I wanted to write a response to the hit and run involving a cyclist a short while ago.. A response is a poor word for it…I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts.
This past Sunday, 5 days after being hit and left for dead at the side of the road, RC Smith passed away. I wanted to talk about how angry I am. I wanted to tell you how much more people could have done both to prevent and to respond to this tragedy. I wanted to stomp my feet and call for action and talk about how this incident should serve as an example of just how little people in this community care for cyclists.
In the end, I decided that none of that would really benefit anyone, least of all the memory of RC, his family, and his friends.
This terrible incident serves as a reminder to me of the dangers of riding a bicycle. I have been reminded of just how fragile life is and how much faith I am putting in the people who I share the road with. Most importantly I have been reminded why I believe Bicycle Lafayette’s mission is so vital.
When a person riding a bicycle enters the road, they aren’t just taking their own life into their hands; they are putting their life in the hands of motorists as well. Even after we began relaying our information regarding RC we saw responses regarding helmets and riding safe being the responsibility of the rider suggesting that somehow Mr. Smith was responsible for his own death. Without any details regarding the accident even divulged, people began pointing fingers, both cyclists and motorists alike. Everyone is looking to blame someone instead of talk about how we can prevent this, myself including, at first. Everyone wants to talk about if a cyclist should have been on the road or not… why isn’t anyone just upset that a man has died? Where is all the outrage at that?
The truth is no helmet will protect a cyclist from an impact with a car. No amount of coming to a complete stop at a light or stop sign is going to guaranty a driver won’t swerve just a little too close and clip the cyclist. No amount of bright clothing is going to prevent a driver from falling asleep at the wheel, or sending a text message while driving… or just making a small mistake, and causing the unthinkable. When we go out onto the road we are trusting that a motorist will respect our choice to ride, our safety, and us as fellow human beings. We don’t need motorists to love bicycles or even give us free reign of the road we just need respect.
The man that hit Rodney Smith had no respect for him or anyone. Not only did he run Mr. Smith down, but also he got out of his vehicle to check on him before getting back in his car and running away. This fact might be the most upsetting. He didn’t even have enough respect for the man to call the police himself, he just ran.
We need to change the conversation. It’s not just about a right to the road. It’s not just about following the rules or creating new laws. It’s most certainly not about pointing fingers and placing blame. It’s about changing perception. It’s clear that to many, the perception is that all cyclists are disrespectful of city ordinances and those that travel the road with us. You need only ride through town one day to understand why that isn’t true, but the perception is there, and no one can change it but us. As a cyclist, I don’t believe you need to follow the rules just because they are rules. I believe you need to follow the rules to change the perception and because some of them will give you a better chance at safety. You can yell about being in the right, how you are more aware of your surroundings than a driver, and how stop signs and lights don’t work the same for you all you want, and I will agree with you, but in the end, no one that doesn’t ride a bike is going to understand and the perception will remain the same.
Ordinances exist not only for the safety of riders, but to remind drivers that cyclists belong on the road as well. Laws and ordinances validate our existence as cyclists, but if we ignore them ourselves, they lose any effectiveness. It’s not about enforcement; it’s about education. Bicycle Lafayette is striving to provide that education and so far the majority of our community has been receptive to our message of mutual respect. We have a long way to go to change the perception that most people obviously have about cyclists in this community, but if we all commit to the change then I believe we can do it.
I’m not saying that if everyone followed the rules that RC would still be alive. Accidents will always happen, and people who make bad decisions will always be around to make bad decisions. However, if we all work together to change the perception, if we all learn to show some respect for our fellow man, then at least it might give some people a better chance. If it could save one life in the future, then that is a fight that I think is worth fighting and it starts with education.
I didn’t know Rodney, but I know I spent a year of my life riding his route every day. I know I ride my bicycle around town almost every day and I know how I am treated on the roads. I know that my wife and my daughter want me to come home every day, and if I can do something to make that more likely for me or for anyone else who rides a bike then that is a battle I am willing to fight.
Rodney will be laid to rest aside his parents on Tuesday May 28 1:00 pm at East Hill Shrine Mausoleum, 779 East State Road 44, Rushville IN.
A celebration of life will be held in Lafayette Wednesday May 29th from 4pm to 8pm at the Elmwood Church of Christ, 2501 Elmwood Ave, Lafayette, IN 47904. Please enter from the south side of the building.
The Rodney Smith Memorial Scholarship in the College of Agriculture has been created at Purdue University. Contributions can be made by contacting the Purdue Foundation, 403 West Wood Street, West Lafayette IN 47907-2007, 800-319-2199, firstname.lastname@example.org or directly at www.purdue.edu/giving.