Opinion

My dad died while cycling. Here's how to be safe.

My life changed forever on July 10, 2013, when my father was tragically hit and killed while riding his bicycle in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He was an avid cyclist of 30 years, taught spinning and cycling safety classes at a local YMCA, and was only one mile from his retirement home when the accident occurred.

I will never forget the call I received at 8:32 am that fateful day from a police officer: “Sir, your father has been involved in a serious cycling accident. He’s being transported to the Grand Strand Regional Hospital in critical condition, and we’re trying to locate the motorist who struck him.”

My father provided me many gifts over the years. He nurtured my interest in cycling, encouraged my professional training and service as a transportation engineer, and spurred my desire to give back to help prevent future accidents. In a tribute to him and National Bike Month in May, I offer the following common sense safety tips to help make the traffic landscape a little safer for cyclists and drivers.

Drivers and cyclists need to obey all traffic laws. In too many cases, thousands of preventable traffic accidents and deaths occur each year because people simply do not obey traffic laws. In the case of my father’s accident, the driver who hit him ran a stop sign and then fled the scene. I have also witnessed cyclists who do not stop for stop signs or traffic signals, who ride on the wrong side of the road (cyclists should ride in the same direction as other traffic), and who weave in and out of slow moving traffic.

When riding, cyclists need to stay alert, be visible, and always wear a helmet. My golden rule is to always be aware of my riding environment and to never assume drivers see me. To this end, cyclists should make it a practice to stay alert to everything happening around them. They should use cycling infrastructure – like bike lanes – when available, wear bright/visible clothing and burn flashing LED head and taillights to increase visibility.

Most importantly, cyclists should always wear a helmet (according to the Bike Helmet Safety Institute, a properly fitted helmet can reduce the risk of head or brain injury by as much as 85 percent).

When driving, motorists need to pay attention to others when operating their vehicles and share the road when they encounter cyclists. Distracted driving has become all too common place these days. Talking on the phone, texting while driving, or just plain not paying attention all are recipes for disaster.

That’s why drivers need to remain alert at all times and when encountering cyclists, they should be patient and share the road. This includes providing proper distance to allow a vehicle to safely maneuver around and pass cyclists, being alert for the cyclists using hand signals to advise of their intended travel actions, and to be mindful of approaching cyclists when pulling into and out of driveways.

We all play an important role in preventing accidents and all have a shared goal of returning home each day to spend time with our loved ones, family, and friends. Please stay safe when traveling and as my father would say, “Enjoy the ride!”

Jim Westmoreland recently retired as city manager for the city of Greensboro. He is a former deputy secretary of transit for the N.C. Department of Transportation and is a registered professional engineer.
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