Earlier this month, Roger Swain was riding his bicycle along Sahara Avenue, because his usually route along Oakey Boulevard was disrupted by construction, while riding to work he was hit by a car.
In the moments before the impact, Swain knew he had to do one thing.
"I made a conscience decision to protect my head," Swain told KNPR's State of Nevada.
He was wearing a helmet and as always worn a helmet. The decision to wear a helmet and the decision to move to protect his head saved him from both brain damage and paralysis, but he still suffered several injuries that required surgery.
Swain has been riding a bicycle to work for several years. He hopes to get back to riding soon.
“I’m not going let this accident define my life,” Swain said, but he did admit he plans to stay off any busy roads for a while.
Unfortunately, Swain's experience is not a unique one for Las Vegas bicyclists.
The number of cyclists actually killed while riding has gone up this year.
So far this year, seven cyclists have died in Clark County.
Erin Breen, director of UNLV’s Vulnerable Road Users Project, says four of the fatalities have involved cyclists in intersections or in marked mid-blocked crosswalks. Two of the those killed where children. Four of the seven involved driver error.
“If a driver can’t follow the rules of the road, the cyclist is in danger,” Breen said.
These fatalities have been a result of drivers running over pedestrians from behind, not giving them three feet of space the way the law requires. There have been several cyclists riding their bikes in a crosswalk, not giving drivers time to stop.
Data from the Nevada Department of Transportation for 2009-2013 shows 58 percent of bike crashes happen in the roadway, 13 percent on the sidewalk and 13 percent in intersections with crosswalks.
The state agency also reports that 86 percent of bicycle crashes involve men and that those under 15 are the most likely to be hit and to die.
Breen said besides driver error a lack of helmets contributes to cyclists dying. In recent years, questions have arisen about the effectiveness of helmets, Breen said the trauma cases speak for themselves.
“All you have to do is look at the facts at who’s dying in bicycle crashes and it's people with head and spine trauma and that head trauma doesn’t happen to a fatal level if you’re wearing a bike helmet,” Breen pointed out.
She said the hot weather doesn't help because people on bicycles will take risks just to get out of the heat.
She also points to a lack of education as a contributing factor for crashes.
Craig Davis wants to fix the education portion of the problem by letting people know about Nevada's 'three-foot rule.'
Davis founded 3footcycling.com. It tracks drivers who don't follow the rule, which states that a vehicle must be at least three feet from a cyclist and should move into another lane, if it is safe to do so.
“It's kind of inappropriately named because it gives people the idea that giving three foot is exactly the way to go, but really moving over a lane is the way to go,” Davis said.
According to Davis, a recent study by Rutgers University about the three foot rule around the country shows that it is not being enforced, which is understandable because police can't be everywhere and see everything.
Davis believes the effort should be on teaching drivers about the rule.
“So really, it’s a matter of trying to get drivers to understand that getting anywhere close to three feet is endangering the cyclist,” Davis said.
For Swain, the effort to get cyclists and drivers to share the road is personal.
"It's both sides of the equation," Swain said. "Drivers have to be aware that there is going to be pedestrians and cyclists on the road and they’ve got a 4,000 pound weapon that they’re wielding. If there is an interaction, their life is going to be changed."
Breen agrees that making streets safer is really about everyone.
“We have to take responsibility for our actions when we’re on the road no matter what kind of road user we are,” Breen said.
Erin Breen, director, UNLV's Vulnerable Road Users Project; Roger Swain, Las Vegas resident and accident victim; and Craig Davis, founder, 3 Foot Cycling.
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