Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was the victim of a hit-and-run while riding my bicycle in rural Montgomery County. I’d like to try to raise awareness of the reckless and indifferent driving behavior that left me with three broken ribs and other injuries.
Below is the open letter to the driver:
I am saddened that you drove off and left the scene and that we did not get a chance to meet face to face.
I am wondering why you passed me when you couldn’t see the oncoming traffic. And then why you did not brake, and you instead swerved into me.
I must say how truly grateful I am to the two (or three?) kind drivers who stopped immediately, called 911, and helped me through the initial shock until the ambulance arrived.
Thank you also to all the first responders who took such good care of me from the Laytonsville Fire Department, to the wonderful nurses, doctors and other staff at both Montgomery General Hospital and Washington Hospital Center’s shock trauma unit.
I’m also grateful that it was only my bike that went under your back wheel and not my leg or worse. However, this has been no picnic.
Your careless, indifferent and illegal driving caused broken ribs, a concussion, a shoulder injury, a sprained foot and multiple bruises and cuts.
As you approached me on Route 108, the road was very straight. I could clearly see you in my mirror, and I’m sure you could see me with my bright red-and-white shirt, my bright blue helmet and the red flashing light under my seat.
I was riding right next to the white line heading toward Laytonsville, following the law and not hogging the road in any way.
What were you thinking trying to pass me as we both approached that blind hill just past Rocky Road? With the hill rising out of the road blocking our view, did you not wonder if cars were coming toward us in the opposite lane?
What was so urgent that you couldn’t wait another 30 seconds until you could see if any traffic was coming the other way? Did you not see the double yellow line in the road? Or did you think it didn’t apply to you in this case because I was on a bike?
But then as you crested the hill and saw the car in the other lane coming head-on, why did you turn your wheel in my direction? Why didn’t you just hit the brakes and try to drop back into our lane behind me like a normal person does when they realize they don’t have room to pass?
Maybe it was just a natural reaction to swerve away from an oncoming vehicle and back into your lane. But the manner in which your vehicle came so gradually into me makes me curious. It was as if I was being gently pushed by someone’s arm. It was so gradual that I can’t help but wonder if you intentionally tried to squeeze your vehicle between the oncoming car and me.
As your mirror and then door pushed into me, I wonder if you could see me out of the corner of your eye? Did I suddenly disappear from your view as your vehicle drove over my back wheel and whipped my body sideways down to the ground?
Maybe you heard the crunch of my bike under your tire and the loud pop that a modern bike frame makes when it snaps into pieces. Did you look back in the mirror and see me lying in the ditch, not moving? Or did you just look straight ahead down the road as if nothing happened?
Kurt Zwally, Silver Spring
The fact that the driver failed to stop and offer assistance is not one of those points. That was beyond the pale of civilization. “It’s a cowardly act to hit someone and then leave,” Billing said.
But here are some things Billing added:
→ The cyclist was entitled to travel on this road.
→ Drivers need to give cyclists at least three feet of clearance.
→ That’s not a lot of space. “Drivers just don’t realize how close they are to cyclists. . . . “They misjudge the speed of a cyclist. They misjudge the road.”
→ A bicyclist often needs to pay a lot more attention to the road surface than a driver does. Drivers should be aware that a cyclist might veer around a rough patch, or might not want to ride too close to the edge of the pavement.
Route 108 is narrow, with limited visibility in sections, and speed limits of 40 and 50 mph. It’s typical of roadways in the Washington region that are difficult to share. But sharing isn’t something a traveler is supposed to do simply as a favor. It’s an obligation, as the Maryland driver’s manual points out:
“When passing a bicyclist, wait until it is safe and allow adequate clearance. . . . and return to your lane when you can clearly see the bicyclist in your rearview mirror. Do not use your horn to alert or alarm the rider. If you are unable to safely pass, reduce your speed, follow the bicycle and wait for a safe opportunity to pass.”