(UPDATED) “Be right, but not dead right.” – Randy Cohen’s Views Put To The Test

Update: Crash Report on death of Fr. Victor “Vic” Capriolo


Priest struck and killed while cycling

Fr. Vic Capriolo

There were a number of questions from readers after we published my thoughts on the crash in which Father Victor Capriolo was killed riding his bicycle through the intersection where the Prairie Trail crosses Highway 151 in Fond du Lac. I was able to get a copy of the MV4000e Crash Report from the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety. The MV4000 has been the standard crash report for years, the “e” means it is filed and eventually available electronically. The old MV4000s had to be scanned and saved on microfiche.

Most of the MV4000 is details about time, vehicle description, location, and identification of people involved.  The important part for us is the crash diagram and narrative.  You can see by the diagram and narrative below that for an unknown reason, Fr. Capriolo apparently rode his bicycle through a red light into the path of a vehicle on 151.

Click image for a larger view.

We now know that Fr. Capriolo was clearly at fault in this crash, as he rode through a red light.  The Wisconsin Bike Fed tries to review all crashes in which a person riding a bicycle is killed to see if there are any counter measures that might have prevented the crash and more importantly prevent future crashes. In this situation, we know neither the design of the trail crossing nor the person driving the motor vehicle that struck him were to blame.

What counter measure might have prevented this tragedy? Fr. Capriolo should have been paying closer attention while he was riding and stopped for the red light. Of the seven fatal bicycle crashes this year, this is the only one in which the person riding the bicycle was at fault. In 2006 WisDOT published an analysis of bicycle crashes in Wisconsin that showed four out of the top five crash types indicated that the motorist made the critical error. Nearly 65% of the top 10 crash types indicated motorist error as the primary error.

While people driving motor vehicles may cause most of the crashes, we can take personal responsibility and do a lot of things to dramatically reduce our chance of being involved in a crash when we ride a bike. First and foremost, riding a bike is very safe and by many statistics, safer than driving a car, taking a shower, etc. Still, just as we hold the railing when going down stairs, there are ways to reduce your chance of being involved in a crash. Below are my top tips. Scroll through the long safety panel at the bottom of this post for diagrams on how to ride safely and legally.

Click to Enlarge

Obey the traffic laws. That means traveling in the same direction as motorized traffic and stopping at red lights, even though they were designed for motorized traffic. While Kant and columnists for the New York Times may argue that running red lights is ethical, it is not safer, nor is it legal. Thanks to the Bike Fed, it is now legal to ride through a red light when you have clear passage after stopping and waiting 45 seconds if you don’t think the sensor will detect your bike and give you a green.

Crashes happen at conflict points. When riding a bicycle, take extra care going through intersections, past driveways and alleys.  Pay particular attention to oncoming cars turning left across your path of travel. Ride further toward the center of the rightmost lane that takes you where you want to go.  That means don’t hug the gutter when riding straight through an intersection.

Avoid the door zone. Ride about 3 feet from parked cars to avoid hitting a suddenly opened door. That often means riding in the left side of a bike lane, not in the center.  It can also mean “taking the lane” where there is no bike lane on narrower streets.  Hugging the parked cars sends an unspoken message to cars behind you that it is OK to try to squeeze past you without crossing the centerline.

Be right, but not dead right. Riding assertively and in a predictable manner sends a clear message to people in motor vehicles.  If you slow dramatically at intersections for example, it says “it’s OK if you go first, I’ll wait” to other road users. That said, you still need to be cautious for the people driving motor vehicles who are not going to yield the right of way to you.

PSA Videos From The Wisconsin Bike Federation


  1. One of my Elmhurst Bicycle Club members sent me this reply to this article via email:


    And, with all the driving around Chicagoland that I’m now doing, I’ve found myself being less attentive at intersections. Therefore, riding has made me even more aware of drivers’ intentions. Saved me this past Aug on the trip to Twin Lakes. Driver saw all the previous riders and assumed all were clear. The driver drove through the stop and never looked to the right to see me. Further, this is why as a ride leader I don’t care for much conversation while riding. It’s a distraction from traffic and road geometry.



  2. Friend Steve Brunell forwarded a link to the article to our mutual friend Mike Grichar. Here is what Mike wrote in response:

    “From: Michael Grichar
    Subject: RE: Update: Crash Report on death of Fr. Victor “Vic” Capriolo | Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin
    To: “‘Steve Brunell'” , “‘Randy Varble'”
    Date: Friday, September 14, 2012, 9:37 AM


    Great article; especially the follow up notes on the do’s and don’ts of predictable bike riding.  Most valuable information which I will use to reevaluate my bike riding habits.


  3. We need to encourage more Executive Directors and their staffs to speak truth like this to their constituents. Cavalier attitudes against the necessity to remain vigilant and lawful on the streets has become something of a fashion statement among cyclists. It is a dangerous mindset and could result in even more needless deaths.

    If we are that pressed for time when riding our bikes that we cannot abide waiting at red lights and stop signs then perhaps a motor scooter or motorcycle would be better choice. But if we are truly serious about earning the trust and respect of the motorist community and indeed of other cyclists we will take the time to be safe. That is the least we owe our children.

Comments are closed.