July 25, 2021, will long be remembered as a tragic day for bicycling in central Virginia. On that Sunday, two bike riders lost their lives in separate collisions. The first deadly crash happened around 3:30 am in Chesterfield County, just outside the southwest corner of Richmond. Around 17 hours later, a wreck in Hanover County northeast of the Virginia’s capital city resulted in what may have been an avoidable death.
The earlier crash occurred in the 7000 block of Hull Street Road. According to police, a man behind the wheel of an SUV struck a bicyclist and attempted to flee the scene. The deceased victim was publicly identified as 28-year-old Wilson W. Jones of Rice, VA, and the driver is facing preliminary charges for driving under the influence, manslaughter while driving under the influence, and felony hit and run.
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A little after the sun set on that same day, a driver and bicyclist collided near the intersection of Chamberlayne Road and East Parham Road in the community of Chamberlayne, VA. Investigators did not release information on why the crash happened, but the identity of the deceased bike rider has been conformed as 47-year-old Glen Allen resident Shakir Nishar Afzal.
While reporting on these tragedies, Richmond NBC affiliate WWBT noted, “In 2020, the Virginia DMV reported 560 bicycle crashes with eight fatalities. Those numbers are down from 2019 where there were more than 650 crashes with 13 deaths.”
Why Drivers Hit, Injure and Kill People on Bicycles
Details on these specific crashes in Chesterfield and Hanover counties are sparse. Other than law enforcement officials’ suspicion that one of the drivers was drunk or stoned, we cannot speculate on causes or contributing factors. Decades of experience advising and represented injured bike riders, however, have led my Virginia personal injury and wrongful death law firm colleagues and me to identify common reasons for accidents involving bicycles.
The biggest problem is that drivers fail to yield right of way to bike riders. People behind the wheels of cars, trucks and SUVs turn, back out of driveways and enter intersections without even checking whether bicycles are present or approaching.
Related to this problem is the reality that bicycles (and motorcycles, for that matter) are small and often tough to see. Drivers who do not remind themselves to look for bikes can simply fail to see a bicyclist. The small size of two-wheeled vehicles also plays tricks with drivers’ abilities to judge distance and speed.
A third set of causes of bike accidents fall into the broad category of impatience and lack of consideration. Drivers rear-end slower-moving bike riders. Drivers sideswipe riders instead of waiting to pass or changing lanes. Drivers have even intentionally driven into packs of riders instead of find a safe way around.
It is certainly true that bicyclists have personal and legal responsibilities for riding safely and doing things such as using lights at night. But drivers must share the road respectfully. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers the following tips for doing exactly that:
- Yield to bicyclists as you would motorists and do not underestimate their speed. This will help avoid turning in front of a bicyclist traveling on the road or sidewalk, often at an intersection or driveway.
- In parking lots, at stop signs, when packing up, or when parking, search your surroundings for other vehicles, including bicycles.
- Drivers turning right on red should look to the right and behind to avoid hitting a bicyclist approaching from the right rear. Stop completely and look left-right-left and behind before turning right on red.
- Obey the speed limit, reduce speed for road conditions and drive defensively to avoid a crash with a cyclist.
- Give cyclists room. Do not pass too closely. Pass bicyclists as you would any other vehicle—when it’s safe to move over into an adjacent lane.