By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
An accident that left a Starkville woman fighting for her life has opened a debate on bicycle safety.
Jan Morgan, 57, was out on a 60-mile training ride on Highway 50 near Pheba when she was hit by a car on May 22. She suffered extensive injuries and remains in critical condition at a hospital in Tupelo.
Morgan is an experienced cyclist and owner of Boardtown Bikes in Starkville.
Kim Richardson was riding with Morgan when she was hit and said they were on a flat stretch of road with excellent visibility. The accident report, which was published on Facebook by Janâs husband David last week, states that Jan was hit from behind, thrown into air and landed on the hood of the car. The car kept going, but when it stopped, Jan was thrown to the ground. The report reveals that the driver got out of her car, and while on her cell phone, âobserved the cyclistâ before getting back in her car and running Jan over again. She was eventually âforced from her vehicle by witnesses.â
The driver, Robbie Norton of Cedarbluff, has not been charged in the accident. Clay County prosecutor Angela Turner-Lairy is looking into the case. Attempts to contact Norton for comment have been unsuccessful.
âSome motorists are understandably outraged by cyclists who do not respect the rules and regulations in place to protect both cyclists and motorists from these unfortunate accidents, but in this case, my mother was 100 percent in the right and this motorist committed a foul and heinous act that simply did not have to happen,â Sean Dyess, Jan Morganâs son, said. âAs a result, my mother has spent the last two weeks fighting for her life in the CCU unit in Tupelo and her family and friends are left wondering why this had to happen.â
Unfortunately, accidents like the one Jan Morgan was involved in are not uncommon. According to the U.S. Department of Transportationâs National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 630 cyclists were killed and over 51,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2009. Ten of those fatal crashes occurred in Mississippi.
Morganâs family and supporters are angry at what happened to her, but are working to ensure it doesnât happen again.
âIf nothing else we want to use this case as an opportunity to increase mutual respect on the roads from both sides,â Dyess said. âIt is not and should not be a battle for the road, we are all human beings and we need to respect each other and life.â
The League of American Bicyclists promotes the campaign and educates the public on the rules of the road. They encourage cyclists to be aware of the laws, wear a helmet and bright colors, ride predictably and stay as visible as possible.
âIf bicyclists and motorists follow the laws, there is no reason why we canât,â said Megan Cahill, from the League in Washington, D.C. âWe all need to be considerate of each other.â
Mississippi law requires motorists to leave three feet of space when passing cyclists. The law was passed a year ago in honor of a young man from Tupelo who was killed by a car when he was out riding his bike.
âOne of the issues right now is making motorists aware of that law,â said Melody Moody, executive director of Bike Walk Mississippi. The organization is working to unite cyclists. Over the last few years, Starkville has taken strides to make the city a safer place for cyclists and pedestrians. The introduction of bike lanes and the new helmet ordinance were each put in place to help keep cyclists safe.
âIâve been cycling half my life, in urban as well as in rural environments. Itâs tempting to get into a ârut,â just like drivers do, in which you go on âautomatic pilotâ and assume all motorists can see you, and all motorists are considerate if they do. Sadly, this is not true,â said William Kallfelz, a professor at Mississippi State University and friend of the Morgans. âAside from obeying all traffic laws, wearing my helmet at all times, Iâve recently taken to wave and smile and motorists who show obvious consideration, I figure it can only help! I think cell phones and texting is becoming a huge problem.â
For more information about bicycle laws in Mississippi and the United States, visit www.bikewalkmississippi.org, www.bikeleague.org or www.starkvilleinmotion.org.
Starkville In Motion offers the following tips for cyclists and motorists:
For cyclists: Always wear a helmet and bright clothing. The helmet should fit snugly and not move around when cycling- use chin strap to adjust. Ride in the same direction as traffic and ride predictably following a straight path.
Donât ride on sidewalks and ride as close to the curb as possible. Follow the same road rules as cars and observe all traffic signals and stop signs. Keep alert and aware of your surroundings and know what is in front and behind you.
For motorists: Use caution when making a righthand turn in front of a cyclist and make sure you can safely make the turn before the cyclist gets there or wait until they pass you before turning.
Leave a space of at least three feet between your car and bicycle when passing and be sure you can see road ahead of you before attempting to pass a cyclist.
Be extra cautious when passing children and remember bicycles belong on the road too.