This year’s first fatal crash involving a person riding a bicycle occurred at 4:30 p.m., June 4 in Menomonee Falls when Patrick Heitman was struck by a 78-year-old driver attempting to make a left turn. At this point last year there were already six people killed riding bicycles on Wisconsin roadways.
Heitman was traveling southeast and the driver was coming in the opposite direction when he crossed two lanes, hitting the father of three. The 44-year-old is also survived by his parents, wife, brother, and several nieces and nephews. He was also the owner of Heitman, Inc, an excavation contractor.
The Menomonee Falls Police Department is leading the investigation – a crash report is not available at this time. Additionally, a crash reconstruction created by the Wisconsin State Patrol won’t be available for about 6 months.
Most bicycle crashes occur in urban settings during the time of day this one did. In 2015 a person riding a bicycle was involved in a crash every 9.7 hours in Wisconsin with a total of 1,000 crashes.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has found this type of “left hook” crash is the most common between a bicycle and an automobile. When we are behind the wheel, we should always take care when turning left by taking a second look and yielding to oncoming bicycles. Similarly when turning right, we all need to check for people about to step into the crosswalk and for people on bicycles that may be in our blind spots.
When we are riding our bicycles and approaching an intersection, we should be aware that this is where most crashes happen. When riding straight through an intersection, watch for oncoming cars that might be turning left across our path. Sometimes people don’t use turn signals, so we have to be prepared. When in the right parking lane or shoulder, move left enough to make clear you are not turning right. This might mean riding completely to the left of a marked right turn lane at channelized intersections. Be particularly cautious if you are moving past a queue of motor vehicles on the right side. The illustration below shows proper lane position. A more detailed version of this illustration with other safety tips can be found on our Share and Be Aware pages here.
Without the crash report where Heitman was positioned at the time of the crash, but what has been described so far would indicate he was following the rules of the road before being struck by a driver who may not have seen him. To be clear, our tips for riding through intersections are just advice to improve bicycle safety, but are not required by law. People must yield to oncoming traffic before turning left. The left hook is also the most common crash involving a motorcycle.
Last year 11 cyclists were killed on the road, down 4 from the prior year. More careful driving can help to reduce these numbers and avoid these tragedies.
Through the Share and Be Aware Program and the Safe Routes to School Program, the Wisconsin Bike Fed works to make both cycling and walking safer for everyone. Safer streets for walking and biking increase our independence and make our neighborhoods more vibrant and engaging. Every year in communities across the state, our Share and Be Aware Ambassadors and Bike Walk Instructors teach thousands of kids and adults how to safely walk, bike and drive.
While we can all work collectively to reduce the chances of fatal crashes like this happening, it’s important to remember riding a bicycle remains an incredibly safe and healthy thing to do. The number of crashes has been decreasing for years, even as more people ride bicycles for transportation. If you factor in the health benefits of cycling, riding a bicycle is more likely to help you live longer than result in a fatal crash.
The fatal crash numbers are so small, that the variations from year to year are probably statistically insignificant. Of course our goal is to make that number zero.
Note that in the graph below, it was common to have 30-40 fatal bicycle crashes in the 1970s and today we average around ten. We have bike lanes and education to thank for the huge reduction in fatal crashes. In fact, our Share & Be Aware Program is one of the biggest programs we run at the Wisconsin Bike Fed. If you would like to request one of our S&BA Ambassadors for a class or to table an event, make your request online here. We can also give you free safety information to share in your community or at your employer.
“For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3–14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8–40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5–9 days lost). Societal benefits are even larger because of a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents.
Conclusions: On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.” Source: Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? Jeroen Johan de Hartog1, Hanna Boogaard1, Hans Nijland2, Gerard Hoek1.