Put Down Your Phone and Drive (Before You Kill Me)

This is a guest post from our resident no-meat triathlete, Susan Lacke.

Are you reading this article on your cell phone right now?

iStock 000010832097XSmall 201x300If so, are you behind the wheel of a car?

Please. Put down your cell. NOW. Get to your destination. I promise, I’ll still be here when you come back. Go on.

Seriously. GO.

It seems strange, writing about your driving habits, when most of my articles on this site are about locomotion using the two-wheel variety or the old school hoofin’ it. But now, more than ever, I’m intimately familiar with how 2,000-pound four-wheeled vehicles impact the physical activity of every athlete.

I got hit by a car while riding my bike. Again.

I’m not sure what happened. First I was riding, and then I wasn’t. I was on the road, then I was in someone’s lawn. I was upright, then I was faceplanted in the grass. I was satisfied with a  great workout, then I was crying, scared, and hurting.

This is the third time it’s happened to me. What hurts the most is not the broken ribs. It’s not the concussion. It’s not the road rash and bruises. It’s my faith in humanity.

You see, when I’ve been hit while cycling, the drivers didn’t stop, but just kept on going. When talking with a police officer, I asked why this might be — the answer? They probably didn’t even realize what happened, or, if they did, simply didn’t want to get caught and admit they weren’t paying attention behind the wheel.

When I heard that, it took every ounce of strength I had to maintain my composure. I wanted to have a meltdown. I wanted to grab someone by the shoulders and shake them. I wanted to scream: G-dammit-how-do-you-hit-another-person-and-not-know-it-what-the-hell-ARE-YOU-AN-ASSHOLE-OR-JUST-STUPID-GAAAAAAAAAAH!

Ahem. Pardon my French.

Distracted driving is growing at an alarming rate. In your car, you probably multitask: You drink your coffee, eat your snack, check your e-mail on your BlackBerry, change the music on your iPod, talk to your child in the backseat, read the billboards on the side of the road, daydream, and text. You read about the texting-while-driving accidents in the news and “tsk-tsk-what-a-tragedy” but rest assured that it would never happen to you. You’re a much better driver than that.

Right?

Except for those times when you’re reading an e-mail on your phone and look up and quickly notice the car in front of you is stopped, causing you to slam on your brakes. Or those times when you’re looking for a specific song on your iPod and look up to realize you’re in the oncoming traffic lane. Or those times when you space out and realize you have no recollection of the last 15 minutes of driving.

I’m not really a fan of using scare tactics to make a point. But let’s face it: I’m scared. In a matchup between car vs. bike, the vehicle with heft, seatbelts and airbags beats a simple ultralight bike and helmet every single time. I could be dead. I should be dead. All because someone wasn’t paying attention.

It’s been three weeks since my accident. The road rash is almost all gone, and I can finally take deep breaths again without it hurting too much. But I still can’t bring myself to get back on the roads. I’m terrified.

I’ve written before on how you can stay safe while running, cycling, or swimming. Now, my plea has nothing to do with your participation in any of those activities.

When you drive, promise me you’ll remember you are operating a piece of machinery that weighs thousands of pounds. If you haven’t been hit by a car before, take it from me: You feel every single one of those pounds when you’re hit.

Put down the cell phone. You can wait until you get home to text your friend that you LOL’d (You know weren’t really laughing out loud anyway). You can pull over to the side of the road to call your spouse back about what kind of wine you’d like to pick up for dinner. You can read No Meat Athlete when you’re not behind the wheel of a car. When you’re driving, make that one task your priority. Everything else can wait.

I’ll get the confidence to get back on the road one of these days. When I do, I hope you see me pedaling away in the bike lane.

Really, I hope you see me.

I’d like that.

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Comments

  1. SO true. I’ve read that driving a car is the most complicated thing most people will do in their lives, and very few pay attention! Ever since I first read about distracted driving, I’ve made a point to focus completely – no music, no phone – while I am behind the wheel. But I know that so many people don’t do that, and as a result I am always nervous when I’m out on my bike – which is so frustrating, because it’s supposed to be FUN. Thanks for posting this! The more people talk about distracted driving, I hope, the more people will actually focus on DRIVING while they’re driving. And then we will all be safer.

    So sorry to hear about your accident – hope you feel better soon.

    • This is exactly what I was hoping for — to get people to examine what they currently do behind the wheel as well as get them to talk to others about distracted driving. Whenever I find out one of my friends is texting me from behind the car, I make sure to call ‘em out on it. Not in a mean way, just in a “I-love-you-and-want-you-to-get-home-without-hurting-yourself-or-others” way.” I hope more people do this!

  2. Right on sister! I’m with you on all of this. As a matter of fact, I do not own a cell phone. Because others are not looking for you, you look for them. I’m not “laughing out loud”…I’m serious about safety. Be safe out there.

  3. It’s always bothered me that, at least in my state, bikers cannot bike on the sidewalks and have to share the roads with giant SUVs. To me, they are not equivalent traffic. If a car hits a biker, the biker could die, but if a biker hits a pedestrian, that’s much less serious. I know many bikers wouldn’t want to bike on the sidewalks, but I wouldn’t feel safe enough in the street to brave it myself.

  4. Wow, I can’t believe you have been hit TWICE. I’m with you on the distracted driving. It seems to be especially bad with young drivers. Scary!

    • Honestly, I’m seeing it with all sorts of people, not just young drivers. There’s dads handing a tissue to their kid in the backseat, middle-aged women applying makeup in their rear-view mirror while driving, and older folks trying to find the street sign for their turn without looking at anything else. Distraction is an equal-opportunity monster.

  5. Totally agreed! Is it still legal in the states? Using your phone while driving (except for a hands free device) is actually illegal in a number of provinces in Canada but its a new law and I see TONS of people breaking it usually before they do something stupid and unsafe.

    • It’s illegal in a lot of places, but that doesn’t seem to stop people. I hope there’s more enforcement soon.

      • Sad, but true. When non-hands-free cell phone use became illegal in California, I saw about a 5 day decrease in the amount of people talking on cell phones held up to their ears while driving. Now I see just as many as ever before. What’s worse, I see even more people texting/checking email with the phone down in their lap so they have to take their eyes even father from the road so as not to get caught.

  6. oh my god, susan. after what you’ve been through- multiple times- you’re more than entitled to use scare tactics to make a point. i hope your recovery is a speedy one and that this never happens to you again (or anyone else, for that matter!).

  7. I have a friend who keeps trying to get me into biking but I won’t for the reasons you described here. I don’t trust people on the road and putting my life in their hands scares the crap out of me. I’ve almost been hit several times as a runner when I was ON THE SIDEWALK because of drivers pulling out of parking lots, yacking on their phones instead of checking to see if the coast is clear. Glad you’re okay.

  8. Oddly enough, I’ve been nearly hit by cars more while I’m running than when I’m on my bike. I bike like an asshole – I am aggressive, I wave my arms so I am seen, I make it a point to be seen. When running home from work the other day, two female drives nearly hit me because they were pulling out from a drive onto the road and not looking both ways. Sure, I could have stopped and patiently waited while they ignorantly pulled out in front of me – but screw that. I get in front of the car and then when they slam on the brakes and give me that familiar “oh my gosh – there are pedestrians!” face, I stare at them while I flick them off. Drivers need to learn to look, to be aware, to CHECK both ways. I haven’t been hit (yet) on my bike or while running – and hopefully I won’t be… but I’ll continue to put myself out there to be seen… annoyingly so if necessary. I think it’s the only reason I haven’t been hit yet. Great article. You say it perfectly.

    • Funny, there are few people who have this attitude. I am one of them. Other people are too passive and let stupid/aggressive people win battles because they are afraid of their reaction. That’s why the world is getting so insanely stupid and rude – the idiots are allowed to do as they please and then flip US off when they hit US.

    • I don’t employ such bold strategies myself, as it seems to reinforce the stereotype people have of cyclists: That we’re a bunch of self-entitled assholes who get off on cutting off cars and provoking accidents. I know that’s not really the case, as you’re just trying to be seen, so if that’s your strategy and you haven’t gotten hit yet, then by all means, keep doing it! :) Stay safe out there!

    • I’m liable to get shot doing that. In Toledo, OH you don’t flip people off when you are defenseless (e.g. tired from exercising).

  9. great article – I shared on facebook. thanks!

  10. It is a scary place out there. Glad to hear you are on the road to recovery.

    Maybe you need a “Don’t Run Me Over Jersey”: http://www.sharethedamnroad.com/cycling-jerseys/dont-run-me-over-cycling-jersey

  11. I drive a bus in Seattle so I frequently see people doing some pretty stupid things behind the wheel. Yesterday’s prize goes to a woman who was:

    . Smoking
    . Drinking Coffee
    . Talking on her cell phone
    . Driving her SUV

    She definitely had that air of “I’m more important than you” about her, even without the laundry list of distractions. Sigh…

  12. Biking in traffic scares me! Im in South Beach now and just bought a bike! I am loving getting around faster, but always wear my helmet (although Im the only nerd wearing one down here!) haha
    I rather be safe than sorry though!

  13. I do hope you heal both physically and emotionally. I know how hard it is to force yourself to get back out there. I was not hit but was run off the road while running. The car came at me and I fell, hitting my collar bone on the curb as well as my arm which then planted into my chest. I had cracked bones and bruises for a while. Once I could run again, I made myself run the route again to get the memory out of my head. Well, the memory never leaves but I am healthy and running again. I hope you are soon also.

    • SO sorry to hear about your accident! That’s one thing I’ve been dealing with right now…I’m definitely gun-shy when it comes to getting back on my bike. I’ve tried to get on the road a few times…haven’t been successful yet. :(

  14. Thank you for this post! I couldn’t agree more: No talking or texting while driving!! It’s the most reckless thing that you could do behind the wheel; studies show it’s even more dangerous than driving under the influence.

  15. You might consider becoming obnoxiously visible. Bright jersey/jacket, with reflective tape. Flashing headlight – the “Magic Shine”, on its slower flashing pattern, is very visible. Flashing taillight — go all out and get a (phonetic here) Die-Not.
    And: rear-view mirror on your glasses or helmet, and digital helmet cam, pointing to the rear; “smile” sign with a camera outline flying from your seat.
    Then, as you ride, and it may be hard after your accidents, and if you haven’t ridden this way before, take your fair share of the lane. Make them go around you; you have right of way.
    Might want to ease into riding by going out with a group – some safety in numbers.

  16. I am a transportation engineer and am SHOCKED at the statistics about distracted driving. It’s so dangerous yet still legal to do some of these things.

    On a different note, people need to be aware of the laws regarding cell phone use in their county or state. Slowly but surely texting or even talking on phones are becoming illegal.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this. Please know there are policy makers out there trying to help!!!

    • You rock, Bridget! Keep spreading the word! Policy makers need to hear that this is an issue in order to enact on it. Write your representatives. The “Not One More Foundation” is a great local organization I plan on becoming involved with in activism on this topic.

  17. I’ve also been a victim of a hit and run. I was lucky to only end up with some road rash and untrue wheel. I just wish I was together enough to grab the licence plate as they sped off. Also, if that idiot hit you that hard there is NO WAY they didn’t notice. They probably looked up from their phone when they heard the thud and stepped on the accelerator.

    Always wear a helmet people, cause someone could be texting.

    • I’m glad you came out relatively unscathed!
      Scary to think of what happened with the person who hit me…but probably true. However bad it sounds, I do feel some sympathy for the person who hit me. The fear they must have felt when they realized what happened as well as the guilt or unknowning they probably feel right now (I hope) is heavy. That’s a scary thing to deal with. Maybe (I hope) they’ve learned from the experience? We’ll see.

  18. Shut up and drive!

  19. Stephen S. Mack says:

    Which is why I won’t ride my bike any more (I’m 69 years old), since that kind of collision will more likely than not kill me. I won’t even walk on public roads in my state because they have no shoulders to the highways.

    Fortunately, I live in the woods and can get out and walk safely; just have to watch out for Mom Black Bear and the family.

    I am sorry that we’ve become a nation of idiots behind the wheel. I think it didn’t used to be that way.

    With best regards,

    Stephen

  20. Hmm,
    This makes me wonder if the time in 7th grade when I was riding my bike down the road, and suddenly woke up at my parents house sitting at the kitchen table covered in blood and staring at my shattered watch, if maybe I was hit by a car as well. It never occured to me that someone could have hit me with a car and kept going… but I did wonder how my bike got all bent up into a pretzel if I just fell down. I have vague dream-like memories of a runner dude stopping to help me walk back to my house. It’s nice to know there are good people in this world.

    Thanks for your story. I hope there are no permanent effects. Be safe!

  21. I’m so glad that you’re doing okay.

    I was over the moon when they made it illegal to use your cell phone while driving in my city – the police really cracked down on it; I think there were 200 tickets given out to drivers on the first day that of the ban.

    Distracted driving is SO dangerous. People should never use cell phones while driving.

  22. My 19 year old son was hit by a lady making a left turn into a shopping center. He goes to Ohio State and we live 3 hours away. That is NOT the phone call you want to get as a mother.
    He was super lucky and got spent one night in the hospital with facial trauma (broken nose, chipped tooth, road rash on the face, severely swollen top lip) It could have been worse. But…PLEASE drivers watch for bikers and runners. I love that my whole family participates in triathlons, but it terrifies me sometimes thinking about all the time that my husband, my son, my 17 yo daughter and I spend on the road.

    Glad you are healing!!

  23. I am so sorry this has happened to you! And more than once!! I have a fear of being hit when biking or running. I have had some close calls, but thankfully was not hit. I was almost hit twice outside my daughters school. Parents drop their kids off and then are rushing out of their and not paying attention to all the other kids, even in crosswalks! And yes, texting and talking on cell phones while driving is a pet peeve of mine. I just let it ring. Nothing is that important it can’t wait a bit…

  24. wow, i’m glad you are ok. that is scary. i bike to work almost everyday, and i try to be very aware of the cars around me, but it is still scary. a lot of people driving cars feel very inconvenienced by bikers, and will squeal and speed by because we’re holding them up. this just reminded me to be as cautious as i can while biking.
    hope you recover soon.

  25. Tim Woodbury says:

    Yikes, Susan! I’m glad you’re okay. I had a similar incident not too long ago involving a metro bus in broad daylight.

    It’s awfully hard to keep your faith in humanity when neither the driver of the offending vehicle, nor any of the 20-odd witnesses, stop to make sure you’re alright. Rest assured that if I hit you, I’d stop. That didn’t come out quite right, but it’s kinda funny – I’m leaving it. ;)

    Be safe out there!!

  26. Really glad your alright! I worry about this daily on the commute and all you can really do is hope people are paying enough attention to see you… I wish people could understand that driving is one of the most, if not the most dangerous act that they do, but since its so routine these days, many dont think twice about it. Anyways hope the recovery is quick and you back on the road cycling sooner than later :)

  27. Thanks for the post. My 88-yr-old uncle was hit by a car while he was standing still beside his bike waiting to cross the road (and wearing a reflective helmet and vest – in daylight). The female driver said she “saw him, but didn’t think she was close enough to hit him!”

    I’m not counting on drivers anywhere becoming anything except more distracted. Except for getting access to a nearby bike/pedestrian trail or access between trails, I will not ride on the roads. When I am on a road, I ride against traffic even though it’s not legal. I want to be able to take evasive action if needed.

  28. I was hit by a car while crossing the street three weeks ago. You are so right about feeling every pound of the moving vehicle – I took 3,000 pounds of Chevy Tahoe to the right leg, and somehow ended up with only stitches and severe bruising. I am insanely lucky to be alive, given the large dent in the hood of her car. It scares me how reckless the majority of drivers are. Hope you are okay as well.

  29. sounds like this is happending too much from your comments. I’m another one who has been hit by someone who was “distracted” i.e. on her cell phone. Finishing up a bike ride and a woman turned right in front of me into a driveway. Broke my collarbone and foot from the collision with her SUV. Still recovering 3 months later and not sure I will risk riding on the roads again. I urge everyone to spread the word – put down your cell phone. NOW!

  30. I have found my lights to be lifesavers. I use a red, crazy-flashing-pattern clip on light on my back and a bright white one by Cat Eye which I set on flashing when riding in daylight, solid when riding in the dark. I’ve seen drivers react to them and brake as they were about to pull out right in front of me. They catch the eye even if one isn’t looking directly at the wearer, which is crucial in this world of distracted drivers.

  31. Alayna, cycling on the sidewalk is actually more dangerous for cyclists. For instance, if you go to cross an intersection on a bike, those turning right have less time to see you and stop than if you were walking (and vice-versa, you have less time to stop). The same goes for people pulling out of driveways who don’t expect cyclists on the sidewalk. You are safer in the road as crazy as that sounds!

    • One suggestion I’ve seen is to put a PVC pipe cut to about 3-4 feet on the back of your bike to help motorists realize that your front (handlebars) is wider and to give you adequate distance. It won’t stop the distracted drivers, but it will help prevent the drivers who drive too fast and close.

  32. I’m a runner, and I’ve been tempted to get into triathlons. This is the single greatest reason why I can’t make the jump. Not being able to see traffic just frightens me because of this very reason.

    Not to mention when my city had bike lanes put in, what the SUV, rifle rack crowd had to say in the comments on the local newspaper’s website. Just unreal.

    How’s this for irony. Michelob Ultra likes to sponsor marathons. On Monday morning I was nearly run over…even after I got in the grass by a Michelob ultra truck.

    I am so sorry this has happened now this many times.

  33. Susan, I’m so sorry to hear about your accident, again! It really isn’t fair.

    I can say for my part, being an EMT, I am too afraid to bike. It is one of my favorite things to do but unless I’m on a greenway I just can’t. I have seen so many people killed because a car or truck wasn’t paying attention or was in a rush. And it is like someone else said, biking is supposed to be fun! My husband and I met on the back of bikes and now neither one of us bike much anymore, and it’s like losing a part of us. But around here, where there are no bike lanes and people view bikers as a nuisance we aren’t safe. Maybe we too will get back on the bike someday. But for now we wait for stiffer laws and better lanes. Stay safe!!

  34. Susan,

    As always, you’re spot on. I’ve had too many close calls with automobiles both cycling and running. People don’t pay attention to their surroundings – which means, in my opinion, that we (triathletes, runners, cyclists) just need to be extra cautious when out training. Heck, I saw a woman cycling just this evening almost get hit by a car exiting a parking lot….going the wrong way (exiting through the entrance) out. Very nice. Keep on preaching, sister.

  35. Susan I wish you the best in getting back on the road! I live in Tampa Florida and in the area around USF (University of South Florida) there are far too many ghost bikes memorializing cyclists who were lost on the roads. Thank you for writing this article and spreading the word about the importance of sharing the road, staying alert, and saving the phone calls for later!

  36. MrsPebbles says:

    I haven’t been on a bike in years. This is mostly because I have no place to keep it in the small apartments I’ve had, so it lives in my parents’ basement. My husband and I made a pact that we would not use our phones for any purpose while driving (with the very rare exception of GPS, since it talks and we don’t have to look down). We call from our parking spots, or text from our desks. His brother was recently in a bad car wreck, where he other vehicle crossed the center line and sent my brother-in-law into a ditch, totalling their family’s only vehicle. Culprit? The other driver was fiddling with the radio. Also, my husband and I almost got run over ina parking lot last week by a woman in an SUV, talking on the phone and backing into a spot. She had the nerve to open her car door, hang out, and start yelling at US… I do my best to always be aware of everyone around me on the road… Other drivers, bikers, pedestrians, motorcycles. I hope everyone else does, too.

    Feel better soon!!!!

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