Roads must be safer for bicyclists

There’s an ongoing discussion about the safety of bicycle riders in our community. Some argue the responsibility lies with the cyclists. They should be on the sidewalks or bike paths, not the roads.

But Michigan law refutes that view. It affirms the roads and streets are not the exclusive domain of motor vehicles. Bicycles also have a right to use them.

The recent deaths of two cyclists are tragic reminders that motorists should do more to respect the safety of bicycle riders.

Port Huron Township residents Timothy Tacie, 41, and Kevin Collins, 59, lost their lives to motor vehicles. The accidents occurred in the span of 10 days on West Water Street in Port Huron Township within a mile of each other. Both bicyclists were struck from behind and killed.

These fatalities aren’t unique. From 2004 to 2013, six bicyclists died in motor vehicle accidents in St. Clair County. In 2013 alone, 27 bicyclists were killed in Michigan.

Bicyclists always are at risk in encounters with motor vehicles. But there are steps state lawmakers can take to give them greater protection.

Motorists face strong criminal penalties if they injure or kill construction workers, children in designated school zones or drivers of slow-moving farm vehicles. The same ought to apply to motorists who hurt bicyclists.

House Bills 4792 and 5080 provide stronger penalties to motorists who injure bicyclists. They include community service, driver-improvement education, fines and prison. Although the bills received committee support last year, House members still haven’t voted on them.

House Bill 5438 would mandate that driver’s training include state road regulations for bicyclists and motorcyclists and stress the importance of drivers thoroughly looking out for bicycle riders. The legislation passed the House last week and is under Senate consideration.

Lawmakers have viable legislative reforms to make the roads safer for bicyclists. Their challenge is to make them priorities.

Bicyclists are using Michigan roads in greater numbers, but they are doing so at their peril. State laws uphold their right to use the roads, but they don’t do enough to protect bicyclists’ safety.

More people likely would take to the roads and streets with their bicycles if motorists were required to treat them with greater respect. It’s past time for Lansing to take the lead.

– Times Herald (Port Huron)