Cyclist death toll in Michigan hits 18 after 57% spike last year

MICHIGAN — The death Friday of an elite triathlete near Ann Arbor is one of at least 18 instances this year of bicyclists fatally hit by cars on Michigan roads, according to state data.

“In general, there’s this sense that we are definitely at risk,” Harvey Elliott, president of the Michigan Bicycle Racing Association, said. “There have been a lot of high-profile accidents this year.”

Elliott of Ann Arbor said that nearly every day, he rides the stretch of Dexter-Chelsea Road where Karen McKeachie was killed Friday morning in Lima Township. The 63-year-old woman was pedaling eastbound at about 10:40 a.m. near Fletcher Road when she was struck by a westbound Chevrolet Avalanche that had moved into her lane to pass a vehicle, according to a news release from Michigan State Police. She’d been on a Kestrel 4000 Pro SL triathlon bike, riding with two training partners.

In June outside Kalamazoo, five cyclists were killed and four injured when a Chevrolet pickup plowed through their group on a two-lane road.

These high-profile tragedies occurred after 2015 brought a 57% spike in bicyclist-versus-motorist crashes, with 33 killed after 21 died in 2014, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning. The office released preliminary data for this year showing 18 fatalities from Jan. 1 to Aug. 30, and a spokesperson said that number could rise as more reports are received.

Elliott, 29, said that the number of cyclists on roads is increasing, leading to more conflicts. But there are also problems of bad road conditions and distracted drivers.

There are issues with motorists “under the influence of something, or just generally distracted with a cell phone,” he said, adding that some just don’t seem to like sharing the road with bicycles.

“There’s a lot of aggression from drivers,” Elliott said.

Todd Scott, executive director of Detroit Greenway Coalition and a bicycling advocate, said distracted driving and speed are big contributors to safety issues for cyclists. But he thinks more bicycles on roads can be beneficial.

“On the bicycling side, the most important thing we can do is get more people bicycling,” he said. “When more are on the road, drivers modify their behavior and expect bicyclists to be out there.”

In the State of Michigan, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists on roads other than expressways, according to the Michigan Vehicle Code. More details on the laws as well as safety tips are available on the League of Michigan Bicyclists website.

The case involving McKeachie remains under investigation, according to state police.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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