Cyclists Pushing to Make Michigan Roads Safer

The panic attacks have subsided, but Katie Hamel still finds it difficult to hop on her bike for a ride.

Four years ago, she was a competitive cyclist, confident and comfortable on the road. That all changed when a distracted driver hit her from behind, sending Hamel and her bike into a trash can, which thankfully broke her fall.

“It is harder to ride on the road now,” she said.

Cycling deaths are on the rise in Michigan, with high-profile incidents including five cyclists in Kalamazoo and a world-class triathlete adding to the tragic number of those who have lost their lives.

People in the cycling community are pushing for expanded legislation that would require motorists to allow more passing room, increase the amount of time spent on bike safety in drivers’ education classes and amend existing laws to allow for stiffer penalties for drivers who hit a cyclist.

Bryan Waldman is a personal injury attorney who represented the League of Michigan Bicyclists during hearings on the proposed legislation. He’s personally lost friends to car-bike accidents and has had close calls himself. He’s frustrated when he sees drivers looking down at their phones and not watching the road. After the widespread attention the Kalamazoo tragedy received, he noticed motorists slowing down, but “it didn’t last very long.”

Hamel is saddened by the recent deaths and wants motorists to see cyclists for the people they are.

“I feel like when people are in cars and there are people on bikes on the road, they forget that they’re people,” she said. “They just view cyclists as an obstacle that’s going to make them late for work.”

The driver who hit her never admitted guilt and likely wouldn’t have faced jail time except for the fact that he drove away, which made hit-and-run charges applicable. In addition to a mangled bike, she faced an oscillation fracture in one of her vertebrae, road rash and bruising. She spent almost two weeks in a neck brace and an additional six weeks in physical therapy.

Despite getting the maximum sentence, the driver spent very little time in jail.

“That was really frustrating for me because he could have killed me and he got less than a month,” she said.

The League of Michigan Bicyclists has safety tips and more information about cycling in the state available on their website.

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Photo credit: Christopher Schmidt

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