Bike League Survey: Distracted Driving

When is it okay to run down a cyclist or pedestrian?  The reason I’m asking is because more than a few motorists seem to think it’s acceptable under certain circumstances.  That’s what they say, anyway.  Take sunrise and sunset, for example.   I’ve read multiple stories where motorists who have run down cyclists claimed it wasn’t their fault because the sun was in their eyes, or because the cyclist wasn’t wearing bright enough clothing, or something else.

Of course, these are not valid excuses.   There is no valid excuse for hitting another road user with your car.. ever.  It almost always comes back to pilot error.  If you ride a bike on the streets, you undoubtedly understand.  You’ve seen it with your own two eyes.

There are a lot of reasons people crash their cars into other people and it usually has something to do with distracted driving.  Instead of paying attention to conditions in front of them, they were likely answering that text, eating that cheeseburger, lighting that cigarette or changing the radio station…even if only for an instant.  Even good drivers make mistakes.

But mistakes that cost lives are serious mistakes and if they’re avoidable we should do everything in our power to avoid them.  As a nation, we’ve started a conversation about distracted driving but that’s all it really is…talk.  In practice we do very little.  Most motorists don’t really see it as a problem.

Riding through downtown Indianapolis.  Motorists know they have to pay attention in crowded urban settings.  That makes streets like Market in downtown Indianapolis remarkably safe.

Crowded urban streets force motorists to pay attention.  As a result, you’re less likely than you might think to encounter a distracted driver here.

The same is true of narrow rural roads like this access into Arches National Park.

The same is true of narrow twisty roads like this one in Arches National Park.   If you don’t pay attention here, you’re liable to end up on the wrong side of a sheer cliff.

This is a distracted driving danger zone.  Wide lanes and limited traffic lead to higher speeds and driver inattention...a deadly combination.

This is a distracted driving danger zone. Wide lanes and limited traffic lead to higher speeds and driver overconfidence…a deadly combination.


That bothers me.  Many of the  30,000 of us who are going to die on US roads this year don’t really have to die.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every ten motor vehicle fatalities in the US is due to distracted driving.  These deaths are completely avoidable.

Ironically, our best hope for significant gains here comes from  autonomous (driverless) vehicles.  Jokes aside, computers don’t become distracted.  Instead of stuffing their face with Taco Bell, they stay focused on the task at hand and execute (mostly) flawlessly.  Once the technology is perfected, autonomous vehicles should lower the traffic mortality rate (including bicyclists) to close to zero.

Until then, I’m not sure much else is going to be done to reduce the impact of distracted driving.  Passage of new laws and the enforcement of existing laws helps, but it’s hit or miss.  The problem continues to grow in scope and there seems to be little taste for broad-reaching education among motorists.

But just because motorists don’t want to learn anything new doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  If you ride a bicycle, you really owe it to yourself to take Traffic Skills 101 through the League of American Bicyclists’ Smart Cycling program.  TS101 is taught by League Certified Instructors like me.  It will help you become a better cyclist.  You’ll learn what your greatest risks are while on the road.  More importantly, you’ll learn the avoidance techniques you can call upon to get yourself out of trouble when it inevitably comes knocking.  This is no small thing.

If you’d like to learn more, reach out to me directly through my company website,  If you’re heading to Ogden or northern Utah, we can do this together.  If that’s not practical, I can help you find a course closer to home…wherever home happens to be.



One thought on “Bike League Survey: Distracted Driving

  1. Pingback: Survey Item #3: Education | Bike 5

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