Several fatal and near-fatal hit-and-runs have made headlines almost constantly in Sonoma County this summer, causing the community to ask hard questions and seek elusive solutions.
A popular question is the one about whether it's safe to ride a bicycle on Sonoma County roads. My best reply is "Yes—mostly."
To put our fears into context, it helps to know that 45 percent of bicycle crashes are solo falls. Seventeen percent involve another bicycle, 8 percent are with animals and 4 percent with parked cars. Only 18 percent involve a moving car; in those cases, it's the bicyclist's fault about half the time.
That leaves a bicyclist a 9 percent chance of becoming the victim of an unavoidable crash with an automobile. In those rare cases, the stakes are clearly higher for the bicyclist.
But the real issue isn't car vs. bike. Automobiles are transportation tools, but every tool is a weapon—sometimes deadly—if you're unfit to use it.
This week's deadly hit-and-run on Lakeville Highway reminds us that our cars don't always protect us from unsafe drivers. So we arrive at our next question: How do we keep unfit drivers off the road?
Which raises even more questions. Can we do better than simply requiring people over 70 to renew their driver's license in person? When will our culture insist upon taking away the keys from friends and family members who can no longer drive safely? What if our tolerance for driving under the influence was closer to zero? How can we make sure that everyone who's driving is licensed?
California health code requires that physicians report individuals with medical conditions that make it unsafe for them to drive. How can we enforce this rule? How can we ensure that people with a suspended license don't drive? If our transit system really worked, would it help to keep suspended/unfit/unlicensed/impaired drivers off the road? Will we ever view driving as a privilege that comes with great responsibility, rather than an entitlement?
Now for our last question: What causes someone to hurt another person and leave him for dead?
I ask and ask again, but find no answer that fits.
Sandra Lupien is outreach coordinator for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.Open Mic is a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write email@example.com.