Thursday, October 25, 2007


Some thoughts in the aftermath of the "accident" that claimed the life of cyclist Sarah Howard.*

Public roads are called that for a reason. They are transportation corridors, available to all, and maintained with revenues collected from the taxpaying public.

There is a set of rules for the road. Without rules, the ensuing anarchy would render the roadways useless. There are speed limits and intersection traffic controls. There are stripes to mark traffic lanes. People who choose to use the public road are expected to abide by the rules.

People who operate motor vehicles on the roads are expected to be competent to do so. At some point, they have taken a test and demonstrated their ability to safely operate a vehicle within the confines of the rules, and without endangering other roadway users. If they become incompetent, it is expected that they would give up their driving privileges.

Oddly, anybody can operate a bicycle on the public roadways. Perhaps there should be a skills and knowledge exam. But on the other hand, the stakes seem to be much higher for a bicycle operator - his life literally depends on his safely and legally operating his vehicle. (And his life literally depends on the ability of other roadway users to safely operate their vehicles, as well.)

Vehicles that are operated on public roadways are expected to be safe, and able to be controlled by the person behind the wheel, so as to be legal and not endanger other roadway users. (If the vehicle operator isn't responsible for assuring that the vehicle is safe... then who?)

When I'm riding my bicycle in a striped, dedicated bike lane, I have the expectation that I won't have to deal with motorists encroaching into that lane.

Unfortunately, expectations aren't always met.

Sarah Howard has now been laid to rest.

There was a nice memorial "ride of silence" in her memory and honor, by some 200 of her sister and brother cyclists. It got some nice publicity on the local media. Did it "raise awareness," as intended? I sure hope so.

We anxiously await the findings of the Meridian Police Department. My expectation is that the driver of the vehicle that killed her will be held accountable.

Laws without penalties for violating them are meaningless.

To not hold Ms. Janzen accountable for killing another human being - a wife, mother, daughter, friend - would devalue Sarah Howard's life, and send an ominous message that we don't really expect you to be accountable for the safe operation of your vehicle, because "accidents happen."

* On Friday, October 19, cyclist Sarah Howard was stopped at a traffic signal, in the striped bike lane. Driver Erika E. Janzen was approaching from behind in her Hummer, when for some yet-unexplained reason, she "lost control" of her vehicle. It reportedly hopped the curb with the right-side tires and continued forward, out of control, striking Sarah and likely killing her instantly. The police are continuing their investigation; as of October 25, no charges have been filed.

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