Please Don’t Make Me Almost Kill You
By Mary Keyes Rogers | Oct. 5, 2019
I wish I could tell you that on the many occasions when I’ve said, “Oh my God, I almost just killed that person,” that it was simply a figure of speech. But in fact, I do almost kill people on a fairly regular basis. Maybe I almost killed you.
Countless times, I have been absolutely convinced that I’m going to kill, but through some twist of fate you’re spared, and we go our separate ways as if nothing almost happened.
Every single time it almost happens, my heart beats out of my chest, and I feel gut-punched. I’m then left with this overwhelming feeling of oddly inappropriate guilt mixed with selfish relief that what almost happened … did not. During our brief interaction, I transform from an almost-killer back to a mom, wife, sister, good neighbor, and a basically decent person going about her business.
You were lawfully riding your bike on a busy road. I was driving my car. Something quirky happened. I almost killed you.
Sometimes, it is confusion of both drivers and bicyclists over the laws. Who has the right of way? Do I yield to the bike lane when turning right without a stop sign? State laws differ, but in Michigan, the driver must yield to the bicyclist. Because it is nearly impossible to judge the speed of an approaching bicycle while your vehicle is slowing down, this is a recipe for disaster.
It is also just one of a million quirky situations that happen while bikes and cars learn to coexist. When they find themselves at cross-purposes, it’s anyone’s guess: “What is going to happen here?” Drivers and bicyclists usually have about two seconds to mind-meld and decide.
I am hyper-aware of you bicycling on busy high-speed roads because I see you as a ridiculously dangerous wild card thrown into the mix of already distracted drivers, tourists unfamiliar with our roads, poor signage, and a threat to my happy life if I kill you.
Are you in my blind spot? Are you going to stop at that stop sign? Where are you now? Do you know the rules of the road? Am I about to kill you? Again?
Maybe you experience a surface change, or I unexpectedly brake to avoid another car that has swerved to avoid a pothole. You were not breaking any laws; neither was I.
Here is my point: In these split-second moments where ambiguity rules, if anything goes awry between our differing interpretations of multiple factors, you are up against my one-ton killing machine. If you are left dead or seriously injured, who really cares who was right and who was wrong?
You know my killing machine is traveling alongside you, and yet you decide to take the gamble that nothing bad will happen to you and your flesh suit.
So, what is the answer to this? What am I asking for here? No idea. I just know that when I encounter a confident bicyclist in these situations, I can’t help but wonder why they take the risk.
In my opinion, the stakes are just too high for bicycles and vehicles to coexist on heavily trafficked roadways. The fact remains that in these split-second moments of confusion or circumstance, my car will crush you.
When I do kill you, the police will be called, and the officer will guide my head with his hand as I am placed in the back seat of the patrol car. Do you think I will be put in handcuffs? Hmm? I’m not sure. I’ve always known this was a possibility. So many close calls, it was bound to happen. Am I really a killer?
Almost-killing runs in my family. This summer, my son was driving along Front Street in downtown Traverse City in the righthand lane when he unwittingly placed his killing machine into a perfect storm of bike vs. car. A bicyclist was completely within the rules of the road traveling in the bike lane to my son’s right, two or three car lengths behind him. Vehicle traffic slowed, the bicyclist maintained his speed, now advancing.
And then it happened. The driver of a parked vehicle opened his car door into the bike lane. The bicyclist, within his lawful space and maneuvering defensively, attempted to shut the car door with his right hand as he collided and was thrown onto my son’s moving car.
It wasn’t the bicyclist’s fault. It wasn’t my son’s fault. When a law-abiding bicyclist gets “doored,” anything can happen, depending on exactly where their body gets thrown. It is every bicyclists' greatest fear.
As the driver of a vehicle and the rider of a bicycle, you and I have equal rights and equal responsibilities. However, we do not have an equal chance of surviving when something goes wrong.
Every time I almost kill, I pour my emotional mess in a little jar and place it on a crowded shelf labeled Why I Hate Bikes On Roads. Nothing personal.
Mary Keyes Rogers is a Traverse City resident, host of The Experience 50 Podcast for Midlife, and blogger at Experience50.com.