By Tom Demerly.
I like Mike Orris. Nice fellow. Husband, father,
sales rep, cyclist, survivor. Just barely- survivor.
Earlier this year Mike rode his new bike to a
picnic to meet his wife. He was run over by a car. The accident
was bad. Short of being fatal, it was as bad as you can imagine.
He lay in a medically induced coma while his family and friends…
waited. And prayed.
What happened to Mike Orris is every cyclist’s
horror: Hit by a car, hovering between life and death in a hospital,
utterly uncertain of his future- perhaps not even aware of his
present. Locked in. It is also every cyclist’s potential
reality. My own best friend of many years died in a similar
accident. I’ve been hit twice. Maybe you’ve had
some close calls.
Cycling is an intensely dangerous sport. I used
the adjective “intensely” for a reason. We ride
in settings with drivers not trained in the appropriate way
to interact with us. Most drivers don’t know what to do
when they see a cyclist on the road, many believe we don’t
belong there (they’re wrong- we do). Driver’s education
includes instruction on the use of baby seats, towing a trailer
and how much alcohol you can legally consume and still drive.
Questions about these things are on the Michigan Driver’s
Test. There is no instruction on the appropriate response and
interaction between a car and a bicycle on the road. There are
no questions on the driver's test about interacting with cyclists.
I don’t have children, I don’t own
a trailer and I’ve never drank alcohol but I do ride a
bike almost every day of my life. As cyclists we’ve largely
had to make our own rules: Where to ride and when, how we interact
with drivers. It has been up to us.
Mike Orris was a good cyclist. I say “was”
because, as I write this, I am not certain if he will back on
a bike. His friends held an auction to raise money for his family
while he lay in the hospital. They auctioned off cycling clothing
donated by local bike shops. When the auction was done many
people gave the clothing they bought back to Mike’s wife
and told her to give it to him to wear when he recovered. I
hope he does wear it someday. I don’t know if he will.
There is a lot to think about concerning the terrible
accident that befell Mike Orris. Will Mike Orris recover? What
will his family do? How did it happen? Can we avoid the same
awful fate? Will this happen to me?
As I finished this editorial my friend Gary stopped
by after his daily training. Another accident today. A serious
one. Ambulance, hospital… Rider unknown- 60+ years old,
nice road bike- Hines Drive. Driver may have fallen asleep and
crossed the centerline and hit him. What seems like a healthy
form of exercise suddenly starts to feel a little like diving
with white sharks, skydiving, BASE jumping or serving in Iraq.
What we do suddenly seems so much more dangerous.
Nothing I write here will change the risks we
face. It won’t speed the recovery of Mike Orris or bring
back the cyclist injured a few hours ago on Hines Drive.
What you do may save your own life though.
Laws and impassioned pleas don’t cut it.
Despite the fact that, as a fellow cyclist you have my best
wishes for your safety, you are on your own on the open road.
The laws (the few there are) won’t protect you. Our deficient
driver’s “education” won’t insure your
safety. It’s up to you.
Here is some of what you must do, at a minimum,
to moderate the extensive risk we face as road cyclists: