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That's depressing and an eloquent encapsulation of the proletarianization of the US. I guess the bright side is that she had a job and now someone else does. Time for a latte.

What a tragedy. For future reference though, riding in the dark with dark clothing and no lights is putting oneself at great risk. While a plow driver should be experienced at avoiding obstacles, their job is by its nature distracted driving, since they must pay careful attention to something the rest of us don't have to worry about - plowing. Yes, the woman was left with some bad options, but one option she did have was to buy a taillight, and in fact they sell them at Target.

If Ms. Henderson had no headlights or taillights (which the articles imply but don't state explicitly), then she did not meet the legal standard and was most definitely in violation of state law: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-1015 . The speed limit at this location appears to be 45MPH.

Given these facts, there won't be much of a case against this driver.

This appears to be about the least bike-friendly route imaginable. 45MPH stroad just off a freeway interchange. No sidewalks until north of that intersection; not that they would have been cleared anyway. I wonder where she was coming from, that she would choose to traverse such an awful route by bicycle. "Henrico" could mean anywhere in the county. The article states that she was struck 200 feet south of the VCP intersection, which means she probably came through the 295 interchange as well: eek!

Good point scoot. I was unaware of the taillight requirement on roads with a faster than 35mph speed limit.

I hate to say it, but riding without lights at night is kind of irresponsible. I would support laws mandating working lights.

Knowing this area, she probably tried to ride on the sidewalks when they were available. As scoot points out, no sidewalks in some areas, and they were probably snow-covered where they did exist. If it was her only way to get to work, and she was working at Target, a light might have seemed like an extravagance.

If we give people only terrible options, like biking in the snow on an unlit street before sunrise, bad things are going to happen.

That's it in a nutshell.

By the way aren't most speed limits the maximum daytime speed a vehicle should travel at when in good weather conditions. So by implication vehicles should travel slower at night and in poor weather.

I also recall most states have a regulation that the maximum speed at night should not be greater than that required to see and avoid an unlighted object.

So isn't every driver who strikes a person or cyclist from behind on a road at night pretty much to blame?

Not just an extravagance, perhaps. She might have been totally squared away, but it doesn't take a Dickens to suspect that there were other the threats and unfixed problems in this person's life.

@jeffb, to answer your question, "isn't every driver who strikes a person or cyclist from behind on a road at night pretty much to blame?"

No, not if they come upon a vehicle without lights. I'd like to hear more about laws about nighttime speeds.

I do understand your point. I often say to drivers going fast on rural roads that they need to slow down because there might be a cyclist around the next bend. They reply "how am I supposed to know that?" and I say that they have to assume it, since cyclists are legal vehicles.

But vehicles without lights? The cyclist has to take some responsibility for his or her own safety.

I'd like to hear more about laws about nighttime speeds.

Darn it! Its in my mind but I can't find a specific reg to cite. It's possible I'm recalling a safe driving tip from a handbook and not a regulation.

There is a general rule against reckless driving but one would have to make a case that driving faster than your headlights illuminate the road ahead of you is that.

Seems obvious to me that it is but most people probably not :(

I think Virginia still has contributory negligence anyway, so without lights, that might limit the family's ability to collect.

Slightly OT, but from News of the Weird this week:

The Continuing Crisis

-- Uh-Oh: The man hospitalized in fair condition in January after being rammed from behind by a car while on his bicycle happened to be Darryl Isaacs, 50, one of the most ubiquitously advertising personal-injury lawyers in Louisville, Kentucky. Isaacs calls himself the "Heavy Hitter" and the "Kentucky Hammer" for his aggressiveness on behalf of, among other clients, victims of traffic collisions. The (soon-to-be-poorer) driver told police the sun got in his eyes. [Associated Press via WKYT-TV (Lexington), 1-27-2015]


A few years ago in Syracuse, I was almost run over by a snow plow while biking in the shoulder. He came up behind me and honked twice but there was literally no where to go, out into 45mph traffic or a large snow bank. Eventually, he just drove around but it was very scary.

I think being visible is important. However, wouldn't dark clothing provide more of a contrast to all the white snow? Dawn is a bad time to be on the road.

The weather may have loaded the gun, but who pulled the trigger? Some will say the driver since they are required to not hit things or people. Others will say the cyclist since she wasn't sufficiently visible.

I know where I live the snow plows drive so fast that they throw the snow and ice a good 12 feet or more on the side of the road. Enough to cover an 8 foot wide path separated from the road by a 4 foot grass section. This kind of plowing most definitely exasperates the ability of non-drivers to get around. Seems to be a lot of pressure to accommodate the drivers, all else be damned. So they drive fast.

Last winter Streetblog had a video of a snow being thrown by a high plow that wiped out a pedestrian on the sidewalk and smashed plate glass windows at a car dealership. Dangerous stuff.

Not sure if that style of plowing is becoming more prevalent. If so, all you can do is stay inside.

Come on cyclists, we have to do our part. This woman should have had lights, and she should have been smart enough to wear lighter colors which would have reflected the plow's headlights. I'm a bike commuter and I'm always amazed at the fools without a tail light, or the people with the cheap low powered lights. For $29 you can buy a powerful tail light that almost can't be overlooked by a driver.

I feel bad for the plow driver who has to spend the rest of his life thinking about the cyclist.

I feel like an A-hole saying it, but riding at 540am without lights and in dark clothing is not a good choice.

I agree, it's not a good choice. But dark clothing is not illegal. (Besides, what are we talking about when we say "dark clothing"? I'd like to see it). Did she have sneakers with reflective components? She had a rear reflector, why didn't the driver see that? How fast was he going? Etc...

Even with dark clothing and no tail light, this was an avoidable incident. I think that the lack of tail light makes it unlikely that the driver was criminally at fault, unless he was drinking, going 60mph, driving without headlights etc...But still, a professional driver should be able to avoid running someone down from behind.

There are a lot of people who ride cheap bikes, no lights, dark clothing, oftentimes go the wrong way. They're not going to change.
What we can change is the bike. The law practically everywhere mandates lights. Yet, bikes are not required to be sold with lights. Would we allow cars to be sold without lights? Or mirrors? Or any number of safety features?
Yes, batteries run down. So why not equip all bikes with a dynamo (friction) light? Those 'in the know' can replace them with an LED, or whatever light they want. But then the idiots who don't understand basic safety would finally have a light, and they'd be seen. Or petition Wal-Mart, Target not to sell any bikes without lights (since these people buy their bikes there). The price won't change much.

That road (Route 1) is the worst. Seeing it on Streetview, there's no shoulder or sidewalk. Just a huge, high speed highway. No place for a bike. Greenwood is better. No sidewalk or shoulder either, but only 2 lanes, and presumably slower traffic. The traffic 'engineers' who design these things need to be held to account.

Skelter Weeks: an interesting idea, but using your analogy to cars, would owners of bicycles who are selling a bike be required to make sure the bike has working lights? In most states, you cannot resell a car unless it has passed a safety inspection. I fear your idea starts us down the slope towards registration, licensing, inspection, etc? Maybe not, might be just the cold weather fogging my brain. At any rate, a friction/generator light requires regular adjustment and maintenance. Not sure the people who ride these bikes would bother with that.

Perhaps instead of lights, which would be the optimal accessory, how about if every bike sold comes with a one-size-fits-most reflective safety vest? They are relatively cheap, easy to replace, and can be worn in any weather.

Of course, if motor vehicle operators would slow down, stay off the phone, and focus on safely operating their vehicle, that would be nice.

I hate the idea of mandated lights on bikes. Maybe with an exception for high-end road and mountain bikes, I dunno.

There are two big, coexisting problems here that feed off each other. Roads in exurbs are often designed only for high-speed car traffic, with pedestrian and cyclist safety barely considered if at all. Because of this, drivers get used to not having to look out for pedestrians and cyclists, and drive faster and faster, never thinking there is any danger since cars are getting safer for vehicle occupants themselves.

Road design and car design lead to better safety for vehicle occupants but less safety for anyone not protected by a metal cage. A blinky might help every now and then, I guess, but these deaths will continue until designs change, and that will be a long time from now in a lot of places.

You could mandate vest (or light sales) at the point of sale pretty much the same way you mandate reflectors. Except some people will never ride their bike at night, batteries etc...

I think the current system is fine, but we need more enforcement. This should be the #1 bicycle enforcement item for every police department. We could allow ticketed cyclists to avoid a fine by proving they had purchased a light or batteries; and provide free lights for those who can't afford them.

I personally see this as, far and away, the #1 safety issue out there and so any time I see people talking about helmets or stop sign running cyclists and safety (but not mentioning night time visibility), I immediately dismiss them as someone who hasn't really studied the issue.

Those of us with the resources and leisure time, most likely at work on our employer provided computers, to read this article on Wash Cycle should probably pause to refocus on the fact that this isn't a cycling news story nearly as much as a graphic reminder that poor people are generally provided with poor options in our society.

It should be obvious that it's important to have a light in front and a blinky in back when riding at night, but apparently it isn't. I suppose information campaigns could help, such as those done by WABA and Bike Arlington. Not sure what kind of reach these types of things would have for those cycling to work out of necessity in the in exurbs.

I think lights on bikes should be required, period. Not just reflectors, sundown to sunup. I find it hard to see unlit bike riders when I do have to drive someplace. And I really appreciate it when peds and joggers wear reflective vests or carry hand lights.

Even slow, sober, careful drivers can find it hard to share the road and yield way properly with unlit users at night.

Riley is right -- Low income is probably a important issue, and I also agree that the plow driver should have been able to stop without hitting an unlit obstruction, whether it was a bike, child, deer, or stalled car.

But decent lights are pretty cheap -- we should advocate for their requirement and use.

I thought that there were attempts in the past to mandate that all new bikes be sold with lights. But this increased the cost per bike enough that manufacturers fought this requirement and had it watered down to just a requirement to include reflectors on new bikes.

Does anyone know more about this? I see that reflectors are required under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, according to the CPSC website:


This requirement hasn't led to further regulation such as bike registration, so I don't think that should be a primary concern for any future bike light requirement.

What would the cost be for a bike manufacturer to install a basic light? They can buy the items at volume discounts. Some of the basic rear lights already sell for $10 or so. Volume discounts could bring that price even lower.

Dynamo lights seem to be more expensive. Is it expensive enough that manufacturers are correct in fearing that the added cost will have a major impact on profits? Or if they passed on the cost to the consumer, would that be enough to reduce overall demand for less expensive "big box store" bikes?

I favor strict police enforcement of the legal requirements for lights.

Appropriately, in my view, these requirements apply even to bikes ridden on sidewalks,

I support these requirements, as long as they only apply dusk-to-dawn (or perhaps inclement weather as well). But I fear that requiring lights in broad daylight, or requiring bikes to be sold with lights, would have the same effect of suppressing casual ridership that helmet laws do.

Cars and bikes are different. Cars *must* have turn signals and brake lights,motorcycles are required to have a headlight on at all times. Bikes,on the other hand,are only required to have lights when ridden at night on the road. Many casual cyclists don't ride at night,and/or only ride on trails. Many MTBers only ride off road,and roadies don't need lights during a race. So it's possible to ride a bike both legally and safely without lights.

I always carry a spare blinky with me. I have a couple I picked up cheap as a bulk lot,plus I always pick some up at BtWD. I hand them out to people I see rolling ninja at night.

A small blinky is dramatically less visible than a proper reflector. The biggest problem I (don't) see is people who take off the reflectors because they're not cool enough.

I think it's unlikely that a cheap battery light would have changed the outcome here, other than to make the legal case a little less open-and-shut.

Blinking lights have a benefit reflectors don't - they blink. That makes them more noticeable at night, assuming they're bright enough to be seen (which many aren't, unfortunately).

They also work when headlights are not shining on them, so can be seen by pedestrians and runners on trails, for instance, where car lights might not be lighting up the reflectors.

@Jack: that's the point. A proper reflector will send back several square inches of light at a couple hundred lux to a person approaching in a car with the headlights on. A cheap blinky will have a dim point of light about an eighth of an inch square. If someone can't see the giant reflector, they probably aren't going to see the tiny blinky. Now, the story is different for a high-quality rear light which itself disperses its output over a larger area--but now we're not talking about a cheap blinky. Battery charge is important also--the cheap models will tend to just get dimmer and dimmer (without being really obvious to the user) while the higher quality gear has a voltage regulator and less drop off (also going to cost more). As far as blinking for attention, this is why pedal reflectors (or something reflective on the leg/shoe) is important: the up-down motion grabs attention and is a unique sign of a cyclist on the road.

@DE: completely true, but not relevant in the case at hand. I completely support having a rear light, for the reasons you mentioned, as well as off-angle approaches (e.g., someone turning into a cyclist on a cross street, where the headlights won't be shining on the reflector until the turn is complete--assuming a light with a wide view angle unlike most blinkies). But for straight-on rear approaches, reflectors are invaluable.

According to this story, she didn't have "working bike reflectors." What does that mean? No reflectors? Broken ones?

there are definitely contradictory & vague accounts. could also be a reflector that's been knocked about and pointed the wrong way.

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