PD Editorial: Drivers must share the road with bicycles
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.
Santa Rosa police tell a chilling tale about Harry Smith.
Smith's license was suspended after a road-rage incident on Highway 101. Last fall, he allegedly accosted a woman who was riding her bicycle in Oakmont. Rose Zoia jotted down his license plate number and called police after another cyclist was seriously hurt in a hit-and-run crash involving a similar car.
In the latest incident, Smith is accused of chasing Toraj Soltani across the Oakmont Golf Course to run him down.
Soltani, who owns Mac's Deli in downtown Santa Rosa, suffered a broken wrist and other injuries that put him in the hospital. Smith's car has a broken mirror and debris from the golf course on the undercarriage, police said.
Smith, 81, hasn't been convicted. He's entitled to his day in court. But prosecutors should pursue this case vigorously, focusing on his history of using his car as a weapon.
There is no excuse for road rage. There is no justification for intentionally striking a bicyclist with a motor vehicle.
Does anyone doubt the public fury that would follow if a driver deliberately mowed down a pedestrian? Yet many otherwise reasonable people cite a recent spate of car-vs.-bicycle crashes as evidence that police need to crack down on cyclists.
This incident is no exception. “The vast majority of bike riders in Oakmont do not obey the law,” a letter asserted after the initial news report describing a hit-and-run driver chasing Soltani across the golf course.
We've said it before: Some riders ignore safety rules. They shouldn't. Some drivers also ignore safety rules. Cyclists have plenty of stories about inattentive and aggressive motorists.
This is true, too: When a car hits a bike, the cyclist always gets the worst of it. Drivers must keep that in mind — especially when a cyclist does something unexpected or unsafe.
Many, perhaps most, local roads weren't designed with bicycles in mind. But bikes are legally entitled to use them, so drivers and cyclists must co-exist.
Sonoma County and local cities are taking steps — adding bike lanes and improving trails — to enhance safety. Bicycles are now included in long-term transportation planning. Over time, this may result in fewer conflicts. Until then, less antipathy would help.
Another potential safety measure is Senate Bill 1464, which would require drivers to have at least three feet of clearance when passing a bicycle headed the same direction. The bill by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is awaiting a final vote in the Assembly.
This law may be hard to enforce, but it would focus on one of the greatest threats to cyclists: passing-from-behind collisions. A state Senate committee analysis cited studies identifying these are the leading cause of death for cyclists, accounting for about 40 percent of fatalities in auto-vs.-bicycle collisions.
No law will prevent road rage. But scenes like the one that played out last week on the Oakmont Golf Course are less likely if drivers remember that roads belong to bicycles, too.
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