The death of a Birmingham cyclist this past weekend in a collision with a pickup truck highlights the issue of bike safety in our community. Including this most recent death, four cyclists have been killed in bicycle accidents with automobiles in Alabama so far this year, according to AL.com.
The League of American Bicyclists ranks Alabama as the least friendly state for cyclists, owing to low ridership, poor biking infrastructure, a lack of local government support, and a higher likelihood of injury or death compared to other states.
1 killed and 2 injured in Blount County pickup collision with cyclists
On August 29, William Robertson, 57, was struck and killed by a pickup truck while cycling on Alabama 75, about four miles south of Oneonta. Mr. Robertson was a prominent Birmingham businessman and contractor, as well as an avid cyclist.
Robertson has been noted for his deep sense of service to his community. In a statement, Birmingham Mayor William Bell said, “We were deeply saddened on hearing of the tragic and sudden loss of Mr. William Robertson. Mr. Robertson was not only an African American businessman but also a dear friend. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his wife and family on their devastating loss.”
Two other Birmingham-area cyclists – Demetrius White, 52, and Tracey White, 52 – were also injured in the crash. They were transported to UAB hospital, where both were hospitalized with serious injuries. According to Demetrius White, they were cycling single file on the edge of the highway when they were struck without warning. There was no other traffic in the vicinity.
State troopers identify 33-year-old Nathan Oliver Brown of Theodore as the driver of the pickup that struck the cyclists.
A grand jury will determine whether criminal charges will be filed against Brown, pending the findings of the Blount County District Attorney and the traffic investigator.
Memorial ride planned for departed cyclist
Robertson and the Whites were members of a local group called Black People Run Bike and Swim. Robertson was also the founder of Magic City Cyclers.
To honor Mr. Robertson’s memory as well as Mr. and Mrs. White, Magic City Cyclers and Black People Run Bike and Swim will lead a bicycle ride Monday, September 7, leaving from Railroad Park at 9:00 am.
“We want as many cyclists as possible to come out and remember William and help create safer streets in Birmingham,” says Patrick Packer, a co-founder of Black People Run Bike and Swim. “Williams would want us to cycle. He would want us to get back on the road and enjoy the road.”
The ride should be relatively easy and it will cover one of Robertson’s favorite routes.
Cyclists of all ages and ability are invited to attend.
What is the law on bicycles?
The right of cyclists to share the road with cars has sparked intense debate, much of it being carried out online. Contrary to what you might see on the comments section of AL.com, cycling is not a crime.
The Alabama Legislature has enacted laws giving cyclists the right to ride their bikes on Alabama’s roads. A link to the Alabama Code on bicycles can be found here.
Here’s a quick summary of some important points covered in the code:
- Cyclists have the same rights and are subject to the same laws as drivers of automobiles
- Cyclists should ride as near to the side of the roadway as practicable
- With the exception of bike lanes and paths, cyclists are not permitted to ride more than two abreast when using a roadway
- Cyclists should use bike lanes where provided
- For nighttime use, bikes need to be equipped with a front white light and a rear red reflector or preferably, a red light
- Cyclists are not permitted to carry an article or package that prevents them from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars
- There should be only as many riders on a bicycle as there are seats (one seat, one rider). Toddlers and children (under 40 pounds or less than 40 inches tall) riding as passengers must be properly seated and secured in a child restraint seat.
- Those under age 16 must wear a helmet at all times
With the exception of interstates and other restricted access roads, a bicycle has the same right to the road as a car.
Be safe and respect each other’s rights on the road
Cycling offers many health benefits, but also the risk of injury and, in unfortunate cases like Mr. Robertson’s, sometimes even death.
The Alabama Department of Public Safety offers these pointers on bicycle safety. Some of these points are covered in the Alabama Code:
- Always wear a bike helmet. 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, but only 20 to 25 percent of all cyclists wear a helmet. Alabama state law requires those age 16 or younger to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle; however, riders of all ages should wear one. Your helmet should fit snugly with the chinstrap secured.
- Be visible. Bright clothing, reflective gear, and flashing LEDs on your bike – even during daytime riding – help catch the attention of distracted motorists. If you must ride at night, reflective gear and LEDs are an absolute necessity.
- Obey traffic laws. If you are cycling on the road, you are legally required to stop at all stop signs and red lights just as cars do. Travel in the direction of traffic: never bike against traffic. Bike on the right side of the road. You should also stay about three feet to the left of the white line on the side of the road – riding on the line encourages cars to attempt to squeeze past you despite oncoming traffic in the other lane. Cross at intersections, being sure to look for vehicles in all directions. At extra busy intersections it may be a good idea to dismount and use the crosswalk.
- Stay alert. Pay attention for things in your path like potholes and cracks, and always check for traffic. Also, use extra caution in wet conditions.
- Check your brakes. Control your speed using your brakes, applying rear brakes slightly before front brakes. Apply brakes earlier in wet conditions.
Cycling in groups is another good practice, as it improves visibility and deters aggressive drivers. Also, carry a cell phone when you bike.
Common sense goes a long way in bike safety – both for cyclists and drivers. We know as drivers it can be frustrating to get stuck behind cyclists: “What is this guy doing?!” However, bicycles have an equal right to the road. Cyclists also need to do their part by obeying traffic laws and using bike lanes when available.
A good rule of thumb for motorists is to treat cyclists as you do farm tractors or slow drivers and pass in the left lane when safe to do so.
Just remember as cyclists and motorists, if you get in a crash one of you has a much higher chance of not getting home in one piece – and it isn’t the person in the car.
Share the road and be safe.
Wear a bike helmet
Cory Watson Cares is the charitable arm of Cory Watson Attorneys. If you or a family member needs a bicycle helmet and cannot afford one, Cory Watson Cares provides free bicycle helmets to children and adults. Call 1-877-686-8992 and set up an appointment to get a helmet!