Bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers often share the road in Fauquier County; when they collide, bicyclists take the brunt of the damage. Fourteen fatal accidents involving bicyclists have occurred in Virginia in 2017, according to state records.
In The Plains last weekend, a 77-year-old bicyclist was struck by a car on Halfway Road, according to a Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. Peter Slavin, 77, of Oakton, was flown to INOVA Fairfax Hospital Sunday evening after suffering significant brain injury when his bicycle and a 1998 Volvo collided, Sgt. James Hartman said.
Slavin died March 29 at INOVA Fairfax Hospital, he reported.
The driver, Babette Alliger, 59, of Culpeper and Middleburg, faces a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. She was attempting to pass the bicyclist when she hit him and knocked him to the ground.
Hartman emphasized that according to the law, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as a motorized driver. For their part, drivers need to pass at a reasonable speed and keep a distance of at least 3 feet to the left of the bicyclist, said Hartman. On Fauquier’s winding roads that often don’t have shoulders, drivers sometimes have to follow slowly behind bikers while waiting for a safe place to pass them.
While cyclists and drivers share a duty to use the road responsibly, there are steps cyclists can take to protect themselves on the road.
“Pick routes where you have an understanding of the road conditions,” said Brian Larson, manager of the Bike Stop in Warrenton. Rain-slicked or snowy conditions, wind, time of day should influence where and when a rider decides to ride.
“Factor in the type of road and where. If it’s winter, it can be a lot more difficult to ride on a paved road rather than a gravel road,” he added.
The Bike Stop at 19 Main St. sells bikes and accessories and serves at the stepping-off point for a group of cyclists that leaves from there every Monday at 6 p.m. for a ride.
Cycling with a group or with at least one other person is a good idea, Larson said, since a pack of riders stands out.
“There’s safety in numbers. You’re like a herd of zebras” huddling together, he explained.
A rider in the group can also announce to the others “car front” or “car back” to alert them when a vehicle is near.
Riders in a group riding abreast should move into a “single up” line when a car is in sight, to give a motorist more room to pass, Larson said.
Wearing highly visible clothing – bright and/or reflective – helps too. Larson said there are yellow “booties” that fit over the shoes that make the rider stand out. Putting blinking lights on the bike is another good idea.
Another local bike shop owner suggested that cyclists need to be smart about where they choose to ride.
“I tend not to ride on Halfway Road, it’s too twisty,” said Jared Nieters about the road where the March 24 collision occurred.
Nieters rides competitively and operates bikes shops in Haymarket, The Plains and Culpeper.
“My concern is that there is victim blaming of the person riding” when a bike-car accident occurs, Nieters said. “When a person riding is getting hit by a car, I have a hard time finding that it is [the bike rider’s] fault.”
But he knows cyclists can make it hard for motorists by sometimes taking up more of the road than they need to.
He said his shops have copies of the rules of the road to hand out to cyclists.
Nieters drives to work and he’s found himself behind cyclists too. “Every time I’ve had to wait [for a safe place to pass] it’s been not even 30 seconds,” Nieters said. “People can get furious if they have to wait less than 30 seconds. I’ve even seen drivers willing to stop and argue with a cyclist about access to the road.
“People get furious, but it’s really misplaced. I’ve had to wait on [Route] 55 at the construction entrance to Amazon, but I don’t leave completely outraged.”
He sees a double standard among drivers who text while driving or who travel above the speed limit, while expecting bicyclists to strictly adhere to the law.
“Do I think everybody should be responsible? Yes. There need to be responsible riders, tractor drivers and horse riders. We’re all part of the community using these roads,” said Nieters.
Reach James Ivancic at firstname.lastname@example.org.