Cycling Tragedy Spawns Safety Initiative

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Pete Makowski

Three feet. That’s all they’re asking for. From drivers. And from cyclists, too.

This is the simple — but critically important — message being delivered by Andy Bestwick and his 25 teammates on the Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air cycling team.

They’re calling the initiative Three Feet for Pete in honor and memory of teammate Pete Makowski, who was killed in June when he was struck from behind by a gravel truck while on a training ride.

Bestwick says the team is planning a memorial ride in honor of Makowski, while at the same time doing everything it can to raise awareness about the State of Nevada law that mandates drivers give cyclists a three-foot berth when passing. [Similar laws exist in some but not all of the other 49 states. See a full breakdown here.]

“After the accident the whole team got together to remember Pete, and also to talk about what happened,” recalled Bestwick, co-founder and co-director of the 10-year-old elite amateur race team that includes masters and developmental level riders. “We realized as a group that we didn’t always do everything we could to ride safely.”

So the team decided to do something about it.

“We asked ourselves what would Pete ask of us and what would he do to prevent further loss of life,” continued Bestwick. “The answers came to us through our understanding of Pete as an individual. Pete was a jet mechanic and spent almost every waking hour of his life fixing things to perfection, including himself. So we put ourselves in his shoes and asked ourselves how can we become safer cyclists? Because that’s what Pete would have done.”

Indeed, instead of directing all their sorrow and anger at the driver or the tragic circumstances, the Diamondback-sponsored team has dedicated itself to educating drivers about the three-foot rule, and also imploring cyclists to obey a set of best practices that will allow them to better take control of their own safety.

Those three principals are:
1. Know the law and obey it: This goes for drivers and riders. Less confusion on the roadways will lead to safer interactions between cars and riders.

2. Be a defensive rider: Look, listen and consider cars in advance of coming in contact with them. Don’t assume a motorist will act a certain way. Also be conservative, cautious, and courteous, while always looking for a safe exit.

3. Seek routes with three feet: Choose riding routes with a bike lane or wide shoulder. Lawmakers and planners across the country have worked hard to provide cyclists with these zones of safety and we should use them.

“We were all really sad and we miss Pete and his great spirit,” added Bestwick. “But we also realized that this could have happened to any of us. We’ve all ridden that road before.”

Bestwick and his teammates are working on an educational website, and are hoping to put on the memorial ride in connection with the annual Interbike cycling industry trade show, which takes place in Las Vegas in mid-September. But even if they are not able to get the necessary permits in time, the primary message is already out there.

“Be safe,” said Bestwick. “That’s the No. 1 message that all cyclists need to hear, understand and implement.”

To learn more and get up to date information on the Pete Makowski Memorial Ride, follow the team on Facebook.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the / staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • Ron says:

    Always tough to read these stories. We’ve had a commuter cyclist hit and killed recently, the driver was without a license for previous violations. Then a person I knew was hit and thankfully only banged up.

    Didn’t realize MD passed a 3′ state law. Jeez, I get passed at around 1′ all the time. And even 3′ when there isn’t a shoulder and the car is traveling over 40mph feels far too close.

    In my dreams I imagine that before anyone in the U.S. even applies for a license to drive or takes driver’s educ. they’d have to bike commute for a month. I’m tired of, “Drivers don’t know what it’s like for a cyclist.” Take a guess at how it feels to be passed so closely by a deadly machine.

    Also, I’ve always been interested in seeing statistics on the risks of cycling vs. driving. Far more driving deaths, and too many cyclists are killed, but there are of course a lot more people driving than cycling. Anyone ever see a study/report on this?

  • Tig says:

    Turning the loss of Pete Makowski into a positive movement is a great and productive idea. The Allegiant Air team should be commended for handling this tragedy this way. I feel for your loss.

    One addition I’d suggest to principal 2. “Be a defensive rider” is to ride predictably.

  • Matt_D says:

    Not much point, really, unless the police seriously are committed to according cyclists equal protection under the law. The sad truth is, most cops don’t seem to consider bicycling anything a responsible adult would participate in, and generally give the motorist the benefit of the doubt …and beyond.

    In 2007, Tennessee (passed and) enacted it’s own 3-foot law, the Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act (named in memorial to two responsible adults and Tennessee citizens who were struck and killed by motorists). To my certain knowledge, there have been at least three more cyclists struck and killed by motorists in Tennessee since the bill was signed into law, yet none of those at-fault motorists was charged with violating it (point of fact, none of the three was charged with any moving violation at all). Which would seem to mean either Tennessee police think it is possible to run over a bicyclist while remaining further than three feet away, or that bicyclists are not deserving of the law’s protections.

    I also think the 3-foot provision is impractical because police can’t charge you with speeding unless they have empirical proof of the offense. So what court is going to take the cop’s word that it was 35 inches and not 37? It would have been more practical if they had required the motorist to yield the entire lane whenever traffic permits, or otherwise to overtake the cyclist by no more than the pace of a brisk walk AND with no less than the three foot buffer.

    I suspect the whole 3-foot provision might have originated as something of a “stalking horse,” because a motorist obviously cannot strike a cyclist unless they also have violated the 3-foot law, so the fact of the collision is prima facie proof that the 3-foot law has been broken. The the point is less about the 3-foot “halo” than it is about giving legal recourse to the cyclist’s next of kin. The problem is, as Tennessee — regrettably — clearly demonstrates, the law of itself provides cyclists absolutely no protection whatsoever, unless someone compels the police to get serious about providing equal protecting that minority of its citizens who also happen to be bicyclists.

  • Barry Klinke says:

    Counting on a “3 foot law” working is naive and not as effective as other precautions.

    My life has been saved twice by a helmet mounted mirror. Seeing trucks approaching from the rear on a collision course with me, twice I ran far off the side of the road and was barely missed. One truck passed by me, on the left, on the gravel shoulder and another (semi) passed me, on the left, in the grass after passing over a four foot shoulder. I was riding on the four foot shoulder, on the right side of the white line and still had to ride several feet into the grass to avoid being run over. Only seeing these trucks in a mirror and executing an emergency maneuver saved my life. I’m convinced that both of these drivers intended to kill me. A “three foot” law doesn’t mean anything to a texting driver, a drunk or someone that wants to kill you.

    I currently use a mirror that’s 1/2X3/8″ and get a clear view of what’s coming from behind. The problem is that most riders are “too cool” to use a mirror. If I hadn’t been using a mirror, I would be dead.

  • Doug says:

    We all feel outraged and helpless at the same time. I think the best place for real impact is in getting bicycle law into the police training academy curriculum. New officers who are still learning and impressionable should be our audience. Get on the agenda of training schools. The veterans already have their opinions. Put energy where it can make a difference.

  • FermentedBrainSuds says:

    The 3′ law would not seem to be much use unless drivers actually got tickets for it when there wasn’t even an accident, as that is the only way they would develop a habit of leaving a 3′ gap.

    The other way would be if everyone knew a driver who had his license taken away after killing a cyclist while overtaking too closely.

  • Hobo says:

    Having commuted for over 20 years it is always important to be an overly visible and overly vocal rider. The 3′ law is great when motorists are educated, to often the companies are just a grist mill pumping out new drivers for the money spent. I’ve been rear ended standing still at a stop light by a driver who saw me but neglected to pay attention while he was texting (and was driving on a suspended license).

    Education is always a good step but we won’t see any improvement when state and local government vehicles are just as bad as the general public. So it is up to us to enforce the passing rule carefully and vocally (for those in stand your ground states you should be very careful).

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