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Just Because You Can …

Just Because You Can …
Human Factors Directorate
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Fort Rucker, Ala.

Lately, I have been watching a cyclist on Fort Rucker engage in what I would consider peculiar behavior. He rides a route that leads out a main gate during rush hour on a road that doesn’t have a shoulder, never mind a bike lane. Every day, traffic backs up behind him, drivers dart back and forth over the double-yellow lines trying to see what is blocking the lane and the cyclist keeps pedaling as if he’s completely alone on the road.

Since we have several bicycle enthusiasts here at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, I asked if they would ride that route at that time of day. I got a resounding, “No!” from all of them. So, my question is, “What is this guy thinking?” While I realize the cyclist is well within his rights to be there — he’s not doing anything illegal or breaking any rules — it just doesn’t make good sense. He is creating a hazardous situation for himself and the people around him with potentially devastating consequences, especially for him.

I’m betting that rider doesn’t know that nearly 700 cyclists are killed, and tens of thousands injured, every year in the U.S., with the majority of those deaths occurring between 4 and 7:59 p.m. I know what you may be thinking, but you’re wrong. These aren’t kids riding their bikes after school who are being hit by cars. Less than 10 percent of bicycle versus motor vehicle accidents involve persons who are 16 and younger. Based on national statistics, the cyclists most likely to be killed in a bicycle/motor vehicle collision are 20- to 40-year-old males. Hello! Over the years, most — if not all — of the people that I have seen leaving post during rush hour on a bicycle fall into this group.

Over the past decade, more than 200 bicycle accidents have been reported to the USACR/Safety Center. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that only 10 percent of all bicycle accidents are reported. So, for the sake of argument, if our reporting rate is similar, that means we’ve actually had closer to 200 bicycle accidents each year for 10 years rather than 200 total for the decade.

Pouring through accident reports day after day, I’ve begun to notice a just-because-I-can mindset creeping into more and more of them. We have had Soldiers killed, permanently paralyzed or left comatose while doing something reckless, just because they could. I am not sure if we are an Army becoming indifferent to risk, or if, like the civilian sector, we are adopting a sense of entitlement — a sense that we can do what we want, when we want.

Sure, motor vehicles and bicycles have to share the road, but cyclists should remember that not all drivers are focused and attentive, especially at rush hour. Everyone who works on or near a military installation, large factory or school zone knows what time traffic gets a bit crazy. If, as a cyclist, you just have to get on the road during rush hour, you should at least maximize your visibility to drivers by wearing fluorescent or brightly colored clothing. And you should never get on a bicycle without putting on a helmet first.

I am not suggesting riders put hooks in the garage and hang up their bicycles for good. I am asking, however, that cyclists reevaluate the risks of riding on main traffic routes at certain times of the day. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. Engage your brain.

  • 1 January 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 6227
  • Comments: 0