Note: This story has been updated to correct misinformation in the original post. The victim, Andrew Nowak, was riding his bike to work at WS Packaging in Algoma. The driver of the truck, Bryer A. Benet, was driving to work, but at a different employer. They were not co-workers as previously reported.
A man driving a pickup truck to work in Algoma Tuesday morning crashed into and killed a 49-year-old man riding his bicycle in the same eastbound direction on Highway 54, the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department reported.
Chief Deputy David Cornelius said the rising sun obscured the vision of the 20-year-old driver, Bryer A. Benet, 20, of Luxemburg. Benet told a sheriff’s deputy his speed was about 60 to 65 mph, five to 10 miles above the limit on the highway four miles from the city. The crash occurred about 6:10 a.m.
Evidence at the scene showed the victim, Andrew Nowak, 49, of Casco, was riding his bike to the left of the fog line, Cornelius said. That section of Highway 54 has a single travel lane in each direction, about two feet of pavement right of the fog line and a gravel shoulder.
“This is going to be devastating to both families,” Cornelius said.
The 49-year-old was an avid cyclist, who went for rides of 30 to 100 miles during his time away from work.
The victim is the fifth person to be killed while riding a bicycle in Wisconsin this year. Two of the others were killed in similar circumstances: hit by motorists who reported they didn’t see the person on the bicycle on the rural highway ahead of them.
While we certainly need to wait for all details from the full crash report, based on initial evidence and the report given by the driver of the pickup, this crash highlights the importance of always driving the speed limit or slower, when road conditions, weather or time of day limit visibility. The posted speed is the limit, and it is never legal to exceed that speed. Even small increases in speed can result in significantly higher chances that a crash with a person walking or bicycling will be fatal.
If a person on a bicycle is traveling 15mph and is hit from behind by a person driving a motor vehicle traveling 45mph the impact speed is 30mph and the risk of fatality is reduced by 40%. It is prudent and safer to drive ten miles per hours below the speed limit when your visibility is reduced, particularly on narrow rural roads without shoulders where you might encounter someone walking, bicycling or a farmer.
Not only does reducing your speed when conditions warrant greater caution decrease the chances of a fatal impact if you hit someone, it also decreases stopping distance and thereby reduces the chances of a crash happening at all. So driving even 10 mph slower could really be the difference between life and death or avoiding a crash entirely.
Speed limits are set by state statute. Local governments are given some leeway to reduce posted speed limits by up to 10mph on state trunk highways like the one where this crash happened, but not to increase them.
The Share & Be Aware Program directed by the Wisconsin DOT Bureau of Transportation Safety encourages drivers to slow down and be prepared to encounter people walking and on bikes at any time in their travels. State law requires that people driving cars provide at least three feet of clearance when passing a person on a bicycle. The Wisconsin Bike Fed continues to advocate for safer roads and a more cautious approach while biking, driving and walking. Of the 15 fatalities involving people riding bicycles in 2015, 12 of them involved drivers who did not see or react to cyclists in front of them.
This is the fifth person riding a bicycle killed by someone driving a motor vehicle this year compared to six at this time last year. On average, about 10 people riding bicycles are killed in crashes with motor vehicles annually. Despite last year’s spike with 15 deaths, the number of serious crashes and fatalities involving people on bikes in Wisconsin has dropped steadily in recent decades.
The number of crashes has been on the decline in Wisconsin for years, even as the number of people commuting by bicycle increases. 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. Our regional S&BA staff teach classes, work with Drivers Ed instructors, and share safety information at hundreds of events around the state all summer long.
While we should do everything we can to reduce the chances of fatal crashes like this happening, it is important to remember that riding a bicycle remains an incredibly safe and healthy thing to do. 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:
“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
So while we all keep the family and friends of this man killed near Algoma in your thoughts and prayers, let us all pledge to reduce our speed when conditions warrant greater caution when we are behind the wheel. Let us also feel good about ourselves when riding bicycles, as bicycling not only remains a safe, fun, healthy way for us to get exercise and get around, our society and communities benefit every time someone rides a bike.
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 you employer.