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Warm weather prompts reminders for cyclists, drivers to share the road

MONROE COUNTY, Ind. -- Indiana State Police say the crash that killed 11-year-old Kaitlyn Wells over the weekend, appears to be a “freak accident.”

A driver, who swerved to miss a cyclist who had fallen into the road, lost control and went into oncoming traffic. Kaitlyn, from Martinsville, later died.

But ISP and local biking advocacy groups say most accidents involving bikes and cyclists are avoidable.

With warm weather over the next few days and likely here to stay for the summer, more bikes and cars will be trying to share the road.

But some central Indiana cyclists worry that some cyclists and drivers won’t be trying hard enough.

“Everybody’s leaving work, they’re tired and they want to get home,” said INDYCOG interim executive director Damon Richards. “Their attention is smaller, their speed’s a little faster and those are dangerous times.”

INDYCOG is a nonprofit that aims to make Indy a better place to bike. The problems they face in Marion County though, Richards says, exist all over the state.

Many areas don’t have trails long enough for serious cyclists to ride, so they ride on county roads with fewer stops. There and on other roads, drivers aren’t alert to the fact that a cyclist could be there until they are.

“Most of the time that there are crashes that involve a bicycle and an automobile, one or both of the drivers could have done something to either avoid or mitigate the problem,” said Richards.

According to Richards, cyclists often see drivers getting irritated with cyclists in the road, believing they shouldn’t be there. But the law gives cyclists every right to be in the road with cars.

“What I tell my friends who drive and don’t bike is ‘think of a bicycle just like another slow-moving vehicle,’” said Richards.

To be fair, Richards sees cyclists, especially rookies, making mistakes too.

“They ride too far off the road and so they’re out of the normal vision of a driver,” said Richards. “So a driver sees them at the last instant and that kind of gives them a shock.”

Most adult cyclists have likely driven a car, so they do understand both perspectives.

He believes if drivers think of bikers like they do other slow “drivers,” they’ll have more patience and better avoid potential tragedies.

“You wouldn’t run over an Amish guy in his wagon,” said Richards. “You wouldn’t run over one of these pretty Cinderella carts downtown. And you wouldn’t blow a gasket because you’re behind them. Wait until there’s room to go around and go around.”

INDYCOG is now working to bring a biker education program from Fort Collins, Colo., to Indianapolis.

It gives drivers a chance to experience the road from a bike rider’s perspective, without actually getting on the road. It’s a model they hope other Indiana cities will be able to use too.

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