Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eyes on the Road

This Sunday's New York Times featured another excellent front page investigation, this one about the thwarted attempts by many states to enact laws against the use of cellphones by car drivers, despite the increasing evidence of the distracting dangers of both handheld and hands-free phones for people who should be paying attention to the road.

The story is fascinating for not being entirely black and white: some big businesses (cellular companies) are lobbying to halt cellphone laws, while others (auto insurers) want bans in place. Also, the family of the woman killed by a cellphone-using 20-year-old, who didn't even see the red light he blew through, admitted that she often talked on the phone while driving. That was one of the most interesting details: Most drivers recognize the dangers of driving and dialing—they just don't think it's dangerous when they do it. (Alas, it is.)

While it doesn't mention bikes, the story evokes every cyclist's worst nightmare—getting smeared from behind by someone too busy text-messaging to notice them—and I couldn't help but think of the Times report again when I read the news stories about the five road cyclists injured in Ottawa, at least one of them critically, by a driver who didn't even bother to stop at the scene. There's no indication yet that a cellphone played a part, but it was a clear day and a group ride, and the driver would seem to have no excuse beyond aggressive ignorance. Some good tips, for cyclists and drivers alike, on how to stay out of each other's ways in today's Globe and Mail.

Finally, it reminded me of a line from an excellent Sports Illustrated article recently, about the different attitudes towards cycling in Europe (where it's considered a blue-collar sport) versus North America (where it's the much-mocked realm of nerds with thick calves), and how Lance Armstrong bridged those two worlds for many years:

"In Europe a truck driver who sees cyclists out training invites them to grab hold of his rig for a tow; Armstrong could recount many times that pick-ups and semis in Texas literally ran him off the road. What made Armstrong different -- what would make him a seven-time winner of the Tour, when you get right down to it -- is that he would flip those truck drivers the bird."

It looks like this year Lance will be passing his crown onto the new master of the mountains, Alberto Contador. But you can bet that he'd still put his pump through the windshield of any text-messaging yahoo who tried to mess with his ride.

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