Fatalities rise for bicyclists in Georgia
by SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Last year wasn’t a good one for bicyclists or pedestrians, statistics show.
In Georgia, bicycling-related fatalities were up 28 percent in 2012, and pedestrian fatalities rose from 124 in 2011 to 168 in 2012. Fatalities from vehicles tangling with trains went from three in 2011 to six in 2012.
These numbers were up even though traffic deaths continued to decline overall in the state.
The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and bicycling organizations are hoping 2013 will be a safer one on Georgia’s roads.
There were 18 deaths of bicyclists on Georgia roads in 2012, including a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old. Both children were riding in their own residential neighborhoods — and both made the errors that caused their deaths. The 12-year-old lived in nearby Douglas County. He was going down a hill, ran a stop sign, and smashed into a truck going through the intersection. The 9-year-old, who lived in Waycross, apparently darted in front of a truck, according to the incident report.
Highway safety officials and bicycle safety advocates attribute the increased fatalities to the growing number of cyclists on the road.
“Bicycling will only continue to grow in Georgia, both as a healthy recreational activity and as a sensible, enjoyable means of transportation,” said Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes!.
“To ensure that all of Georgia’s road users can return home to friends and family safely, we must respect each other’s right to our public roads, obey the law, be attentive, and work together to build safe facilities for all.”
A comprehensive law passed in 2011 was intended to make it safer for bicyclists on the roads.
The biggest change was the “safe distance” provision, which requires motorists to leave at least 3 feet of space when passing a bicycle. In most cases, this requires the passing vehicle to cross the center line.
Last year, the Georgia Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy that seeks to “incorporate bicycle, pedestrian, and transit (user and transit vehicle) accommodations into transportation infrastructure projects as a means for improving mobility, access, and safety for the traveling public.”
Though bicyclists are, of course, extremely vulnerable when colliding with a car or truck, the fatalities made up only a fraction of total bicycle collisions with motor vehicles. Of the total 681 crashes, 509 involved injuries, with 545 total injuries. There were 47 hit-and- run crashes in metro-Atlanta alone, with 36 injuries.
Because bicycles are considered vehicles under Georgia law, cyclists are required to obey all traffic laws, such as stopping at stop signs and red lights and signaling to turn.
State law requires cyclists to ride “as close as practicable” to the right side of the road, unless they are avoiding hazards, turning, or traveling at the speed of traffic, or if the lane is too narrow to be safely shared.
Cyclists can ride two abreast, except during special events.
Cyclists riding at night must equip their bikes with a headlight and a rear reflector.
The crashes that led to the 18 fatalities varied. Eleven involved cyclists who were at fault for pulling out in front of traffic, running red lights, or who were riding at night with dark clothing and insufficient lights and reflectors.
One man in Jackson County was riding at night in dark clothing with no lights in his own small neighborhood when he was struck by a truck that was blinded by oncoming traffic.
But several others were cyclists following all the laws who were hit by vehicles nevertheless.
Three cyclists were hit in one collision in McIntosh County on April 26. The three bicyclists, all wearing helmets, were actually riding to the right of the white “fog line” on the roadway when they were struck by a man driving a Dodge Caravan. The driver, who claimed he didn’t see the cyclists, was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide. Two of the cyclists died and the third was seriously injured.
In a similar accident, in Terrell County, three cyclists were struck by a tractor-trailer as they road on the edge of a four-lane, divided highway 30 minutes before sunrise. The men were nearing the end of a trip from Canada to Key West. One was killed and two injured.
Of the 18 dead, 17 were men. The one woman was killed when she hit a truck that was backing out of a driveway.