Drivers' right turns can be deadly
By Lee Sensenbrenner
June 30, 2005
When a collision between a FedEx truck and a bicycle killed the 33-year-old cyclist on the east side of Madison earlier this month, it was a repetition of the kind of crash that city safety officials say they see again and again.
A driver typically looks left into traffic while turning right, keeping attention directed away from bicyclists or pedestrians in the crosswalks ahead, city Transportation Department safety educator Steve Meier said Wednesday.
Of 510 collisions reported between bicyclists and motorists between 1998 and 2003, the most recent period for which statistics are available, 65 involved a driver turning right. Only one involved a driver turning left, Meier noted.
Although it is legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk throughout most of Madison, Meier said the practice probably contributes to the risk of these accidents.
"We would like to make our streets safer so people feel comfortable riding in the streets," he said.
While Madison continues to add more bike paths and bike lanes across the city, Meier said those sharing the streets and sidewalks must improve their habits and realize that Madison supports different means of transportation.
"It's not just kids on sidewalks," Meier said. "The average age of a bicyclist involved in an accident is 30."
Meier, a bicyclist, said he wouldn't cross in front of a driver unless he had first established eye contact and was sure that the driver wouldn't pull out in front of him.
Police haven't charged the FedEx driver with any wrongdoing, saying the bicyclist ran into his truck as he pulled away from a stop sign, turning right onto Milwaukee Street from Marquette Street.
Theresa A. Kacynski, whom police said was killed instantly, was approaching the driver from his right on the sidewalk along Milwaukee Street. Her bicycle was dragged under the truck for 35 feet, police said.
Tom Royston, the general manager at Badger Cab, said one of his drivers, who was off duty and on foot at the time, saw the crash and was on the phone with his company's dispatcher at the time. The incident has been another reminder for the company that their workplace is a sometimes chaotic mix of cars, bicyclists and pedestrians.
"It gets to be an unintentionally adversarial relationship," Royston said, recalling stories from his drivers about how a car in the right lane might stop for a marked pedestrian crosswalk with a yield sign, but traffic in the left lane races on through.
"We've got a heavy mix of pedestrians and bicyclists, especially downtown, and everyone has to use some caution," Royston said.
Of the other relatively recent fatal accidents between motorists and nonmotorists in Madison, two others have involved a car or a truck turning right. A German tourist walking near the Capitol Square was killed when a 25-year-old woman hit her with her SUV in 2003, and a minister died crossing North Sherman Avenue when a car driven by a 76-year-old woman turned right from Vahlen Street.
"The pedestrian in each of these cases was in the crosswalk and was acting legally," Meier said. "But I encourage pedestrians to look behind them for turning vehicles just to be sure there isn't a driver who is about to turn."