June 27, 2013

Maine cyclist's death shows risks of draft from big vehicles

A preliminary report says turbulence from a passing truck probably caused the Trek Across Maine rider to lose his balance.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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David LeClair, 23, is shown in an undated photo from the Athena Health team web page.

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PDF: Read the crash report

The report says it appeared that Leclair died of neck injuries; however, an autopsy determined the actual cause was blunt trauma to the head.

The crash report notes the road conditions that morning were dry and clear, the road straight and that Masse-Dufresne was not distracted.

A diagram of the crash scene shows there were a series of road signs as the truck approached the stretch of road where Leclair was riding. One indicated the speed limit was dropping to 40 mph, the next said to watch for pedestrians and the third indicated the speed limit had dropped from 55 mph to 40 mph.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of cyclists, says in its literature that motorists should imagine a yardstick poking out the passenger window to gauge 3 feet, the minimum distance a car should be from a cyclist it is passing. Allenby said that is an absolute minimum.

"The example I always give is if a child is standing on the side of the road, would you pass them at 40 mph only 3 feet away? Of course not."

New Hampshire state law requires a distance of 3 feet between a cyclist and motorist when the vehicle is traveling 30 mph, 4 feet when it's going 40 and 5 feet when it's going 50, he said.

In parts of Europe and Japan, where there are many more bicycles and motorized scooters sharing the road with trucks, many trucks are required to have underride side guards. The devices, barriers that stretch between the wheels of the trailer and below the container, prevent cars, cyclists and pedestrians from going beneath a trailer and being hit by the rear wheels.

Certain types of side guards reduce aerodynamic drag, according to a study by the National Research Council Canada's Centre for Surface Transportation Technology.

However, the 2010 study did not explore the impact of reducing turbulence on safety, or identify turbulence as a significant safety threat.

There are important steps cyclists should take to keep themselves safe, Allenby said.

"One of the biggest keys, especially in urban areas, is to ride in a manner that you don't surprise ... motorists," he said. "The more you can do to let them anticipate your next action, the safer you both will be."

When large trucks are approaching, cyclists should grab the handlebars firmly, but not tense up their arms and shoulders, he said.

"You certainly want to have a good grip, but if your arms and shoulders are locked, it's hard to react," Allenby said.

That technique, along with other strategies for safe riding in traffic, are taught in many cycling classes, he said. Such classes can be valuable, especially for adults who rode as children and take up the sport again later in life but are now using the bicycle in a much different way, he said.

More information is available on the group's website at: http://www.bikemaine.org

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com

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