The number of cyclists and pedestrians injured in accidents involving collision with cars in Tucson is too high. City ordinances have been issued that require cars drivers to keep a safe distance between themselves and bikers, but all too often, drivers ignore these rules. Though bicycle lanes are clearly marked, automobilists forget to check their side mirrors before making a right turn, and it is usually cyclists and pedestrians who save their own lives by staying alert, being quick on the brakes and backing to the curb.
This major problem is not specific to Tucson: bicycles are small objects and they tend to go unnoticed in colorful urban jungles. Large cities like New York and Paris have stepped up and created dedicated sideways with shoulders that cars can’t override in order to prevent these two different types of traffic to collide. The issue could be probably traced back to two different problems: (a) visibility and awareness, and (b) distracted driving.
In regards to (a), a clearer separation of lanes of traffic and a much stronger emphasis on traffic awareness in driver education programs should reduce the number of accidents involving injuries or fatalities. Initiatives to reengineer urban roadways in large cities have been successful in enabling bicycle traffic to develop without increasing the number of accidents. In view of the cost burden and the traffic disturbances involved, these programs require a long-term political will at the highest levels (city, county and State) to happen.
Traffic awareness education is a State and federal prerogative. In European countries, drivers are forced to take extensive driver courses to get their license. These courses involve both classroom work with audiovisual tools and situational awareness training and tests, and behind-the-wheel training with a mandatory number of instructor-led hours of driving. During these practice sessions, instructors relentlessly correct student drivers on their level of alertness and situational awareness. Driving school is not a joke in these countries.
In regards to (b), driver education is also key to reducing the number of incidents involving car collisions with cyclists and pedestrians. Beyond education in situational and traffic awareness, drivers also need to be educated in civism and courtesy. The driver improvement and defensive driving courses offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation are a good step in this direction. In these classes motorcyclists learn to scan road and traffic hazards well ahead of time. They also learn simple techniques to avoid going into confrontational situations with motorists. Such course work should be mandatory for car drivers to get their license.
Initiatives in Tucson and Pima County
The Pima County Bicycle and Pedestrian Program plans, engineers, and improves cyclist and pedestrian facilities throughout the area. The program’s goal is to improve safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists through engineering, enforcement, and encouragement. As a result, the program works in partnership with the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle and Advisory Committee and Brad P. Gorman Memorial Bikeway Fund.
As part of the expansion of its bike education program, Pima County’s “Bike Buddy” program helps even more residents start bicycling. Pima County also sponsors a number of bike safety courses, including classes specifically designed for children and university students. The L.A.B. League cycling instructors conduct the classes, offering free bike safety items like helmets, lights, and u-locks. Cyclists who have received a ticket while riding can attend diversion courses. If someone attends a diversion course, the City Prosecutor’s Office will dismiss the citation.
Safe school routes
At seven local elementary schools, Pima County and the City of Tucson have launched pilot programs to develop safe routes for children biking or walking to school. The program also educates children about pedestrian and biking safety. The purpose is to encourage physical activity among Tucson children while reducing traffic collisions involving children. The program also engages parents, teachers and law-enforcement offers by asking them to identify student travel habits.
Bicycle Advisory Committee
The Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee advises local governments on issues related to bicycle recreation, transportation, and safety. Meeting every second Wednesday of the month at 6:00 pm, the committee convenes at the Himmel Park Library. Over the years, the BAC has sponsored the new State of Arizona law to develop high-priority bikeway improvement lists. The BAC has also worked with the ADOT to revise and improve current shoulder rumble strip standards.
Education vs. repression
There is no substitute for alertness and a personal commitment to acceptable road behavior. Education should be the first stepping stone in increasing motorists awareness of two-wheel traffic and pedestrian presence on the roadways. More stringent class and practice work should be prerequisites to getting a driver license. Both State and federal regulations are still lacking in these areas: we can’t seriously expect a reduction in injuries inflcted to bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians without raising the bar in driver education courses.
But education goes only so far. Distracted driving must be punished more harshly by the law. It is not acceptable that drivers of all ages be on their cell phones texting while driving: fines should be prohibitively expensive. Distraction-related accidents should involve the loss of driving privileges, mandatory education classes and steep fines, just as DUI does today. Drunk driving has steadilty decreased over the years with awareness campaigns, an increase in law enforcement action and a stiffening of fines and court sentences for drunk drivers. It is likely that distracted driving will take this direction and that repression will increase.
For the time being, personal injury attorneys have only so many legal tools at their disposal to get adequate compensation for cyclists and pedestrians who fall victim to distracted driving. But a good personal injury attorney will use all the tools afforded by the law to seek compensation for the victim. This may involve seeking redress from the city of Tucson for inadequate road signage.
If you or a loved one is badly hurt due to a car driver’s negligence or distracted driving, The Hameroff Law Firm, P.C. can help. Our Tucson personal injury attorneys pursue maximum compensation to help clients recover from their devastating losses. To schedule a free consultation about your personal injury, please call (520) 792-4700.