Dan Metz

Dan Metz

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As a cyclist who has ridden over 35,000 miles on public roads, I feel compelled to respond to the Town Hall section of the Dec. 10 issue of The News-Gazette (“Local bicyclist’s death much more than ‘a tragic accident’”).

In my 52-year career, I have reconstructed over 1,200 road accidents, some involving collisions between vehicles and bicycles. Scientific accident reconstruction is based on physical evidence; unsupportable speculation has no part to play in reconstruction. I inspected the scene of the April 2 accident, on Illinois 47 north of Mahomet, shortly after it occurred to look for physical evidence that might be present and to interpret it.

Here are my observations:

1. Actual visibility and target interpretation depend on the behavior and trajectory history of both the truck driver and the cyclist; both were moving in the same direction at differing speeds. The 700-foot figure in the article cannot be developed from physical evidence; it is unjustified speculation.

2. It is impossible to determine whether (a) the truck driver saw the cyclist, (b) the cyclist was making a left turn or (c) the cyclist signaled that he planned to turn left. None of these things can be developed from physical evidence; they are again only unjustified speculations.

Are they possible? Certainly they are. But it is also possible that the cyclist waved the truck driver past (as the truck driver stated), or made a signal that appeared to be such, or was avoiding a pothole or squirrel and swerved into the path of the truck, or lost control of his bicycle at the wrong moment.

3. Without knowledge of the velocity vs. time history of the truck, it is impossible to determine whether the truck failed to slow down before impact. If a vehicle does not leave tire signatures on the roadway, we cannot determine whether it slowed, sped up or remained at constant speed. More unjustified speculation.

4. The cyclist absolutely had a legal right to use the roadway; the truck driver had the same right. There is no physical evidence to prove or disprove that the truck driver was driving dangerously or recklessly, or for that matter, whether the cyclist was riding in a dangerous or reckless manner. Just because an accident occurred is in no way probative about what the drivers of the vehicles did or didn’t do; that requires physical evidence.

Through some of my cycling friends, I’ve been told that the cyclist was a really good guy, an experienced cyclist and a true friend of the cycling community. To the best of my knowledge our paths never crossed, so I can’t claim him as friend, just a kindred spirit who enjoyed the same sport as I do. But I gently wonder why he was riding on a busy state highway.

He had a right to do so certainly, but just because we cyclists have a right to do something doesn’t make it a good idea. As cyclists, we accept risk in return for the beauty of our sport, but we cannot ignore the risks. Powered drivers have to use good judgment; our vulnerability means we have to use better than good judgment.

I write this only to balance the comments in the recent article. My condolences go out to the family of the deceased cyclist in what really was a tragic accident.

In any criminal trial, the first line of defense for the defendant is to say: Prove it. There is no physical evidence to prove any of the article’s bicyclist-friendly speculations. The state’s attorney’s resources are allocated on case winability, as they should be because those resources are provided by taxes.

The unverifiable speculations noted above would have been subjected to a withering cross examination in a trial which would show that not a single one of them can be scientifically verified.

Dan Metz is a Society of Automotive Engineers fellow, Prairie Cycle Club member and accident reconstructionist who notes that his expertise is “available for inspection” at midwest-reconstruction.com.

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