The Journal News, a downstate newspaper that serves Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, recently featured a story about bicycling accidents and deaths downstate, written by David McKay Wilson, a reporter, bicycling advocate and former board member for the Westchester Cycle Club. My hope is this story will help win over hearts and minds downstate about the importance of making our roads safer statewide for bicyclists! Albany, are you listening? It’s time to improve the state’s vague safe passing law!
David recently toured accident sites in the Lower Hudson Valley where bicyclists were killed and checked on cases involving motorists facing changes in bicyclists deaths downstate. What he found was the disposition of cases involving cyclists’ deaths varied dramatically.
David called me for comment and I had this to say in the story:
Attorney Jim Reed of the Ziff Law Firm in Elmira, who represents cyclists injured on the road, said the disposition of cases depends on several factors: the aggressiveness of the police investigation and local prosecutors, as well as the existence of aggravating factors, such as drug or alcohol use by the driver.
“If there’s an aggravating factor, the prosecutor has more power to bring the hammer down,” said Reed, who also serves as president of the New York Bicycling Coalition, a statewide advocacy group. “If not, there are large deficiencies in New York’s law.”
Public outcry also has impact as well.
“If you are not a squeaky wheel, the police are moving on to their next collision or drug bust,” Reed said. “Having local advocates raise hell can help.”
David’s story makes some key points worth noting here:
- There are more bike commuters downstate. NYC bicyclists are crossing the George Washington Bridge and riding north to Rockland County while more bike commuters are also going to work locally or riding to Metro-North train stations, destined for the city.
- Bicycle commuting is on the rise nationally, growing by more than 62 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
- In 2014, according to the state, 47 cyclists were killed statewide and 5,694 were injured. Nationally, 720 bicyclists were killed, up 4 percent from the year before, according to the Insurance Institute for National Highway Safety.
- Among New York’s 47 fatalities, 11 resulted from drivers failing to grant the right-of-way to cyclists while nine were caused by driver inattention or distraction. Cyclist error was the contributing factor in 19 of the fatalities, according to the state report. In addition, 19 of the fatalities occurred at night – between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
David also wrote the following about the statewide drive for a better safe passing law, something I have lobbied for in Albany as the president of the NYBC:
Efforts in Albany in 2016 to strengthen New York’s Safe Passing Law, which cycling advocates say will give prosecutors stronger tools to enforce road sharing, failed to come for a vote in the state Assembly. The current law, which was passed in 2010, requires that motorists pass at a safe distance. The bill would require that motorists pass cyclists by at least three feet.
It passed in the Senate but failed to emerge from the Assembly Transportation Committee, chaired by Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester. A phone message to Gantt’s office was not returned.