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Friday, April 22, 2005


This happened last week:
A motorist sped through a stop sign in Superior Township Sunday evening, slamming into two bicyclists and killing a teenager from Novi, authorities said.

Washtenaw County Sheriff's Cmdr. Dave Egeler said police are awaiting blood alcohol tests on the 34-year-old Northville man who was driving the car, and charges will be sought. Police are trying to determine the speed of the 2005 Ford Mustang when the crash occurred, but a preliminary estimate was that it was traveling between 70 and 100 mph, Egeler said.

The crash occurred shortly after 8 p.m. at the intersection of Plymouth-Ann Arbor Road and Gotfredson Road in Superior Township. Three bicyclists were pedaling east on the right side of the road when the Mustang, which was southbound on Gotfredson Road, failed to stop at the stop sign at Plymouth-Ann Arbor Road, Egeler said.
Now, I'm willing to bet that the driver of the Mustang was just some idiot who likes to drive too fast. He wasn't out there trying to scare cyclists off the road. But that will certainly be the impact of his crime. Already wary cyclists will be scared into staying off the roads, and parents will tell their kids not to ride their bikes. In recent years, there has been a trend to impose harsher sentences for crimes which have an impact beyond the immediate victim--so called "hate crimes" and "terrorism." (Recently a judge gave a college student who vandalized a bunch of Hummers a stiffer sentence because he was "trying to send a message.") I'm not sure this is right, especially since it is very hard to prove. One guy could beat up another guy because he was black or gay, or maybe just because he didn't like him. A car bomb may be used to indicate your hatred for a country, or maybe just for a driver.

And, like I said, there was probably no intent at all in this case; just extreme carelessness with a deadly weapon (cars kill more people in this country than guns). So taking it all out on the driver, convicting him of murder instead of manslaughter, for example, may not be the way to deal with this (and probably won't be). But somehow there needs to be something done aggressively by the county or state to counteract the negative impact a killing like this has on bicycling. Denial of driving privileges for life might be a start; also road modifications like speed bumps to bring the dangerous weapons under control.

Many countries, especially in Europe, have aggressively pursued policies to make the roads friendly for bicycles. Here in the US it has been mostly the opposite. Not only the roads and laws, but a large percentage of drivers, are hostile to cyclists, and millions of people choose to drive rather than bike and face that hostility. And we're running out of oil, polluting our air, and baking our planet because of it.