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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tragic death of a cyclist, south of Memphis, should serve as a reminder of the constant need for caution and safety

Tragic death of a cyclist, south of Memphis, should serve as a reminder of the constant need for caution and safety
By:  Michael Lander

Canadian-born cyclist, Iain Gerrard, wanted to ride his bike from his home
in Toronto to New Orleans.  Unfortunately, he was struck and killed before
he reached his destination.

Iain Edward Gerrard was only 23-years-old when he died.  Gerrard was a cyclist from Toronto, Canada who was making a trip of a lifetime on his bicycle from his home in Toronto, to his ultimate destination of New Orleans, when he was hit and killed just south of Memphis.  The accident occurred on Monday afternoon, July 14, 2014, around 3 p.m. 

Gerrard was struck by an 18-wheeler just south of Memphis on U.S. Hwy 61 and Star Landing Rd in Desoto County in Mississippi.  DeSoto County Coroner, Jeff Pounders, is quoted as saying, in a DeSoto Time Tribune article, "Canadian cyclist struck by 18-wheeler," that Gerrard was traveling north in the southbound lane a half a mile south of Star Landing Road near Walls, Miss. when he appeared to have veered over in the lane of traffic and was hit.

The DeSoto County Sheriff's Office and the Mississippi Highway Patrol have not yet released any information or confirmed any details concerning this accident.

While there may be questions surrounding the circumstances of this terrible accident, for some, the thoughts are not so much on how it happened, but on who it happened to.  For friends, family, his parents, (William and Jean Gerrard), and for the cycling community as a whole, this is a sad time for them to grieve collectively over the tragic loss of a life that was taken too soon.  It is also a time when all of us are reminded of what could happen to any of us and what the loved ones of cyclists may fear and dread the most. 

As sad and as unfortunate as any loss of life like this is, it does help to bring to the forefront an issue that can never get enough attention and that is safety.  It can also serve as a warning, and as a cautionary tale, not only to cyclists, but to non-cyclists as well.

Since cyclists have a real vested interest in all this, they, more than anyone else, need to take the lead in making things safe for themselves while on the road.  This begins with not only knowing what to do and not do, but it includes following the rules of the road, and remaining as visible, vigilant, and as predictable as they can at all times.

Cyclists also need to take every opportunity that they can to remind everyone else that cyclists have every right, in the eyes of the law, to be on the roads.  Along with all that, cyclists should also establish goodwill with drivers and to try to be as a courteous and conscientious toward them, and to try to avoid doing those things that might unnecessarily annoy or aggravate them, like riding more than two abreast and not moving over to the right to let vehicles pass them. 

Drivers, for their part, should be as careful and cautious around cyclists with whom they share the road with and they should always try to have at least three feet of clearance between them and a cyclist.

It might take some time, but with a little effort on the part of cyclists, and as drivers become more accustomed to seeing more cyclists on the road, it should ultimately help to foster a culture of acceptance of cyclists in the community at large.

As terrible and tragic as it is for even one cyclist like Gerrard to die, when you consider the number of cyclists there are, and how many of them regularly ride their bikes, the number of accidents and fatalities in our area is lower than what some might expect.  We can only try to do our part to keep that number as close to zero as possible.

Statistically, the number of vehicles hitting cyclists and the number of fatalities associated with these accidents in the Memphis area seems to be relatively low.  Since 2010, there have only been three cyclists who have been killed, with the recent one in North Mississippi, one in Midtown Memphis on August 11, 2011, and another on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge on August 12, 2012.

Even though the greatest danger to cyclists on the road are collisions with vehicles, there are many other dangers that they might also face while riding.  Some of the potential hazards that cyclists might face include dogs, pedestrians or runners who might step out in front of you, other cyclists who might run into you, and even some unexpected problems, (gravel, potholes, etc), that you might suddenly encounter on the road itself.  With all of this, cyclists should always expect the unexpected and they should never get too complacent whenever they are riding their bikes. 

In spite of all this, this should not be enough to deter anyone from riding.  Life is full of risks.  The key for cyclists is to try to minimize any potential threats and risks that might come up on you, with little or no warning.  No one wants anyone to get hurt while cycling and none of us should expect anything less than as safe of an environment as possible for cyclists and anyone else on the road.

The world should never have to lose another young life like that of Iain Gerrard and we should all do what we can to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

To read more about bicycle safety and about Memphis area drivers and cyclists, click on the links to these stories: 
View of Memphis drivers may not be all bad from perspective of Memphis area cyclists and Questions and answers on bicycle safety.  For information on bike laws and driver's manuals in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, visit the Memphis Cyclist website.

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