On a beautiful autumn Sunday, nearly six hundred cyclists gathered for a ride in High Point, North Carolina, most eager to enjoy the seasonable weather after a week of cold, driving rain. But the mood was somber as the ride to honor David Sherman, an avid cyclist who was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run incident, got underway. It was a sobering reminder of the risks we all take while out on the road.
Friends organized the ride with proceeds going to benefit Yield to Life, an non-profit started by Garmin-Slipstream's David Zabriskie. The US time trial champion had his own run-in with a careless driver in 2003 which nearly ended his career. Since then, he's worked to try to teach drivers to be more sensitive to cyclists.
"The idea for Yield to Life came to me while I was recovering from my last and most serious bicycle/car accident. I was reflecting on the incident and I realized that the woman who turned directly into me did not think of me as LIFE. I was just an obstacle in the road - this thing in her way," Zabriskie told Cyclingnews.
"I became more aware of the complete lack of civility on the road and felt a new approach was needed to tackle the issue. I wanted to sensitize motorists to the life at stake and often in motorists' hands."
Yield to Life also provides education for cyclists to encourage them to follow the rules of the road and ride responsibly. Zabriskie and his organization hope that through education and awareness campaigns, they can "change attitudes, perceptions, and behavior and create mutual respect for all life on the road."
The number of cyclists on the roads has increased greatly over the past few years: USA Cycling has registered the largest number of racers in its history this year, but the increase is not just in the racing community. The number of riders commuting to work has also increased - the League of American Bicyclists reports a steady increase in bicycle commuting over the past eight years.New York City alone has seen a 26% increase in the past year, according to recent reports.
But having more cyclists on the road is good and bad: more riders may mean more collisions with cars, but as cyclists become more prevalent, drivers learn to deal with them better. Zabriskie's aim is to aid in educating both drivers and riders.
"More and more people are riding their bikes and motorists are not accustomed to seeing and accommodating cyclists on the road," explained Zabriskie. "We also live in a culture where technology has overrun our lives and converted the car into an office. Motorists are distracted, they are not expecting to see cyclists on the road, and when they do, motorists often lack the experience on how to best negotiate the space."
Cyclists in the US frequently find themselves the subject of an impatient driver's rage, normally with little consequence - a shout 'get off the road', passing too close, or the odd beer or soda can lobbed in their direction. The driver is hardly ever caught, much less punished, but that all changed earlier this month when a Los Angeles physician, Christopher Thompson, was convicted of six felonies after intentionally stopping short to "teach a lesson" to two cyclists, both were injured in the crash.
"I am constantly faced with motorists who have no patience for or understanding of cyclists' equal rights to use the road. The Thompson case is a good precedent for motorists who choose to do damage to cyclists," said Zabriskie.
The Yield to Life web site is full of stories from all over the country of harrowing accidents and riders struggling to heal from horrific injuries. It's a sobering reminder that there is much work to do.
"Every story reminds me of why I started Yield to Life and the work we have ahead of us. We hope to use these stories to highlight the devastation that one moment of inattentiveness or negligence can cause.
"We need to change the way motorists view cyclists. In Europe cyclists are respected. It's part of their culture. When a motorist sees a cyclist in Europe, they see their grandma, their brother etc. Everyone knows someone who rides and they are sensitive to cyclists' safety. We can make laws, etc, but if motorists do not feel cyclists deserve to be on the road, the rage will continue and tensions will rise and retaliations will continue.
"Bike lanes are great and more would be better, but there are always times when cyclists may have to enter the stream of traffic and motorists should understand that."
Friends of David Sherman continue to actively work to seek justice in the case. The SUV driver, Grayson Warren Dawson, 48, has been charged with felony hit and run, misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and driving without a license.
Find out more about Yield to Life.
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