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Family of bicyclist files wrongful death lawsuit

Original post made on Dec 22, 2010

The family of a woman fatally struck by a big-rig while riding her bicycle in unincorporated Portola Valley last month has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court against the driver and the trucking company he works for. ==B Related stories:==
■ [Web Link Report: Bicyclist 'unsafely turned' before fatal crash]
■ [Web Link Bicyclist killed by big-rig on Alpine Road identified]

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 22, 2010, 11:36 AM

Comments (34)

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Police reports always favor the car driver, unless there is proof of DUI. Why did the CHP not release their full report including the witness statements? Hopefully, this lawsuit will bring the investigation into the open so we can understand what really happened.

I still cannot believe that the bicyclist tried to pass and then cut off a truck going uphill. That is the only reason that the bicyclist could be at fault in this crash.


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

the report does NOT mention the biker trying to pass the truck. The biker fell first as consistent to the injuries and thereafter was caught by the wheel of the big rig. It highly dishonest to say that the truck driver was involved in 2 previous fatalities when in one of them he was a victim of a woman that crossed the center divider and crashed against him.
No doubt the new lawsuit and consequent financial award have a very good chance of succeeding because of inherent bias against the truckers and hispanics and general lack of knowledge but specially because of sympathy towards Mrs. Ward and her family. Just the threat of an technically unknowledgeable jury verdict is enough for a settlement.
For the first time I agree with the need for tort reform.


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Posted by anonoymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I am very sorry for the family of Lauren Ward and my condolences to them. However I do not think that money is going to bring back there loved one. It is unfortunate that an accident occurred, but getting another report is not going to do what they would like.

I can get a scientific expert to do a report that shows statics or information either in favor or not in favor of the results that I want because I paid for it. To say that they are getting an independent report is not completely true when you pay for something there is a slant or bias on the part of the firm doing the study. The attorney that they have hired wants to win, that report will say what ever it needs to say in order for him to win.

Trying to place the blame on someone is the ultimate goal. The CHP's report says that she fell over and I saw two posts yesterday that said they understood what had happened because they had seen other riders having to do a similar maneuver, without witnesses we really don't know what happened. The CHP says that maybe another car caused her to fall. The paper has been playing up the other accidents by this truck driver the first one a woman went over the double yellow line and hit him head on, how you avoid that kind of accident. Yes, I have had people come at me on the wrong side of the road flashing lights and honking does not always work. People do stupid things in a car and an on a bike. The second accident was also not his fault there was a surveillance camera that showed it was not, the company settled because it was cheaper to give the family money, than go to court and face a jury or judge, which may have concluded they should be awarded more money.

I have been on the road where the accident happened it's dangerous, as a car driver or a bicyclist it can be scary.

This will be settled most likely out of court by the insurance company, they will give the family money and the attorney they have hired will get a significant fee.

Tort law does need to be reformed because the costs of settlements trickle down to the people who have insurance and then our rates go up to pay for the settlements.

People always say take them to court who will it hurt, well it does hurt and if we were just looking for the truth then there are better ways of doing this.

It is really too bad I see cars, bikes and trucks all doing stupid things, they think they are not going to be hurt or impacted, but they are.

I am all for bike riding and taking the road less traveled, but sometimes an accident is just a tragic accident.

People want to blame the truck driver, but what if she really was at fault does anyone really want to know that? My guess is they don't its easier to believe that it has to be someone else's fault even if it is a sad and tragic event. My hope is the family gets the answers that are accurate and they can get closure.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

This is a very sad state of affairs. My sympathies do go to the family for their tragic loss. But, no amount of money or being able to lay blame will bring back this person back to their family.

I believe there are young children who are suffering at the loss of their mother. I wonder what they are learning from all this? Their suffering needs to be addressed first. They are not going to be able to move on with their lives when the rest of the family is looking backwards and attempting to account blame.

Grief is a strange thing. It makes all of us do things that we may not do otherwise. Prolonging grief with anger rather than moving on to healing will not help. This mother will have left a legacy of memories of love and happiness. Don't ruin these memories with bitterness. She will not be forgotten by those who love her. This lawsuit is not going to help.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm

The problem with this law suit (or perhaps the process), is that if the Trucking company decides to settle (for whatever reason), then the information about the accident used to bring both sides to a settlement will most likely not be rendered into the public domain--but will end up being bound up in the settlement agreement.

If it turns out that the CHP might have been wrong, the information/analysis of the so-called "experts" that have been assembled to make the case of the cyclist's family will disappear.

It's never a good thing when the police say one thing, and some civil court/proceeding/settlement says another.


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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm

As in divorce, the only ones who will benefit here are the lawyers.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Can someone explain to me how, after a big rig runs over a bicycle and a body, they can look at the physical evidence and say that the bicyclist fell over before she was run over. Really? How can they tell? If they are convinced she fell over first, how can they know the truck did not bump her and knock her over before running over her?


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2010 at 1:42 am

Anonymous,

The position and physical damage to the bike and biker's the injuries are consistent with the CHP scenario. That's how they can tell. Same way you can tell there are other galaxies though you may not see them. It's called science. In the case of the biker, forensic science and accident analysis by trained personnel. There are many things the investigation may not be able to ascertain if the investigation was thorough and follow established procedure they can tell a lot.


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Posted by seeking truth
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

We don't know the Ward family's motivation for suing. I hope it's because they primarily want to expose the truth, and not about settling for money.

"pedestrian in traffic", like you, I remain open minded to the possibility that anything could have happened, until physical evidence is introduced that tells us otherwise. However, the information that I've received so far through Palo Alto Online is quite limited and vague, which is why I'd like to see more information shared from factual sources more directly (pictures, CHP report, interviews).

Your statements lead me to believe that you've seen some of the physical evidence directly yourself? Or you've read the CHP report? Or you've talked to the witness or investigating officer? How is your factual base any better than others? Please be productive and share your information.


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Posted by been there but alive
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I am a regular bike rider.

I have been through this intersection several times but try to avoid it in the west bound direction. The through traffic is in the left lane and the traffic heading to south bound 280 is in the right lane.

I have had all sorts of traffic blow around me on the right going quite fast. It really feels scary especially if a large vehicle slides a bit into the left lane as they make the hard right turn.

I too am skeptical that "science" can tell if the initial fall of the bike was from a bump or the wind produced by the truck from simply passing a bike on the right too close. I am also skeptical that the bike could pass the truck going uphill at that spot. In my experience all vehicle traffic is faster there than a bike.

That this guy can have killed two bicyclists, suggests that he is certainly not attentive and aware of bikes on the road.


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Posted by L
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm

It was a 26-wheel truck, not an 18-wheeler. It did not have the necessary permits for operating on that roadway. If the driver did not see the cyclist, he wasn't looking. That is a straight, flat road and they'd just stopped at a stop sign within seconds of each other. I drove by that intersection minutes before. It was a clear day, fine visibility. My bet is the truck pulled left to get a better angle on the on-ramp, and took out the cylist in the process. For the weight limit alone, the driver was breaking the law, and it's not like his load varied much: It was a rig for carrying a specific piece of large equipment. He knew what it weighed. From the construction site on Sand Hill Road near Santa Cruz Avenue, he would have been better advised (and within the law!) to take Sand Hill to Highway 280, but to save a few seconds he went down Santa Cruz Avenue to Alpine Road instead. Get this driver off the road. Please.


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm

So now we divert. Overloading a truck is quite common and can be dangerous, but what does it have to do with this accident? Nothing at all. Mrs. Ward was by all accounts on a pleasure bike ride through some inherently dangerous roads. We will never know for sure what happened but what we know is that drivers of tall vehicles, be it a truck or an SUV are not physically able to see the road immediately ahead of them. That is why many school buses sport crossing arms, so that the crosser is forced to move some feet away from in front of the vehicle rendering the crosser visible to the driver. This driver doesn't seem to be any more dangerous than the average truck driver.


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Posted by Need to Know
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm

@ pedestrian in traffic: Yes, please do share the information you seem to have that we don't. I know we'd all like to have it.

I've posted a link at the bottom to a very interesting article regarding the odds of a truck driver killing two bicyclists, and the article INCLUDES the calculations AND uses models that err on the side of the truck driver saying that the event of one driver killing 2 bicyclists is not strange enough to be statistically significant. NO BIAS just math. Here is the ending paragraph of the article courtesy of www.gasstationwithoutpumps/wordpress.com:

"With 3.5 million truck drivers around, we would expect to find about 28 double-bicyclist-death truck drivers by chance in 60 years.

With both models, using overestimates of how likely bicyclists are to be killed by chance, we get an expected number of chance double-death truck drivers of between 1 such driver every 2 years in the country and one every 8 years. This means that we can't completely reject the null model (that the driver was just unlucky enough to have 2 chance encounters), but our suspicions about the driver should certainly be raised, and other evidence checked to see whether the driver is really incompetent to be driving a truck.

Late-breaking news: It seems that Gabriel Vera was involved in 3 fatal accidents, not just two, so there is no question in my mind that he isn't just an unlucky driver, but should never be allowed to drive again."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 24, 2010 at 1:59 am

This family should sue the governing bodies for negligence. I live in LAH off of Arastradero, and every other day I see a combination of riders not having the appropriate space in which to ride safely and all sorts riders/drivers thinking that they own the road endangering everyone. The governing bodies need to solve these problem for everyone. I don't understand what it will take to them to get off their asses and make biking lanes for cyclists. It is a shame people need to live this these unnecessary dangers and my fear of one day killing a cyclist.


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Need to know:
vera was involved in three accidents but in the first accident as it has been reported so many times before, was one in which he was the victim of a woman who crossed the center divider and crashed against him. How can anybody with a modicum of sense of fairness and justice can hold it against him? Because he was on the road that day? The second accident was caught on camera and he was not deemed not at fault.

now comes the complicated part- statistics. Using apples and Oranges for statistic inference is the province of those who have their Math confused, very confused. A statistically valid conclusion can only be issued if trucks and bikes are present the same roads at the same time.101 is full of trucks but no bikes. What do you conclude ? That trucks get into zero accidents with bikes? If you use the insurance company statistics you may even have some valid conclusions. And I may even tell you that *improbably* I do know a wee bit of statistics and Math, having majored in Math and done graduate work in statistics. You and the article really do not impress me as knowledgeable, but a jury might .
You will never know for sure what happened to Mrs. Ward but the CHP conclusions seem warranted in the face of forensics.
What I get from your post is that you are prepared to crucify the truck driver- a victim of a crash against him (talk about being unlucky) and not on fault in another accident. If Mrs. Ward was indeed responsible for her own fate and you don't know that's not true, it's cruel
and not honest to blame the driver for what happened to her. There is nothing to be done about people who persist in ignoring the facts to suit their own conclusion, other them recommend to become a professional witness.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 25, 2010 at 4:35 pm

The reports that I have read indicate that only one of this driver's first two accidents was with a bicycle. The other accident involved a motorist crossing the divide and hitting him head on - hardly his fault. If that is the case then Need to Know's conclusion "It seems that Gabriel Vera was involved in 3 fatal accidents, not just two, so there is no question in my mind that he isn't just an unlucky driver, but should never be allowed to drive again."is not consistent with his own statistical analysis.


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 26, 2010 at 7:47 am

In any car vs bicycle collision, the police will take the driver side unless there is irrefutable eyewitness evidence that the driver was at fault. As an Alpine Rd cyclists for many years I know every square inch of the area where the victim was killed. It's an extremely dangerous and tricky area for cyclists, where they are completely at the mercy of the driver. They are aware of it and in many years of cycling through that stretch i have never seen even one instance of reckless cycling, which would be suicidal, but numerous instances of reckless, and potentially deadly driving. I believe that the police report, as always, accepted the driver's (the only) version. This collision is consistent with reckless driving, and the family is doing the right thing by suing someone who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the wheel of any vehicle.


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2010 at 8:53 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

Without harboring on the driver or the cyclist, one thing is clear. This is a dangerous intersection with a bad design and road markings. A stop sign at the very least or ideally a traffic light would make things much safer for all. If everyone stopped trying to lay blame on individuals and petitioned to improve the intersection it would be a better outcome from this tragedy.

Improve that intersection.


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2010 at 11:51 am

Donald,

You persist (in my view dishonestly and purposefully) to speak about "... truck driver's previous fatal incidents the CHP found him not at fault" as if in the first accident he had not been the victim. A woman crossed the center divider and crashed head on against him. Despite knowing this you continue to speak of his fatal accidents as the first one could by any stretch of imagination be his fault. Tell me please what responsibility did the truck driver have and what part did he have in causing an accident when someone is on your lane, in the wrong direction and crashes against you?
Credibility is a matter of honesty.


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Posted by Liz
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 26, 2010 at 11:37 pm

The comments have strayed from the article's point: that her family is already suing. I know this area well since I drive to and from Stanford every day. It is a tragic accident, but to assume that the truck driver is automatically at fault is unfair. Cyclists are vulnerable and they are often invisible to truck drivers. How can the driver be blamed or expected to see what he can not see? It is up to the cyclist--who can clearly see the truck, to ride defensively.

So, I'll say what no one else wants to say: it was more likely her fault than the truck driver's fault. She knew that area well and so knew it was hazardous. Also, she had been on a long bike ride. Isn't it possible she was tired and just a little bit less observant and less careful as a result?

It is very sad for her family, but money won't bring her back, and pre-empting the final police report seems like an attempt to influence the outcome for the truck driver.


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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2010 at 8:25 am

The editors keep removing my posts, so I am going to quit after this. Just let me say that the police have a narrow agenda when investigating crashes. They want to pin all the blame on one party, and then everyone else gets off. You can cut the margin of safety to zero, closing fast too close to a bicyclist, but if she swerves slightly it is all her fault and none of yours. I never believe police crash reports if there are no witnesses to corroborate.


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Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 27, 2010 at 8:54 am

I am a bike rider, ant I had ridden that intersection up to 6 times a week, and at various times of day (morning, afternoon, 5:00 traffic). As a cyclist, YOU have to be attentive of the traffic around you when crossing traffic routes.

Sorry for the loss of the family, but a wrongful death suit?


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Posted by details
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 27, 2010 at 10:46 am

Web Link

"Earlier this year, Vera and Randazzo Enterprises paid $1.5 million to settle a separate wrongful death suit stemming from a 2007 collision that involved the trucker and a bicyclist in Santa Cruz."

"In the 2007 Santa Cruz fatal accident, Vera's 26-wheeler collided with John Myslin, a popular Pacific Collegiate School teacher, at the intersection of Mission and Bay streets. Vera had been making a right turn when Myslin tried to pass him on the right, police concluded following a two-month investigation that cleared Vera of wrongdoing."


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Posted by Bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:20 am

Liz wrote: "It is up to the cyclist--who can clearly see the truck, to ride defensively."

Wow. I didn't realize that bicyclists have eyes in the backs of their heads. I always thought the vehicle in front had right-of-way. According to Liz, a truck driver gets a free pass for not watching the road ahead. The reports said he didn't see her. There is no way she was passing him instead of him overtaking her.

The lesson learned here is bikes are just second-class vehicles in the eyes of the law and motor vehicle drivers.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 28, 2010 at 7:39 am

Bikes2 work states:"The lesson learned here is bikes are just second-class vehicles in the eyes of the law and motor vehicle drivers."

I would hope that the lesson learned here is that, given the laws of physics, trucks and cars will always 'win' in a collision with a bicycle. The same is true in a collision between a truck or car and a pedestrian - however we do a much better job of separating motor vehicles and pedestrians and in controlling how their paths cross than we do with motor vehicles and bicycles. If you share the road with vehicles that have 10 to a 1000 times your mass then remember that the laws of physics are far more important to your survival than the motor vehicle code.


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Posted by Bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Dec 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

Peter,

The laws of physics are well known and unchangeable. The laws of man are arbitrary and subject to opinion. Not so long ago a Santa Clara County Deputy took out 2 cyclists after falling asleep at the wheel. Did he serve any time for his mistake? No, it was the bicycles who paid the price. No one cares about them.


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2010 at 10:17 am

Bikes2work, states ".....a truck driver gets a free pass for not watching the road ahead. The reports said he didn't see her...."

As you all know or should know no driver of a vehicle in which the cabin sits high, be it an SUV, a van, bus, or truck is physically able to see directly in front of him* That is why school buses have crossing arms that extend so that the person crossing in front of it does that at a distance that permits the driver to see the person. That is a law of physics and it comes from very simple optics.
As a pedestrian let me tell you that I feel very little cared for by bikers (cars are better because as a rule they don't willfully disregard stop signs and red lights).


* or for that matter sideway, or its back, a small object be it a person, bike, motorcycle or small car.


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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2010 at 10:37 am

Bikes2work,

I commend you on your realistic attitude toward cycling. I wish more cyclists had your common sense.

However, having said that, how do you justify the risk you take when bicycling on the roadways?


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Posted by oh please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2010 at 10:44 am

"As a pedestrian let me tell you that I feel very little cared for by bikers (cars are better because as a rule they don't willfully disregard stop signs and red lights). "

You obviously dont walk much. On any given walk, I can count on seeing multiple cars turning right at a stop without stopping. I know lights have a steady stream of cars that turn right on red without stopping. Cars break the speed limit by rule. I know bicyclists are not good at stopping, but drivers are horrid are just as bad. Bikes are just more annoying to some people some how.


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Posted by walker
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

From my experience as a pedestrian who doesn't own a car or a bike, drivers of cars who intend to roll through stop signs or red lights will stop if they see a pedestrian. Bikers don't stop in the same situations. Drivers of cars don't behave as if they are entitled to violate the law, but some of them do ignore the law when they believe there is no conflict with other people. Bikers behave as if they are entitled to violate the law.


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Posted by oh please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm

"drivers of cars who intend to roll through stop signs or red lights will stop if they see a pedestrian".

See theres the thing, when they dont see the pedestrian, they roll through, if you are walking on the opposite side of traffic on the sidewalk, they are too busy looking left to see if its safe to roll through that stop sign / light to notice the person walking. The ones that do stop, stop late and beyond the limit lane blocking the cross walk.


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Posted by pedestrian in traffic
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I walk at least 4 miles a day. Rarely do I see a car that goes trough a red light, but I see plenty of bikers who do. It is true that in the absence of "no right turn on red" a lot of cars turn right fast, and do roll stops also, but I always make eye contact with the driver and mostly I cross without incident. I do not find that to be the case with bikers who by and large do not even make turning signs. I do find that many biker ( not all of course) have a scant notion of what a pedestrian right of way is.


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Posted by rideabike
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm

If there's anything agreed upon in this conversation, it's that motorists are in control of a lot more energy - deadly, in fact - than either cyclists or pedestrians. However, the attitude that might-makes-right or that those of lesser "power" or force should get out of the way is not in line with our laws. If anything, one would hope that those with greater power would look after those with less and above all else, we'd all be courteous of one another, no matter the chosen method of transportation.

Pedestrian-in-traffic makes an interesting point that motorists sitting higher cannot see directly in front of them. Hopefully, this is NOT the case in general and does NOT comply with a reason that so many people have bought SUVs (in short, they've bought SUVs partly b/c they can see more of the road while blocking up more of it for the rest of us,) and it certainly is not the reason school buses have STOP arms; they do b/c they are hard to see around, just as those SUVs and other large vehicles. They also have those STOP arms b/c so many motorists ignore the flashing red lights on the school bus and continue around them when it is illegal and dangerous to do so. In the context of the conversation, sitting higher is no excuse for not seeing the road and the road users ahead.

As a cyclist and a motorist (and a pedestrian, often), as most cyclists are, we do represent a population that can speak to topics, such as this, from both perspectives with recent experience; something I doubt many motorists can do. While I obey traffic laws and signal while on my bike, the vast majority of motorists do not comprehend hand signals and the majority of them wave me through intersections even though they have right-of-way, even after I have stopped and put my foot down; perhaps cyclists are just adjusting to what is being given to them?

Lastly, while I certainly do not condone cyclists breaking the rules of the road, as most will agree (see first paragraph), a motorist breaking the rules of the road creates a much more dangerous situation . . . and there are plenty of motorists breaking the rules.


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