Local News

Mental health director's death reignites bike-car debate

Posted July 6, 2012

— North Carolina ranks among the top half of the U.S. in fatality rates for bicyclists, and a Wednesday crash that killed the state director of mental health services has reignited the debate over four- and two-wheeled vehicles sharing local roads.

Steven Laverne Jordan, 49, of Raleigh, was killed when an empty logging truck hit him from behind on Louisburg Road north of Perry Creek Road in northeast Raleigh. Jordan had headed the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services since 2010.

The truck driver, Clifton Paul Ellis Jr., 28, of 1715 Richardson Bass Road in Kenly, was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision.

North Carolina had the 23rd-highest fatality rate for bicyclists in 2009, the latest year in which statistics are available. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that 16 cyclists were killed on state roads that year, or 1.71 per 1 million residents.

Yet, the League of American Bicyclists has given North Carolina the title of "bicycle-friendly."

Drivers and cyclists agree that learning to share the road is paramount to improve safety.

"The population increase with the motorists and the bicycles have changed things dramatically," Don Oster, owner of a bike shop in Cary, said Friday.

Oster said cyclists must follow the same rules as cars – riding with traffic, stopping at lights and signaling when they turn.

"Hand signals do a world of good," he said. "They can certainly inform the motorist what we're doing and give them time to react."

Bicyclist riding in traffic Cyclists, drivers agree learning to share road paramount to increasing safety

Cyclists said their No. 1 fear is distracted drivers.

"A lot of times, when people are texting and talking on the phone, they're not paying attention. They just see a green light and nothing is coming, so they're going to make the right (turn)," cyclist Donya Parker said.

By law, drivers are supposed to treat bikes like cars, yielding to them when they get too close. But bikers also make drivers nervous.

"Sometimes, they will ride more in the middle of the road than towards the edge, and I certainly don't want to hurt anybody," driver Aubrey Poe said.

"I've also, on the flip side, seen bicyclists that take chances when they try to ride ride three or four across, abreast when they're on a single-lane road. It makes it a little tough on the drivers as well," driver Ken Hoadley said.

Cyclists say bike lanes create a safer environment for both riders and drivers, but there aren't enough of them in the area.

Truck driver Andre Simmons said he does what he can to avoid bicyclists.

"It makes me a little nervous when I see them on the side of the road," Simmons said. "I try to slow down and ease over."

Ellis told police that traffic in the center lane of northbound Louisburg Road prevented him from shifting over to avoid Jordan. Investigators determined that Ellis didn't move enough or slow down enough to avoid hitting him.

Oster said both cyclists and drivers need to have a better understanding of each other.

"We need to all share the road and use good common sense," he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • unhomed Jul 12, 2012

    Drivers who can't get where they're going at a decent rate of speed without killing cyclists are just plain incompetent. The skills involved are trivial.

    If you want all non-motorized traffic off the roadways, then motor vehicle owners should foot the ENTIRE bill for the roads. Your fuel tax, registration fees, and vehicle sales tax don't come anywhere close to covering the cost of the state and federal highway system. Throw in the cost of building, maintaining, and policing the LOCAL roads, and you're getting quite a bit more than you pay for. That money comes from property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes.

    You can't put in $3 on a $15 pizza and claim the whole pie.

  • treddy Jul 10, 2012

    Because bikers and the law see things differently, that they have rights to the road as much as cars, you think that cars should kill bikers that are in the way?

  • All the People Jul 9, 2012

    "whether you have the right to do something and whether it is the right thing to do are two different things. Large vehicles cannot stop on a dime and if you come around a curve and BAM there is a slow moving bike on a road with a 55 mph speed limit you are asking for trouble."

    What if he came around that same corner and there was a car stopped on the road because there was a deer standing in the road? If he couldn't stop in time to avoid a collision he was out of control of his vehicle and needs to be held accountable. Just because the speed limit says 50 or 70 or whatever other number on the road you are on doesn't mean you are entitled to go that speed all the time. As a driver you need to be in control of your vehicle, and if you can't see around a corner you should be able to stop if there is something stopped around the bend.

  • jmdean4104 Jul 9, 2012

    It's a very old law and one that would have never been allowed if cars back then ran 80/90 mph and all drivers had cell phones! I'm not saying it's right to be on the phone while driving either, that's just the reality of it. The bikers totally take advantage of this law and the state of NC should put a stop to it ASAP. Almost every bike I see on the road over the last 15 years commuting to Raleigh is taking advantage of the law. They run stop signs/lights, pass on the right, (espicially when traffic is bad) and I've seen them riding between lanes of traffic and not once have seen one pulled over and cited for breaking these laws. Even had one guy pass a long line of traffic that had been stopped for a very bad wreck, went right past all the traffic and even through the intersection where they were life flighing the crash victims, without being stopped! Just saying things have changed so much since the time of allowing bikes to use the roads it's past time to re-vamp that law.

  • mpheels Jul 9, 2012

    I would 100% support a cyclist endorsement or license program. Most people could just add it as an endorsement on their driver's license (after they pass at least a written test of how traffic laws apply to cycling). The license should be required to ride on any road with a speed limit over 35 mph, starting at age 14. Kids under 14 could on "restricted" roads with a licensed adult. No license required to ride on roads with limits 35 mph or less.

  • monami Jul 9, 2012

    "There's not room for both because of YOU. You're selfish and think since you're in a car that you're not going to do anything to help the cyclist have a safe ride. You are impatient and the world revolves around only you. You can't possibly slow down to make it safe to pass. You worry about passing because you don't plan to slow down and hope to pass the bicyclist whether you know it is safe or not."

    Wow, jump to conclusions much?

    I slow down, to the point of having others honk horns at me. I dread an inadvertent slip by a cyclist who is riding on a road with no shoulders to speak of. It only takes one slip to result in injury or fatality. We autos are in our multi-ton vehicles, and there they ride with their bike helmet for protection. Would you suggest we all drive 15 mph on a 45mph road to remain behind the cyclist?

    Sharing the road in heavy traffic without bike lanes is just too dangerous. The accidents that keep happening are proof.

  • kermit60 Jul 9, 2012

    Bike riders need to start policing there own. You are far more likely to see a bike rider run a stop sign, red light, make illegal turns,use turn lanes as a private road, etc than you are obeying them. They ride at night without lights or reflective gear and expect to be seen. Nobody wants to hit a cyclist or get hit. The bike riders need to quit complaing and start following the road rules like a car if they want to be given the respect of a car.

  • Bartmeister Jul 6, 2012

    The problem isn't drivers or cyclists or pedestrians. It is selfish attitudes and like of real driver's education. smcallah


    Not true. I run slow cars off the road just as I would a slow walker or biker. I don't discriminate, if it's slow, I move it off the road.

    Now think about what I just said in response to your statement and write on a piece of paper 1000 times "I must not make presumptions about other's driving habits when I really have no idea what their habits are." I'll expect that to be turned in by in the morning.

  • boneymaroney13 Jul 6, 2012

    Bart - do you actually tink they listen to us or care what we think? You're tooooo funny!

  • Bartmeister Jul 6, 2012

    Why should bikes be able to impede traffic, thus creating dangerous situations, when cars -can't- without getting a ticket?


    Because drivers in cars don't wear those cool shinny pants and gnarly helmets with the little rear view mirrors attached to them!!!!!!