A driver who cannot see should not proceed?

Background Reading


One attorney recently wrote a piece in which he said:

In the various media reports about this sad event some issues have arisen that I find troubling.  First, virtually every media outlet has found it necessary emphasize that the driver appears not to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, as if that somehow abrogates his responsibility to some degree.  It does not.  I am not sure why there has not been more emphasis on the fact that the driver had a stop sign.  Secondly, there has been some speculation (perhaps reasonable speculation) that the sun obscured the driver’s vision as he traveled east on Rosemont upon his approach to the intersection.  Let us assume that it did at around 6:10 a.m. yesterday.  The rising sun should not have greatly affected his view left (to the north) and right (to the south).  He should have been able to see Mr. Diaz-Torres despite any glare from the east.  In any event, it is a fundamental rule of the road that a driver who cannot see should not proceed.  Looking and failing to see what should be seen is no defense.  It is an indictment.

He titled this article, Husband, Father Of Two Killed Riding Bicycle To Work By Driver Who May Have Disobeyed Stop Sign.

The Reality of Moving Vehicles

In a courtroom you might be tempted to bring this argument all day long. But let’s examine what is really at work between moving vehicles of any sort.

Take for instance your average grandparent who is entertaining the grandchildren while their parents are away on vacation. Suddenly a long distance call interrupts the couple in Aruba. Their child has been killed by a motor vehicle. But instead of it being a situation where a car on the street in front of their parents home struck them while on their Hot Wheels™ trike it was instead the fact that one of the their doting grandparents backed up the family vehicle and crushed the child to death.

Now this same lawyer if representing the grieving parents has a problem. He can decide to go after the estate of the grandparents because of their negligent driving or he can find someone else to blame. In most instances I am guessing that a lawyer faced with this delicate dance will choose somebody with very deep pockets and blame them for the problem. That of course would be the car manufacturer.

It is not difficult to see how much more palatable this is that suing the grandparent. After all what grandparent would willing operate a vehicle in a negligent way around their progeny? So instead of trying to sell that to the jury you decide to place the blame on the design of the vehicle and that means the manufacturer.

Vehicle Designs Have Changed As A Result

Children About to Board The Bus in Thibodaux Louisiana.

Children About to Board The Bus in Thibodaux Louisiana.

Take a look at the local district school bus the next time you are waiting for kids to disembark. You will note that there is a stop sign on a pivoting arm that swings out to halt the forward progress of cars behind the bus. That part makes sense. But then you notice too that the bus has two side view mirrors and an additional one mounted on the front (it can be on either side) which is convex. What is that one for? Well it serves to keep the driver informed of any child that might have wandered into the front of the bus and is crouching down below the sightline of the front hood of the bus.

Now why would a child be there? Well you obviously have never been a child and if you were never played hide and seek or tag or whatever and were simply oblivious of the fact that jumping off the bus and hiding from your buddy is not safe. And so mirrors have to be installed on buses to prevent children from being run over by a bus driver.

But then there is yet another safety measure installed on this bus and that would be the long arm that swings out from the right side of the bus to block children from actually crossing the front of the stopped bus. The idea is that you have to wait until the bus has left before crossing the street. All of these changes are there for one reason and one reason only, somebody has to pay. Lawyers know this and count on this truism because otherwise they could never defend people without ample resources to pay their fees.

That grandparent we talked about before is why there are thousands of cars produced around the world each day with rear view cameras. And these cameras and those clumsy-looking devices on school buses are there because you “cannot see what you cannot see“. To put it another way if your child is run over by a grandparent or a school bus driver (both of whom are presumably dedicated to the preservation of the lives of the children in their care) there must be another reason that these folks were negligent. And that would have to be because someone designed the vehicle without child safety in mind. And so it goes.

Trucks, Buses And Bikes

I have seen it countless times, a rider on a bicycle who has decided to “skitch“. The savvy skitcher is aware of the blindspots on any large vehicle like a bus or truck. He waits until Rush Hour when the driver is busy fighting traffic and focused on passengers entering and leaving the vehicle by the front and rear doors. He places a gloved and in the wheel well of the bus and gets a “free ride” along a street for a few blocks before the bus passes too close to parked cars and forces the rider to let go of the bus and pedal on his own.

And of course on the really sad day when the bike rider is unaware of an opening door from a parked car or a patch of ice and he suddenly falls under the wheels of the bus or truck and is crushed nobody pays attention. But in comes the lawyer to help the grieving family of the promising young student whose life was lost and the world is suddenly a feeding ground. Somebody has to pay.

Urban Cyclist "Idaho Stop" Two-Step Variation

Urban Cyclist “Idaho Stop” Two-Step Variation

The bus driver is the first to get scrutinized because he should have seen the rider and stopped the bus and not allowed them to “tag along“. But frankly sensors are not in place for that kind of behavior. And so the Mass Transit driver is probably going to lose his job or failing that the municipality that owns the bus company is going to get sued. After all it was the driver who was negligent. He should have seen the biker.

One of the reasons I happen to dislike the placement of bike lanes to the right of traffic is because Right Hooks are almost inevitable in light of such placement. A bicyclist who is riding on the green paint is approaching an intersection and assumes that the truck or bus turning up ahead sees them. They cannot. And in fact if the rider is near the front of the truck or bus and is hidden from the driver he is essentially invisible. And so the driver puts the vehicle in gear and begins to lumber forward.

However because there is very little in the way of training to alert bicyclists to the dangers of riding alongside vehicles they proceed forward still in the bike lane totally unaware of their impending doom. In fact most of the Door Zone Collisions are the result of cyclists who are riding too close to parked vehicles and doing so in the “blind spot” of the driver or a rear passenger (who is usually a child exiting to get to school). I have watched as adult bicyclists ride through stopped traffic on the right side of cars in the lane and between them and parked cars (which is now perfectly legal) all in an attempt to do get to the white line ahead of the stopped traffic so as either to sprint ahead of the cars or better yet cross against the light. I call this the Idaho Stop Two-Step. Any motorcyclist doing the same maneuver would probably be stopped by cops and given a ticket.

But the real problem is that as they progress through what is essentially a narrow aisle of vehicles they ride close enough to parked cars that they brush drivers side mirrors. And of course if they see a door opening and try to avert the collision and manage to slip and fall and have the car or truck or bus to their left roll over them, then somebody has to pay. And their attorney is duty bound to find either an insurance company with deep enough pockets to compensate his client and more importantly to pay his contingency fees.

Bicyclists Need To Think More Like Motorists

In a recent discussion on 4-way Stops this exchange took place:

Reply by h’ 1.0 on June 20, 2013 at 10:35am

A couple of points:

  1. It is difficult or impossible to see the driver signaling due to windshield glare at least half of the time and few drivers realize this. That’s the root of the bulk of the annoyance for me.
  2. Recently I had a driver at a 4-way stop pretend to wave me through and then gun it while yelling something, which came across as an attempt to ‘teach cyclists a lesson.’  So you’re not just being inflexible when you decide you’re not putting yourself in teh path of that vehicle.

It’s interesting that there seems to be something resembling consensus developing here as a past thread on exactly the same topic drew quite a bit of scorn and abuse from a Chainlink member who thought this concern was ridiculous.

When you are on a bicycle is it very easy to assume that because you can clearly see a motorist that he can clearly see you. In fact if you are traveling east in the AM or west in the PM you are extremely vulnerable to traffic that is “following” you. You should always find a side street to ride or if possible ride the sidewalk if necessary.

The rule of thumb is that if you have the sun in your eyes, then so does a trailing driver.

As for a driver “pretending” to wave you through and then trying to run you down, there are two possibilities here. If the driver cannot see you then please be aware that you have startled him when he began to cross and suddenly encountered you. He could be a prankster but usually there is an explanation for his behavior.

Rear View Mirrors Are Dangerous

I am not talking about the ones on the side of the car just now but rather the one in the middle of the windshield. They are wide and placed at just the location which allows a driver to best see the rear window despite a bunch of kids in the back seat tossing things at one another and generally functioning in a distracting manner to a harried driver.

Depending on the way in which an intersection is designed a driver pulling up to the intersection is likely to be completely “hidden” from the view of anyone behind the wheel of the car to his left. In fact it is not just the rearview mirror that is a problem it can be the supporting beams that hold the roof up which serve to block your vision of anything approaching from the right.

If you are on a bike, then my advice is to secure eye contact with the driver. If you do proceed forward be prepared to throw on your brakes because if he had glare and cannot see you then you are not there for him. This is also a problem that is being addressed in situations like mall parking lots and the average suburban driveway. Depending on whether you can see around the neighbors hedges or through the windows of the car parked next to you you should always inch your vehicle out of the parking space slowly. And while you are concentrating on doing that in a careful way be aware of passengers (especially tiny ones) who are disembarking from their family vehicle. You could easily crush a child with your front wheels while looking over your shoulder to avoid running into a car crossing your rear.

The lawsuits that have surrounded this sort of scenario are legion. That is why motion detectors are now being installed on cars that are backing up. What would be an added bonus would be an audible signal (much like the ones on trucks and buses) to alert pedestrians that a vehicle is backing up. I have seen countless cyclists who are riding through parking lots and fail to be aware of motorists who are backing out of a parking space and the fact that they are “invisible” to the driver.

Usually the driver discovers them at the last moment and yells something about your having “scared them to death” and everyone departs with hurt feelings. But this scenario is exactly like the one we opened with when a child is behind a grandparents car in their “blind spot“.

Training Would Suit Both Parties

There are a few links at the top of this article that help bicyclists understand how better to assume the role of a truck or bus driver when riding around them. Much as in the situations that occur in offices where people say things that are gender-related or even race-related it is more than high time that we introduced these two groups of “drivers” to one another.

Cycle Tracks Worth Having

Cycle Tracks Worth Having

We need fairs in which cyclists actually get to sit in the cab of a truck or bus and see what the driver sees. And then with the aid of simulators allow them to “drive” a big rig. It would be a simple thing indeed to have a cyclist “run over a pedestrian or cyclist” during this simulation because frankly it is not easy to see out of a cab. There are new designs being created to place drivers into cabs that are freer of blind spots especially towards the front of the vehicle.

There are still “blind spots” along the back and sides where the driver is unaware of your presence. This is a well known problem and one that is often mentioned in driving schools because car drivers are too often unaware of the danger they put themselves in when they have lost eye contact with the truck or bus driver.

If the Urban Cycling Community is unwilling or unable to see the value in having themselves be trained to deal with large traffic vehicles then we can assume that sooner or later there will be avoidable accidents occurring. The solution to some folks is to eliminate large trucks and buses from cities altogether. But that does not take into account the fact that Mass Transit and the functioning of a great city requires these vehicles.

Some folks are lobbying for Protected Bile Lanes but they too are problematic if everyone is not on the same page with respect to the problems at intersections. Better yet would be totally segregated bike lanes or what are known as Cycle Tracks. These are often pleasant and verdant but always far more expensive to create and maintain than riding amongst the herds of large vehicles.

We Need To Talk To One Another

Chicago's Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

Chicago’s Cycling Movement Issues A Leftist Manifesto

The current and most fashionable stance amongst Urban Cyclists is to declare war on automobiles and trucks and buses. But this is simply not a meaningful approach in a world in which all of the transportation forms have a need to be on the roads. You can never eliminate large buses and still have a Mass Transit system worth the money.

You cannot hope to have grocery stores and breweries (the favorite haunts of cyclists) that are in operation if trucks are forbidden to be on urban roadways. And of course you will always have trains to contend with as they form the transportation hubs that deliver workers to their places of business.

In short if you are going to serve as more than a Luddite you are going to have to accommodate large vehicles and the places to park them.

Bikes Are A Problem Too

Everyone has found it fashionable to use parking as the basic reason to rid the cities of both cars and trucks and buses. But privately owned bicycles do not vanish into thin air when they reach the central city. They have to be parked on the sidewalks or better yet in a lot where they can be watched and protected.

But of course than means a parking lot fee (unless your office has some inside parking for its workers). Cyclists are loathe to pay anything for any service related to their mode of transportation (and that includes maintenance) so good luck with getting them onboard with an parking lot scheme.

But even assuming that they were to agree it means that precious public lands would have to be set aside to park all those bikes. And that would mean that cyclists like their motorist counterparts would have to walk whatever closing distance there were to reach the front door of their business and for many that is a problem. They want to have the luxury of riding up to the building and walking right in.

The solution to all of this is to have all bikes in the city be publicly owned as in BikeShare. But this would again mean that cyclists would have to dig into their pockets to pay for the luxury of not having to worry about parking.

When Bikes Collide

Before I close let me express my undying amazement at how goofy cyclists are when forced together in numbers. If you doubt this be certain to join us for the next Bike The Drive. You may have never seen thousands of bikes on the roadway at once. And this event is great because there are no cars to introduce into the equation. And yet there are bike accidents every single year! Bikes actually colliding with one another. And it is because we are such lousy “drivers” even when cars are not part of the equation that I am less likely to agree with the arguments of lawyers (who have a vested interest in finding someone other than their client guilty of negligence).

If you can explain to me how two bikes on a roadway the width of Lake Shore Drive can manage to run into one another when there is no other traffic than bicycles and do so without having to blame one or both of the cyclists for negligence I will bow in awe. In fact every year that I have witnessed cyclists by the thousands on the L.A.T.E. Ride or the BLT (now known as the Four Star Tour) or the Ride for the Arts in Milwaukee collide with one another I think about how a lawyer would try to spin this sort of thing so as not to blame bikes for the collision but rather someone else.

My guess is that the hosting city gets the blame. They are probably hauled into court because there were potholes on the street near the “accident“. Or maybe the same lanes which hold cars every day during Rush Hour are suddenly too narrow or too wide or anything other than what they are and thus the riders of bicycles were unable to safely navigate them. Or maybe the manufacturer of the bikes that collided did not provide enough suitable electronic gadgetry to assist the riders in avoiding a collision with one another. I dunno. I am just amazed at the carnage each and every year.

But less then a city block to either side of this carnage is the Chicago Lakefront Trail. And despite the absence of automobiles “drivers” there are equally capable of mayhem. Runners and bicyclists complain about the slower moving pedestrians. And yet both these groups are their own worst enemies when it comes to behaving badly. They are known to pass without verbally announcing their presence or stopping without warning or executing complete U-Turns without batting an eyelash.

In short you can have mayhem occurring anywhere there are humans piloting anything at any time.

But so long as each group remains ignorant of the dangers they create while operating their vehicle this will continue. So long as Urban Cyclists are willing to resist training they will make stupid choices on the roadway. Drivers who are unaware of how to deal with bicycles on the roadway will continue to make equally stupid and far more dangerous errors in judgment will cause deaths.

Pointing the finger at the other class of vehicles might work for lawyers but it does nothing to stem the carnage. We need to get smart about how to operate our vehicles and especially in the context of other vehicles that are generally traveling at the slower rate of speed. Failing that we will be relying on lawyers until the end of time to help separate us from our money as they try to find “someone who’s got to pay“. And sadly when it was your negligence that cause you to run over your own grandchild the money seems the least of your worries.