Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Case of Contributory Negligence?

An accident is seldom just one event or decision - it is usually the result of a series that create a causal chain - like all the tumblers in a lock needing to line-up in the right order and click in to place for the key to be turned.

Quite often in personal injury cases or other liability issues, a portion of the blame for actions leading up to the accident is assigned to each party.  This apportionment should theoretically ensure that one party does not shoulder the full liability when the injured party somehow contributed to the circumstances that lead to an accident or injury.  It is probably much more complicated than I am able to grasp, but hopefully close enough to accurate to serve as setting for the remainder of today's post.

I have been riding in the early morning light for the last few weeks and have taken it for granted even though I know it will soon wane and we will be running lights just to ride before work.  The ability to ride as late as 7am meant that the sun has been high enough so as not to pose a danger to me on a bike by blinding an oncoming motorist or make it difficult to see me with back lighting.  Today I had an 8am meeting which meant I needed to be out the door on my bike by 6am to get a ride in prior to the meeting.

As I was leaving, I noted that the sun had not broken above Tower Mountain yet and briefly considered a flashing headlight in addition to the Superflash Blinky I have been wearing on the rear the past week.  My westerly route on 57th Ave would put the sun at my back and very low on the horizon.  Adding a flashing light on the front would increase my chances of being seen by oncoming traffic in these conditions.  "No, I am in a hurry - too much time to mount, I will be late for my meeting, I will be careful, it is light enough" were all justifications for setting-out with no headlight. CLICK

The first 3rd of the road ride was pleasant and uneventful followed by turning west on 57th Avenue with the rising sun behind me.  CLICK.  As I neared the Starbucks across from Albertsons, I was focused on trying to time the stoplight at Regal and lost a little of my situational awareness.  Then it happened, a driver in an SUV heading east into the sun suddenly entered the turn lane and began a left turn into the Starbucks drive-through entry just as I was about to cross her path. CLICK  We simultaneously recognized an impending collision  and jammed-on the brakes - both stopping just in time to avoid the impact.  Disaster averted but it probably left the driver shaken, angry or upset at the near miss.  

I was not particularly upset since close calls happen to me rather frequently and I continued west thinking about the contributing factors to the near miss.  I looked at my shadow in the next sunlit area and saw how long it was compared to recent morning rides. 

This means the sun was really low and just over my right shoulder.  The angle was almost directly in the turning motorists eyes.  I thought how much a light would have improved my chances of being noticed and allow her time to register my presence, speed and direction.  How much had my actions contributed to the near miss?  Fortunately that question won't be answered by an investigating officer or jury since the collision was avoided.  

Had I contributed?  Yes, I could have taken steps to be more visible in a variety of light conditions.  Now it is time to move from denial that summer is ending and to dust of the lights again, pull-out the bright clothing and  choose routes that minimize the direct sun behind me.  Motorists are human and make mistakes too.  We need to increase visibility, ride defensively and take measures to avoid being hit by a car.  Otherwise, we are just lining-up the tumblers needed to turn the key that leads to an incident.

See you on the road.

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