Shem Flitton: Aggressive driving should be treated as a crime

Police officers inspect the scene of a car accident in Tokyo Friday, April 19, 2019. A car, right rear, driven by an 87-year-old man crashed into a garbage truck, foreground, on a Tokyo street Friday, killing a woman and a girl who were on a bicycle, according to police. (Shinji Kita/Kyodo News via AP)

The June accident on the Alpine Loop highlights the dangers that face cyclists every day. In that incident, a careless driver who was going too fast drifted into oncoming traffic and hit a bicycle on the other side of the road. The cyclist was flown to the hospital. The driver wasn’t cited at the scene despite reports that he was driving recklessly.

As an active member of the cycling community, I know of other instances when cyclists have been hit by inattentive or aggressive drivers. I have experienced people looking at their cell phones who nearly ran me off the road. They became aware of me only when I smacked their window to get their attention.

Others are thinking more about the two seconds they’ll save by passing me and immediately turning in front of me. It might save them a few seconds, but it could cost me all the rest of my time. In the past few years the problem has gotten a lot worse.

These experiences are par for the course, according to a 2014 study by the League of American Bicyclists. They studied 238 fatal crashes and found that 42 percent of them were caused by drivers who were inattentive or driving in a reckless manner. Despite the fact that they killed someone, only 12 percent of the motorists received some sort of sentence and most of the media reports considered only the motorist’s perspective. That last point is understandable as, in these cases, the bike rider was no longer able to share his story.

The other problem is aggressive drivers — those who feel like they have to “put cyclists in their place.” In my years of driving on Utah roads, firecrackers have been thrown at me, large diesel pickups have “rolled coal” on me, trucks have swerved into the oncoming lane in an attempt to force me off the road. One guy came within a few inches of my back tire with his Dodge Charger.

This type of behavior should be classified as assault with a deadly weapon. Driving is a privilege that requires responsible behavior. Colorado has a registry where individuals can report aggressive drivers. After three reports about the same license plate come in, law enforcement sends a notice to the owner. I would love to see Utah take similar measures.

Cyclists on the road all seem to look the same. But underneath our cycling jerseys, we are doctors, lawyers, engineers, computer programmers, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives or maybe even your boss. It could be your neighbor that you’re pushing into a ditch. I work as an editor and I volunteer on a mountain rescue team. If you had an emergency on the mountain, you would be courteous to me. Why is it OK to be otherwise when I have sunglasses and a helmet?

I’ve heard the arguments that cyclists are lawbreakers. But studies show that cyclists break traffic laws less often than the average driver.

Some say cyclists don’t pay gasoline taxes, so we shouldn’t be on the road. Every cyclist I know owns and drives a car. We just choose to make extra trips on our bikes.

Utah is growing. Traffic congestion gets worse every year. We should be encouraging alternate forms of transportation. If we don’t show cyclists the same respect and courtesy that we should give any other road user, congestion will increase and our air quality will decrease.

Shem Flitton

Shem Flitton lives in Kaysville with his wife and five children.