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Car-bicycle accidents are a troubling trend

Florida Today: Mark DeCotis: Car-bicycle accidents are a troubling trend

Nov. 20, 2011

Mark Decotis

For the third time in seven months an experienced, elite-level Brevard County cyclist has been injured in a car-bicycle accident, and this time the consequences are much more serious.

Viera’s Pete Carabetta, a multiple-time Ironman triathlete (2.4-mile swim, 112-mike bike, 26.2-mile run) was severely injured in a collision with a Cadillac Escalade not far from his home last Sunday. He remains in the intensive care unit at Holmes Regional Medical Center with multiple injuries.

Carabetta’s accident follows one involving five-time Florida age-group time trial champion Gary Stern of Indialantic, who was hit on A1A in south Melbourne Beach in May and needed reconstructive knee surgery, and an August accident involving Melbourne Village cyclist and triathlete Tom Downey, who was injured when a car broke into a paceline on A1A near Aquarina.

What in the world is going on? It’s enough to make a rider park his or her road bike for good out of fear of serious injury or worse. One of our nieces did just that after witnessing a fatal collision in Virginia five years ago and also being in a wreck herself. She’s OK and we’re all thankful for that and she is still kicking butt as a runner and a mountain biker.

But does it really have to come to that? Are we as cyclists no longer safe? Can we no longer pump up our tires, buckle on our helmets and click into our pedals and believe we are capable of arriving home in the same state in which we departed? Upright and as a bonus uplifted from a exhilarating ride? Are we — even the inconsiderate cyclists who hog the road and refuse to move — to be consigned to continually looking over our shoulders and wondering where the next blindside is going to come from the next distracted or disinterested motorist who might be talking on his or her phone, texting, reading or applying makeup?

Don’t even dare to deny any of the above. I’ve seen all that and more, even at speed on I-95. Thankfully cyclists aren’t allowed on the interstate. That carnage would be catastrophic. It’s bad enough on the surface roads. And while on that subject, why aren’t there more shoulders on surface roads? And if there are shoulders, why are they littered with glass and nails and boards and all forms of sharp objects that can puncture a thin bicycle tire in an instant?

And for the 1,000th time, a road cyclist cannot ride at speed on a sidewalk or even on many bike paths that hug traffic-heavy roads. I’ve had and seen too many close calls involving motorists who pull straight onto a bike path from a side street not thinking for one moment that there might be a bike rider on the bike path.

Here’s the deal. Bicycling is a popular, healthy form of both exercise and release. And the more a person rides, especially younger people, the more they become enamored with the sport and want to ride better and faster and further. They invest more time and more money in the hobby, venturing from doing laps of a park or a subdivision, venturing onto two-lane or four-lane roads where they can test themselves against their own limits and the limits of others.

And then they meet Brevard County traffic. As I have written, not every motorist is inconsiderate or aggressive or on another planet. Many motorists are accommodating and understanding. But more than a few aren’t, which leads us right back to the beginning. Three accidents involving three experienced, elite-level cyclists in seven months.

What in the world is going on?