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How can we lower the high rate of Michigan bicycle fatalities?

July 21, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan ranks 11th in bicycle fatalities. We need to do more to reduce bike fatalities so tragic incidents like the Kalamazoo hit-and-run truck-bike fatalities don’t happen

Bicycle fatalities

In June 2016, a truck driver who was alleged to have been driving drugged hit a group of bicyclists just outside Kalamazoo. Five bicyclists died, while four others were seriously injured. As tragic as this was, it sadly was not uncommon. Bicycle fatalities in Michigan have been among the highest in the nation for years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2015 — a year before the Kalamazoo bike accident — Michigan had an average of 3.3 bicycle fatalities. And in the 2005-15 period, the state ranked 11th for bicycle fatalities per capita in the U.S.

Further, the 2014-15 numbers for all reported Michigan bicycle accidents, as compiled by the Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Facts, are just as troubling:

  • 1,763 bicyclists were involved in motor vehicle crashes in Michigan.
  • 1,378 bicyclist injuries in 1,367 crashes were reported by police on traffic crash records.
  • There were 21 fatal crashes involving bicyclists and 21 bicyclists killed on Michigan roadways. Five were involved in crashes where someone was drinking, and two of those bicyclists were the ones who had been drinking.

As an attorney who helps many bicyclists who are hit by cars every year, I know we can do more.

We need to do more.

It would help if our lawmakers cared about bicycle fatalities

Last fall, the Michigan Senate passed bicycle safety legislation that would require motorists to allow at least a 5-foot “safe distance” when passing bicyclists on the roadway, as well as require a bike safety curriculum during driver’s education. The state House had a similar bill. These measures would have put Michigan in line with other states’ “safe passing” laws.

As a bike accident attorney, I wrote about these bills and was a strong supporter of them.

But the bills went nowhere.

While the lack of action by our lawmakers in Lansing is terribly disappointing, it has caused several Michigan communities to take matters into their own hands.

Last fall, Kalamazoo’s city commission OK’d a local ordinance that requires motorists to stay a minimum 5-foot distance when passing bicyclists.

Meanwhile, as we reported earlier this year, Ann Arbor is looking into putting in an east-west “bicycle highway” through downtown Ann Arbor, as a means of preventing bicycle-car crashes.

WMUK in Kalamazoo reported that Grand Rapids launched a $600,000 bike education campaign that led to an 80%-plus drop in serious crashes between bikes and cars.

And recent renovations on major roads in and around Detroit now include bike lanes. These zones are clearly marked, with enough elbow room to allow bicyclists space.

What you can do to prevent bicycle fatalities

Without a universal state law, every community may create different safety standards in efforts to keep bicyclists safe. But that also means a patchwork of laws, and that doesn’t help motorists or bicyclists.

I encourage you to contact your district congressman. Let him or her know that a safe-passing law and mandatory driver education on bicyclists are important. This will prevent future bicycle fatalities. Other states are already doing this. It is time for Michigan to climb aboard and do a better job.

Also, act locally. If your city sees a lot of bike activity, talk to your city council about approving local ordinances like Kalamazoo has.

But most importantly, act personally. If you’re a driver, do your part to keep bicyclists safe and prevent a bike accident. This includes keeping an eye out for bike lanes, following the traffic laws and knowing the law for Michigan bicyclists, and understanding the difference between a bike that weighs a few pounds and a 2-ton car.

If you’re a bicyclist, the attorneys at Michigan Auto Law encourage you to review our bike safety checklist before taking your next trek. Also, check out these blog posts:

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