeing us.

    But even cycling safely, I can only do so much…

    • bikinginla says:

      I know what you mean. As much as I like the retro style dark colored jerseys, I stick with fire engine colors — red, yellow and white to maximize my visibility. And I found myself riding with another guy last night who points and waves at drivers just like I do; I imagine we must have looked like a couple of wannabe bike cops trying to direct traffic. But you’re right, at some point you have to let go and trust the other people on the road to not want to hit you as much as you don’t want to get hit.

      Good luck with your move to the Front Range. I’ll look forward to reading all about it, though I may be jealous as heck.

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