April means a lot of things: Longer days with (fingers crossed) more sunshine, belly laughs, preparing the garden, losing the sleeves on the morning commute ...
April is also Distracted Driving Awareness month. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 2013-17, an average of 3,240 people in the United States were killed by distracted drivers each year.
Cyclists typically account for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities, or an average of 769 per year, and while the biggest factors in these fatalities are helmet or alcohol-related (32 percent of deaths in 2012 saw either the driver or cyclist with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher), an average of 66 cyclists are killed each year by distracted drivers (2005-10).
What comes as no surprise is that crashes from distracted driving are grossly under-reported (no one wants to admit to being that a-hole), but the National Safety Council estimates that cell phone use alone accounted for 27 percent of all car crashes in 2015.
Can I take WTF for $1600, please, Alex?
If you want to estimate cell phone usage in vehicles more accurately, just ask a bike commuter. They're privy to a vantage point that many drivers don't have – their eyes on the road and on everything else that might kill them. According to every cyclist that's ever been asked, driver eyeballs are downward-facing most of the time. In fact, at a red light or in traffic, that figure rises to at least 140 percent.
But nearly 100 percent of distracted driving accidents can be prevented by keeping the focus on -- wait for it -- driving! Seems easy, right? And we can use the month of April as an excuse to bring attention to the issue and to be better stewards on the road -- whether on two wheels or four.
Visibility is a big obstacle for cyclists when it comes to the hierarchy of vehicles on the road. Where statured 18-wheelers reign supreme and squirrels don’t have a chance, bikes and ebikes fall somewhere between barefoot vagabonds playing frogger with traffic and Honda Ruckuses with exhaust downgrades.
Bikes can be seen, certainly, but wrapping them and the rider in reflective panels and 1200 lumens on both ends only goes so far when it's dark, raining, or PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT THEIR PHONE WHILE PILOTING A 4000-POUND CRUISE MISSILE AT 50 M.P.H. IN A 20.
So what's a timid two-wheeler to do? You can’t tip-tap on every car window, at every red light, on every road, and give the driver the put-down-the-phone sign.
But you can build awareness in other ways. Parents, if and when you drive, lead by example. Keep that sandwich grounded and the pomeranian in the backseat. SOV operators: Check your systems, GPS, lipstick, and A/C before you take it out of park. Finish that PowerPoint from the airplane, where someone else is at the wheel. Eat at home. Sleep when you’re dead.
It really isn't that hard to save yourself, save that ebiker, and save that squirrel. She's got her own nuts to get back to, after all.