NTSB Investigates Horrific Bicycle Crashes Too

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of five bicyclists and injuring of four in June by a motorist on a rural road outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, were so horrendous that it caught the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board.
August 18, 2016, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The investigation marks only the second time in it's 90-year history that the independent federal agency will prepare a report on a bicycle crash. Another reason given for the investigation was "the growing popularity of bicycling as an alternative to vehicles."

The June 7 tragedy on the rural, two-lane North Westnedge Avenue a few miles north of Kalamazoo in Cooper Township, Michigan resulted in five counts of second-degree murder and four counts of reckless driving against the 50-year-old pickup driver who hit all nine, experienced cyclists from the rear, by far the most common type of bicycle crash according to a chart [PDF] by the League of American Bicyclists. [See study (PDF)].

"NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said in June the team will look at all aspects of the incident, including how it happened and how the truck hit the bicyclists," reports Emily Monacelli for the Kalamazoo News (via MLive.com).

He said the team will reconstruct the crash and find out if there are any safety issues that could be improved, from the vehicles involved to the road.

In our June 21 post on the incident, Toole Design Group engineer "Bill Schultheiss and Jim Ferner, Kalamazoo biking advocate, said widening the shoulders on Westnedge to give bikers a separate lane should be the first priority to increase safety." It also noted "that while there has been progress in improving bike infrastructure on urban roads, it's difficult to make changes on rural roads."

Weiss said the NTSB took an interest in the case and investigating it, and that it wasn't the request of local authorities.

This is such a singular event that we wanted to look at the issues behind it," said Weiss, who acknowledged it's unusual for the NTSB to investigate crashes involving bicycles.

In addition to the above charges, the driver, "Charles Pickett Jr. is accused of five charges of operating while intoxicated causing death," reported Monacelli earlier. "Pain pills and muscle relaxersmay have been the cause of his driving impairment. NTSB will investigate their role in the crash.

A preliminary NTSB report posted online Aug. 3 "does not provide much more detail than many media accounts," reports Fredrick Kunkle for The Washington Post. "But the NTSB’s interest in a bicycle accident is unusual."

“We last looked at cycling in the early 1970s,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said in an email [Aug. 9.] “We’re looking at the Kalamazoo crash as part of an effort to examine the future roadway, where cars and trucks increasingly share the road with cyclists and pedestrians.”

The agency decided that the crash was worth investigating not only because of its severity but because of the growing popularity of bicycling as an alternative to vehicles.

According to the agency's website, "The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident the United States and significant accidents in other modes of transportation – railroad, highway, marine and pipeline."

Correspondent's note: The NTSB investigation into the crash was noted earlier in "Traffic Safety Advocates Taking Action Into Their Own Hands."

Hat tip to The AASHTO Daily Transportation Update

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Published on Friday, August 12, 2016 in Kalamazoo News
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