Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking Responsibility

Photo courtesy Facebook, via CTV

On Tuesday morning, when I read the live, unfolding Twitter feed surrounding Danielle Naçu, a large, heavy weight fell on my chest. Another cyclist involved in a road accident. Another cyclist whose life came to a sudden, tragic end. My hand went to my mouth as the horrific details were tweeted, as pictures of a bent bicycle and shattered helmet on the road next to an automobile were posted.

When Danielle woke up on Tuesday morning, she was unaware that it was her last morning. Getting on her bike, she didn't know that it was her last ride. She didn't know that Queen Street was the last place she'd draw breath. That a car door was the last thing she'd see.

It's every cyclist's nightmare: the fear of being knocked down in the street, only to be run over by traffic. When we learned the details of Danielle's demise, the blame fell squarely on the driver. The driver was clearly negligent in opening his or her door without checking; no doubt, distracted or in too much of a rush. For a split second, the driver failed to take care and thus sent poor Danielle off her bike and into the path of the passing automobile.

But is the driver of the parked car the only one at fault?

I know I'm going to annoy some readers in saying this, but didn't Danielle herself bear some of the responsibility? Did she not fail to look out for herself?

I'm a cyclist and a driver. And because I am, I see this accident from both sides. And believe me, this was an accident—no matter who's to blame.

When you're on a bicycle, you are extremely vulnerable when you're on the street, regardless of whether you have the right of way or not. You are on a vehicle, and when you mix with other vehicles you are at risk of colliding with them. And if you tangle with a car, you're going to lose, just as assuredly as if you were in a sub-compact car and you collide with a massive dump truck.

There is always a risk when a cyclist passes a car. We never know what to expect, and so we have to plan for whatever is thrown at us. And so we should give parked cars a wide birth.

I have been trying to teach my kids that lesson for some time now. And I always get nervous when I follow behind them on our bikes and we pass cars. They still need practice in giving plenty of room around the cars to avoid doors while not swinging out too far into traffic. But they're getting there.

I'm not saying Danielle didn't know this rule. But just as the driver forgot his rule of looking before opening his door, Danielle forgot her rule about making room, should a car door suddenly open.

Right or wrong, Danielle neglected to take care of her own safety. We all make mistakes; unfortunately, this mistake had fatal consequences.

I'm not letting the driver off the hook. This is a clear case of negligence causing death. Just as sure as the driver would be charged if he ran a red light and struck Danielle, I think the same penalty should apply. He was not in control of his vehicle, and as a result somebody died.

But Danielle should have been more careful too. Had she given a wider birth, she would have made it to work that morning. Blaming only the driver is like Danielle saying "I put my life in your hands and trusted that you wouldn't kill me." As cyclists, we must do everything we can to keep our lives in our own hands.

Because arguing the point later is moot when you're dead.

My heart goes out to the family, friends, and colleagues of Danielle. It also goes out to the driver who ran over Danielle, and even to the driver of the parked car, who, in one moment of careless negligence, caused so much sorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment