The morning of June 30, 2004, dawned beautiful and clear. As he did every day, Jason Bultman was riding his bike to work around 7:30 a.m.
Then he was hurled into every cyclist's nightmare.
A distracted motorist driving an SUV while talking on his cell phone collided with Bultman, causing multiple injuries, including a shattered ankle. Now, two years later, Bultman has had his fourth surgery to repair the damaged ankle and has been crippled since.
However, he still rides to work every day.
"I don't really have a better option. I'm not going to get into a car, because I hate cars; buses are too slow, and TRAX doesn't go where I need to go. Biking is the most efficient mode of transportation," he said. "Biking is much more enjoyable than sitting in a box, especially when it's a great day outside, or even when it's not a great day outside. . . . Biking is an outlet to exert and be free."With summer in full swing, many bicyclists, such as Bultman, will be enjoying the great outdoors on the seat of a bicycle, whether they are riding to work or recreating. However, with greater numbers of cyclists, concerns regarding bicycle safety arise.
Bicycling safety woes
Statistics from the Utah Department of Health show each year approximately 870 Utah cyclists are hurt and six are killed in crashes with motor vehicles.
Statistics also reveal that from 1995-2004, Utah's bicyclist death rate was 11th highest in the nation. Sixty-three cyclists were killed during that time; 8,717 were hit by motor vehicles; 3,748 victims were children ages 5-14, and medical treatment for bike-crash injuries totaled $2.9 million. These numbers don't include cyclists who get hit but figure their injuries are not bad enough to report.
Cyndi Bemis, UDOH education coordinator, said that part of the problem stems from motorists' attitudes toward cyclists.
"Motorists don't respect bicyclists, who have every right to be on the road," she said.
One of the major areas of concern seems to be intersections, says Brian Price, a bicycle advocate.
"Here in the city we have quite a number of intersections, and it seems like that's where a lot of run-ins or runovers happen," he said. "Motorists need to be aware that cyclists do have the right to the road, and they need to be on the lookout for them when making a right or left turn, opening their doors when they're parked, backing into parking spaces, etc. We (cyclists) need to make sure that motorists know that we're out there and can see us."
Price said many times motorists get the mistaken impression that cyclists should be restricted to a certain area of the road, or bike lanes, if available, when they do have a right to the entire street, especially if there is debris or unsafe roadway conditions on the right side of the road.
However, motorists are only half the issue. Cyclists also create unsafe conditions. Dan Bergunthal, a Salt Lake City transportation engineer, said some of the major biking safety concerns stem from the commuting type of bikers who ride to work but don't obey traffic laws.
"(These riders are) a danger to themselves and to anyone who happens to be driving on the street," he said. "Whenever (bicyclists) come to an intersection, (they) need to be careful to look out for turning vehicles, because cars aren't looking for them and don't see them."
Part of the problem is that drivers don't know proper bike protocol.
"From a car point of view, really, drivers are uneducated, and they don't understand how to treat bicyclists," Bultman said.
Bemis says many cyclists don't understand that they are supposed to act like motorists. By law, bikes are the same as motor vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities, which includes obeying traffic laws.Lt. Dale Brophy of West Valley City police, said the most common laws motorists break in regard to biking safety include speeding, improper passing and failure to yield. Cyclists disregard traffic devices such as stop signs and traffic lights.
VIPP and BSEAs
The key to making roadways safer for bicyclists lies in educating the public about bike safety protocols and more strictly enforcing biking laws. The UDOH and Utah Department of Public Safety received a National Highway Traffic Safety Grant in 2005 to help do that.
This month, for the second year in a row, officers in the West Valley City and Draper police departments hit the streets with Bicycle Safety Enforcement Actions looking for motorists and cyclists who break biking laws. Last year, officers issued 627 warnings and citations for violations.
The BSEAs are part of the UDOH Violence and Injury Prevention Program that looks at the various ways Utahns are injured every year, which includes everything from falls by the elderly to suicides to homicides to domestic violence. The purpose of BSEAs is to make the road safer for everyone.
"We're always interested in any way to help our citizens and make them safer," Brophy said.
The way BSEAs work is that undercover "decoy" policemen ride their bikes along some of the busiest traffic corridors while fellow officers watch for drivers who are speeding, crowding cyclists off the edge of the road and failing to yield at stop signs and red lights. Citations and VIPP information packets are given to violators."Biking safety is always an issue," Brophy said. "With VIPP, it promotes safety, using helmets (and) traffic law safety."
Education for motorists and cyclists
The Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective is educating cyclists with its new Bicycle Education Program. Starting this month, the collective began offering their Road 1 course geared for beginning to intermediate bicyclists to help them learn about bicycle selection, maintenance, traffic skills, group-riding skills and more. The nine-hour course teaches all aspects of safe cycling and includes instruction both in the classroom and on the seat of a bicycle.
In the fall, the collective hopes to offer additional courses, such as the Kids I course for parents, Kids II for kids and Safe Routes to School.
Bultman has three short-term goals for what he hopes to accomplish: increasing attendance at the courses, increasing helmet use and getting new programs started in other communities or schools. The long-term goals are to decrease the number of accidents and injuries and increase the number of bicyclists using the road.
"I want to do these classes because people don't know how to be safe," he said. "I see people doing dangerous things every day. I see people riding against traffic, riding fast on the sidewalk. I see people running through red lights. There's a lot of room for improvement out there."
The classes are sponsored by the Utah Department of Transportation. The collective is searching for schools to partner with to offer the classes. All instructors are certified by the League of American Bicyclists.
"We're hoping to reach any and every bicyclist out there. These classes are very helpful in teaching people how to be safe," Bultman said.
To find out more information about the Bicycle Education Program or register for classes, call the Community Bike Shop at 328-2453 or visit the collective's Web site at www.slcbikecollective.org.
Bemis said it's vital for parents to teach young children how to ride their bikes safely. However, it's also crucial to teach teens learning how to drive using proper biking protocol.
"Teenagers are involved in a disproportionate number of bicycle-related accidents," she said. "We need to work with young drivers and teach them to watch out for bicyclists. They are a significant contributor to crashes in Utah."
The UDOH recently completed a new 12-minute video to distribute to driver's education classes on the subject. Although biking safety is included in current driver's education books, it is up to the instructor whether it is emphasized.
"One of the big reasons we did this video is because statistics indicate young drivers are involved in more than their fair share of crashes . . . with bicyclists," said Theron Jeppson, UDOH pedestrian/bicycle safety coordinator. "We can start to change the attitude motorists may develop so they can become more respectful and understand that bicyclists have the right to the road."Comment on this story
Bultman said it's key to teach motorists to appreciate cyclists and the fact that they help decrease the amount of traffic on the road.
Price says it's important to remember that cycling is enjoyable and less expensive than driving a car.
"We want to educate the motorists on being courteous, because if we were in cars, we would only be contributing to the congestion," he said.
Price says it's important to remember that cycling is enjoyable and less expensive than driving a car."I would suggest a bicycle is a great alternative to that. It's fun, healthy and environmentally conscious," he said. "I wouldn't advocate for it if it wasn't that good good for you (and) good for the community."