Nevada Bicycle Safety – What’s the Law? A panel discussion with leaders in bicycle education.
Recent statistics show bicycle deaths on Nevada roads have pretty much remained steady over the last few years, about two to 3% of all traffic-related deaths. And this is even as Nevada’s growth rate is sixth highest in the nation. Serious injuries that don’t cause death are another matter. More than 400,000 bike injuries nationwide led to emergency room care in 2009 with 28,000 of those requiring inpatient care and that was nationwide. But what’s it like in Nevada for bicyclists? Does it feel safe to ride a bike in Las Vegas or what about in Reno or Carson city? Do we have maybe fewer deaths on bikes because it’s really that much safer or because people are too afraid to ride bikes on our roads? What does Nevada need to do to make the roads shareable with bikes? And what are you seeing out there? Is it as dangerous as some say it is?
Bicycle safety is on our minds as May is Bike Safety Month. What do you think? We’re at KNPR news and we are Nevada public radio on Facebook. Now to start us off, Dr. Clarence Dr. Dunagan is the emergency room medical doctor at Mountain View hospital who has seen the results of all kinds of bicycle accidents. Dr. Dunagan, welcome to the program.
Dr. Dunagan (01:30):
Well, thanks for having me.
Dr. Dunagan, what do nurses, doctors, and medical staff typically see when somebody comes in with a serious injury from a bicycle collision? I mean, how much more damaging is that kind of accident than say a car-to-car accident?
Dr. Dunagan (01:47):
Oh, it’s just the mechanics involved. Obviously, if you’re a 4,000-pound car hitting somebody, especially somebody that is not wearing a helmet, they can have devastating injuries.
You know, what’s it look like? I mean for, for you, can you, can you tell right away that if somebody comes in and nobody tells you it’s a bicycle accident. Can you tell from the types of injuries that it was a bicycle-car accident versus a car-car accident?
Dr. Dunagan (02:10):
Sure. Well, we’re at Mountain View. We’re a community hospital. We are not a trauma center. We’re vying to become one. However, we still get trauma that, shows up by private vehicle. When somebody gets hit by a hit by a car usually if, they get run over, obviously it’s a devastating injury. Many of those are dead at the scene. If they arrive at the department, if they’re not wearing a helmet, they can have severe head injuries. They can have crush injuries to their thorax open fractures to arms and legs.
So it’s very serious injuries. Do you see a lot of them in, in Nevada? Are bike accidents really a big thing in Las Vegas?
Dr. Dunagan (02:53):
Yes, they are. I know Erin Breen can give us some more specific numbers, but when we were preparing for this, I think there were eight fatalities last year of people-cars hitting cyclists.
Dr. Dunagan (03:08):
I believe eight. Eight.
That’s just fatalities. What else? Serious injuries.
Dr. Dunagan (03:12):
Oh yes. We, we see a lot of, we see a lot, lots of serious injuries. I know that trauma centers, UMC and sunrise certainly see, certainly, see a lot of these.
We’re talking about bike safety as May is Bike Safety Month and in recent years especially as more Nevadans think about doing something good for the environment. People want to be able to ride their bikes more, but is it safe and how can it be made safer if you’re out there as a bicyclist, what have you seen or what’s it like right now to ride a bike in Las Vegas or Carson City?
Even Reno, if you’re not a bicyclist, do you see those on bikes riding safely on the roads? What are you seeing? Call (702) 258-3552 that’s (702) 258-3552 email firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter, we’re KNPR news and Nevada public radio on Facebook. Now before accidents ever get to a hospital, police are typically on the scene of serious, serious bike accidents. Andy Walsh is Deputy Chief at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He has seen a lot in a few decades as a cop, including the ugly results of vehicle bike accidents. Deputy Chief Walsh, welcome back.
Deputy Chief Walsh (04:24):
Good morning. Thank you for having me.
You know, I want listeners to be able to see what you’ve seen. So I don’t want you to gild the lily here. When accidents happen between bikes and vehicles and, and you’re the officer that arrives typically the first one, what’s it look like?
Deputy Chief Walsh (04:41):
Yeah, these are horrific scenes for the first responders from the, from the medical community and from the police community. When they get there, people are just torn to pieces. You know, like Dr. Dunagan said, these are very heavy moving vehicles that are traveling in excess of 45 miles an hour, usually like most of the roadways in our town, 35, 45 miles an hour and then they strike a human being. So you have the physics of that. And then, our bodies are not meant to withstand that. So, we’ve seen disfigurement, dismemberment you had injuries that you just can’t fathom. The instant swelling, the and then you have the grief of the families that immediately arrive at these scenes. And so they’re horrific, horrific scenes, not just from the physical damage, but from the anguish and the mental state that you see in the people when they see their loved one in pieces laying in a roadway.
That does some pretty gruesome. Now I imagine in almost all accidents, the driver of a car or truck is uninjured, but they do have to deal with the aftermath of what they had just been a part of. Describe that. How these, I guess the motorists feel or what they go through afterward.
Deputy Chief Walsh (05:53):
Yeah. In 2018, we did have eight bicyclist fatalities and just using that as an example. In four of those accidents, the motorist was not the person that was at fault, so the bicyclist was violating some rule or law and caused the accident. So that is not an easy thing for someone who’s just driving down the road and then have a bicyclist come through the windshield of their car. Or bounce off the hood of their car or hit the back of their vehicle. So you know that they’re just in shock. I mean, they’re not in a mental state prior to this accident being mentally prepared for this to happen. So then the shock of it hits and then the aftermath of that. And you know, we’ve started a program at our traffic session that involves bringing people out. You know, we’ve always had trauma intervention specialists and we’ve had different people that come out, but now we’re even trying to leverage the houses of worship and the different members of the religious community in our town that can help people both from the bicyclist, the family side, and from actually the motorist side as well.
And again, I want you to go back to something, speaking of fault, really in, in a lot of these accidents, not just fatals, who is in the wrong. Is it, drivers or cyclists? Do you have a percentage?
Deputy Chief Walsh (07:05):
Yeah. So last year, 50% of the cyclists were at fault. We had, we know for sure, one cyclist was intoxicated. We’re still waiting on some lab results and for some others, but even with our pedestrian fatalities, that number is upwards of 70% of the pedestrians that are at fault in these accidents. So you’re right, the drivers of these in these instances don’t always see this happening or prepared for this to happen to them when it happens. And it’s a tough thing to actually illustrate because it’s hard to tell family members that their loved one’s not coming home and that they’re at fault for pedestrian rules or bicycle rules.
We’re talking about bike safety as May is Bike Safety Month. What are you seeing out there? If you’re a bicyclist or if you’re a motorist if you’re driving, who’s doing what on the roads? Joining us now is Calvin Holman, welcome to the program.
Calvin Holman (08:07):
Hi, how are you doing?
Good, go ahead.
Caller 1: Calvin Holman (08:09):
Hi. I’m actually, I’m a cyclist and always, I bike with a group of people we see a lot of accidents or maybe other stuff firsthand. I think that first is sometimes it is the car, the driver of the car also needs to know that. Like, give us some space, give the cyclists some space. I ride in Enterprise or maybe Anthem, a lot. Some cars just zoom by us, 40, 50 miles an hour. If you don’t get the space and then all you just use your hands or you’re looking at cell phone, and then we certainly have a fatality. And also, on the other hand, is the cyclists themselves because they, some of the cyclists they knew some of the cyclists think they don’t have to obey the law. So I see some cyclists, like you said, yellow, while, they shouldn’t catch the yellow, but you won’t be as fast. So just stop, just wait. When you stop at the stop sign I look at both sides. And then, education, I think is also an important point. Educate the driver to give space to cyclists, and educate the cyclists to obey the law. If you’ll be cautious about cyclists, give them space and then everyone can be home safely. I always say, one thing is like you’re in a car, we are on a bike. We are both like someone’s husband, someone’s brother, someone’s kid. And then if you can, everyone needs to be calmed down a little bit. Everyone will be happy. They will be home safe.
Calvin, thanks for that call. Actually, I want to ask Deputy Chief Andy Walsh about some of the bike laws. Indeed, I see a lot of bicyclists where I live in downtown Las Vegas, riding on the wrong side of the road. This could be in pitch-black dark areas that are riding toward me on my side of the road. I’m driving towards them and I’ve often wondered, are the rules of the road different for bicyclists? What are some of the laws regarding bike riding in Las Vegas?
Deputy Chief Walsh (10:22):
Simply put, the bicycles have to follow the same rules as a motorist and a pedestrian. So if they are traveling on a roadway, they’re subject to being required to stop at stop signs and red lights. And a lot of it too is just, in this day and age is just using some sense like the caller said, being aware. You could be right and still get hit by a car. That’s the problem, its that people think because they’re right. And well, I can go do this, but you have to remember what you’re challenging in those situations is a vehicle. So but it’s basically the easiest way to remember it is of what a car can do. A bicyclist can do. They can’t drive against traffic. Also, they can’t go through red lights. Furthermore, they can’t go through stop signs. They have to yield where the signs allow them to, and then on the motor is side to [inaudible]. The color is right. You know, motorists need to provide that three feet of space.
That’s a state law.
Deputy Chief Walsh (11:16):
And it was a great call because it really illustrates, that there are two sides to this issue and it’s the motorist and the bicycles that have to really work together if we’re going to have an impact on this.
One thing people notice is if a police officer pulls over a driver, they have the red lights as a driver up there getting a ticket, everybody slows down and it puts that thought in their mind. Do you ever ticket bicyclists?
Deputy Chief Walsh (11:41):
Yes, we do. And it’s probably one of the things we get the most flack over is when we cite bicyclists and pedestrians and it is a challenge because we do have these events occur. Of course, we’re law enforcement, and our first trick in the toolbag is going to be enforcement. But there are some social components to this as well education components that we really need to put more focus on. We can’t–as we say in law enforcement–we can’t cite or arrest our way out of the problem. And, it’s clear with this, as well. But, I would think that in those stops and those interactions that the officers are having a very candid conversation with folks too. When we do stop cyclists and, and when we stop motorists as well, or motorcyclists or pedestrians for those traffic infractions that they commit. An individual doesn’t see it, they don’t think it’s going to happen to them. Hopefully, every officer that makes one of those stops, realizes the value in that stop is a moment where you can educate somebody on the dangers of what they’re doing.
What do you see out there as somebody who rides a bike or as a driver in Las Vegas? Do you see bicyclists in town obeying the rules of the road most of the time? Or if you’re a bicyclist, do you see motorists really kind of ignoring you? Joining us now from Las Vegas. Jim, welcome to the program.
Caller 2: Jim (13:19):
Thank you very much for taking my call.
Sure. Yeah, go ahead.
Caller 2: Jim (13:22):
I just wanted to note that what I see is a, I see a lot of bicyclists in construction zones where they really don’t need to be there. The area’s already coned down and it’s hard enough to get traffic through there one way or the other and then sooner or later you’ve got someone on a bike generally just enjoying themselves. It’s obvious that they’re not at any particular place and it really, it really adds to the problem and I just want to know where the common sense is.
I’m going to, I’m going to put that question… Thank you, Jim… To Erin Breen. She’s the traffic safety coalition person at UNLV. And Erin, I know of what he speaks. A lot of people go through, for instance, Project Neon every day. Bicyclists go through the same thing. It’s a headache going through that. It probably will be for several more months. But do the rules of the road apply? Should bicyclists avoid that stuff? Give me your advice. What do you see?
Erin Breen (14:19):
Could you see me rolling my eyes? Here’s the deal. They have every right to be there. Indeed, they have just as much right to be here as the person operating the car. We would want them to do that safely. But when you’re in your vehicle, and I always say as you’re driving down the street in your air-conditioned couch casting aspersions on the people that are traveling most vulnerably on the road. You’re the one that could more easily go out of the way than the person on the bicycle or, on their two feet. And I think some compassion is due. So unless there’s a sign that says “no bicycle allowed,” they have every right to be there.
There is a lot of impatient drivers here. A lot of that has to do with the growth. We have a very fast growth, again, sixth highest in the nation. A lot of people are new here. Also, they don’t know the roads as well, where they’re going as much. So the impatience is there, but cyclists, um, also are somehow are in some of the same boats, they’ll take their bike lane or sometimes they’ll take up a whole lane of the road or they’ll be in a position where a car should be, can they do that?
Erin Breen (15:03):
I was going to say, so let’s talk about that. Yes, they can!
They can take up as much space as a car or do they have to be on the far right of the road?
Erin Breen (15:31):
So there’s a new law in the state of Nevada that says they must remain in the right lane. But yes, in most instances they are allowed to take the entire lane and the bike law in the state of Nevada says that you’re supposed to, if you’re approaching a cyclist, you’re supposed to move into the adjacent lane next to you. If there is not a lane there or it’s too crowded, then you’re supposed to pull as far to the left as you can to give them at least three feet. But technically we don’t have a lot of two-lane streets in our city or state for that matter. And so you’re supposed to pull into the lane next to you to give the cyclist in the entire lane. Um, and unless again, unless there’s a sign prohibiting it, they have the right to do that.