It’s been two weeks since James Dobson was struck and killed while cycling on Highway 98 as part of a cross country fundraiser for a children’s hospital.
Last week I met with James’ mother, Cindy as she came to visit the site of her son’s death and to retrieve some of his personal items. Last Sunday James’ family held his funeral service.
Though the identity of the driver who struck James is known as of yet no charges have been filed.
I make no pretense that a newspaper editorial should substitute for an accident investigation but in the void of follow up information being forthcoming I’d like to offer some thoughts on how such an event might be prevented in the future.
I use the term ‘event’ rather than ‘accident’ as some definitions of accident use the term “unforeseen”.
No doubt that this event was unfortunate and unintentional (other defining terms of ‘accident’) but it is questionable as to whether or not is could have been foreseen.
The one statement that witnesses seem to agree on is that the first vehicle to come upon James had to swerve quickly to avoid hitting him then the following vehicle was not able to make the same maneuver in time and the impact occurred.
In driver’s education we were all taught to use the two-second rule. Locate a fixed object ahead of you and when the vehicle you’re following passes that object two seconds should lapse before your vehicle passes the same landmark.
This safety gap between you and the vehicle ahead allows you time to react safely should the vehicle ahead take unexpected measures to avoid a collision.
The two-second rule has since been modified. The current recommendation is to allow a travel space of 3 seconds between vehicles and more if the weather or road conditions are compromised.
A few years back the Department of Public Safety successfully lobbied for a bill that now requires motorists traveling on a roadway with two lanes going in the same direction to pull over to the other lane when approaching an emergency vehicle conducting a traffic stop on the side of the road.
If you are not able to move over to the other lane you must significantly reduce your speed as you pass the stopped emergency vehicle.
This extra margin of safety was created to reduce the danger to those officers conducting traffic stops.
It’s a good law and Mississippian’s were quick to support this change in our driving routines as we hold those enforcing our laws in high regard.
For years now Mississippi has also had the Three Foot Rule passed into law to protect cyclists on our roadways.
Any motor vehicle passing a cyclist must leave at least three feet between their vehicle and the cyclist at all times during overtaking and passing the cyclist.
If this three foot margin of safety cannot be maintained at all times then the driver may not pass the cyclist at that time.
Perhaps it’s time that we ask for a law giving cyclists the same margin of safety we now extend to working law enforcement.
On roadways with two travel lanes in the same direction rather than a mere three feet why not require vehicles to move to the other lane when overtaking and passing a cyclist or pedestrian?
Rather than an out of state cyclist just passing through, had this tragedy taken the life of an officer working a traffic stop in the same location under the same road conditions with the same circumstances would we still be waiting for the results of an investigation two weeks later?
I have no reason to think that the right actions will not come from this investigation but the time that has passed with little public information is beginning to concern me as a cyclist and it is frustrating to at least one local news reporter I’m friends with.
I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with Mr. Marshall Fischer, the Director of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety as we both have spoken at town hall meetings regarding the opioid epidemic.
Director Fischer reminds us all at these meeting that “all lives matter or no lives matter.”
Director Fischer’s words are words we’d all do good to live by. All lives do matter and they all matter equally.
If a person lost their life in what was truly a result of “unforeseen” circumstances where everyone was doing the right thing under Mississippi law then it may be time to see what enhancements need to be considered to our laws to better protect the lives of all who use our public roadways.
Today, please take a moment and remember the life of James Dobson, his family, and the driver in this tragedy.
Speaking from experience this is a loss from which some who survived will never fully recover.
While we may not fully recover we can and must use this tragedy to do all we can to prevent future tragedies.
Moore, a former Petal alderman, is the proud owner of Moore’s Bike Shop, conveniently located at 1607 Hardy Street across from the Hattiesburg Zoo.