Officials stress cycling awareness after tragic accident
INCLINE VILLAGE — Area officials are hoping last month’s fatal cycling accident in Incline Village will serve as an unfortunate reminder to drivers and cyclists as to the rules of the road.
On Thursday, Sept. 20, Lloyd W. Clarke, a Hagerston, Md. native, was riding a bicycle southbound on Country Club Drive when a northbound pick up truck driven by a 17-year-old Incline man turned left into the intersection of Country Club Drive and Village Boulevard. Clarke was unable to stop, and he struck the side of the truck. He was pronounced dead shortly after Washoe County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene at about 6:55 p.m.
Preliminary reports from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office said Clarke most likely was exceeding the speed limit, and by the time he saw the truck turning into his path, it was too late for him to stop.
Capt. Steve Kelly, commander of the WCSO Incline Village Substation, said his office has received phone calls from upset citizens, asking why the juvenile driver isn’t being blamed for the accident. Additionally, numerous comments submitted by Clarke’s friends and family to the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and on http://www.tahoebonanza.com have said Clarke was falsely accused.
Kelly said the ongoing investigation may or may not reveal additional facts that could lead to charges against the driver. However, he stressed it was an unfortunate accident in which no one should be blamed.
The speed limit on Country Club is 35 mph. At the intersection, there are stop signs on Village Boulevard, but not on Country Club Drive. Country Club Drive is a winding road on a steep incline. When driving south, because of a curve, the Village intersection isn’t visible until one is about 20 to 30 yards from it.
While Kelly couldn’t comment extensively on what happened because of the ongoing investigation, he said a couple of factors probably led to the crash.
“One thing I will say – the fact of the matter is, if we find he was exceeding the speed limit in a low-light situation, how do you expect the driver to see him?” Kelly said. “It was dark. It was probably hard for the driver to see him, he had no lights on the bicycle and he probably was not familiar with the area. Now obviously, I don’t think it was a deliberate attempt to disregard the law. We don’t have a final finding yet, but those are possible reasons why.”
As tragic as last week’s incident is, Kelly said it can serve as a catalyst for increased bicycle awareness.
Kelly said a common misconception by many people is cyclists are given the same right-of-way privileges as pedestrians.
According to Nevada Revised Statute 484.504, “every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.
“(Cyclists) have to obey the speed limit, they have to signal, they can’t be driving drunk, they have to do everything you would do when driving a car,” Kelly said. “Just because somebody’s on a bicycle doesn’t mean they’re automatically not at fault.”
Chuck Allen, a trooper for the Nevada Highway Patrol, shared similar thoughts with Kelly.
“Mostly you see bikes riding the wrong way, not stopping at stop signs – they fail to abide by laws motorists abide by,” Allen said. “I think there might be a vision put there that cyclists feel exempt from traffic laws.”
According to NHP statistics, 10 cyclists were killed in Nevada last year, two of which happened in Washoe County. But in 2007, as of Monday’s numbers, 10 already have occurred this year, three of which, including last week’s accident in Incline Village, have taken place in Washoe County.
Allen said people have to be more careful – that includes cyclists and drivers.
“If cyclists are moving fast enough, they have every right to ride in traffic. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Allen said.
“People just have to be aware. Cyclists, too, because they have to stop at every stop sign and signal, even though a lot probably don’t.”
Laurie Anne Grimes, who heads the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety division of the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety, said awareness needs to be raised about cycling safety.
The problem with trying to do that, she said, is most adults don’t care.
“We would love to try a safety program so people can learn, but the problem is that we’ve become a vehicular society, unfortunately, and bikes get overlooked,” Grimes said. “But adults don’t want to go to a bicycle education class.”
It’s unfortunate, Grimes said, because the logistics of a bicycle versus vehicle collision are startling.
“There’s so many SUVs on the road these days. That’s thousands of pounds on top of you,” she said. “It’s common sense. If you think about it, weight times speed equals force. And there’s a lot of force because you’re looking at thousands of pounds versus a few hundred pounds. Do that math.”
Kelly said he used to teach a cycling safety class among police officers. He said he always told his students the importance of following traffic laws as a cyclist. He said a common statistic he still tells people is fewer than 20 percent of cyclists use hand signals at intersections to inform drivers of their actions.
Something that perpetuates the problem is the lack of laws being enforced, Kelly said.
“I’m not saying my office, but generally you don’t see officers enforcing traffic laws on cyclists,” Kelly said. “You can actually be arrested. In Nevada, traffic laws are a misdemeanor. There’s no exception for age either. Obviously, if a five-year-old isn’t signaling, we’re going to talk with the parents to make sure the problem gets fixed.”
Kelly said another problem is, while many people might know they’re supposed to come to complete stops and are supposed to make traffic signals, they don’t want to be embarrassed.
“A lot of people may know the culture, they just think it’s geeky,” Kelly said. “But it’s better to be geeky than to be dead.”
In reality, Kelly, Grimes and Allen said probably not much can be done to convince people to fully change their ways. But, in light of last week’s tragic events, they hope people will at least listen.