Recently, partner, Gene Miller settled a case involving a bicyclist who was hit by a car at a four way stop. The collision occurred in the early morning hours. The bicyclist stopped at the stop sign, made sure the way was clear, and then proceeded. A car coming from his right also stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded. The driver of the car did not see the bicyclist until the rider was on the hood of his car even though the bicycle’s headlight was on and the rider was wearing a bright yellow, neon jersey. However, the bicyclist never saw the car approaching even though the car’s headlights were on. Both the bicyclist and the car were going relatively slowly which makes the accident somewhat inexplicable. The bicyclist suffered a lumbar compression fracture that required emergency medical care and follow up treatment. The bicyclist missed a significant amount of work and incurred a modest amount of medical bills. Fortunately his fracture healed with no long term impairment. The defense argued that even if the driver of the car was negligent in not seeing the bicyclist, the bicyclist, in not seeing the car, was contributorily negligent, which would bar any recovery. However, Mr. Miller argued that the bicyclist was first in the intersection, and therefore had the right of way. The driver of the vehicle was in fact charged with failure to yield to which he pled guilty. Even if the bicyclist had seen the car, the accident would still have happened. The driver’s insurance company settled for an arguably reasonable amount, and the bicyclist was compensated for his injuries.
This case was an example of what occurs every day. Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians sometimes don’t look, or if they do look, they don’t see, or comprehend what they do see. Situational awareness is defined as the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status. Personal safety, as well as the safety of others depends on being aware. We must be aware of our surroundings, where we are, what we are doing, and what is happening around us. Only when we are situationally aware can we react appropriately and avoid or otherwise respond to danger. Distractions are everywhere but we must minimize those distractions and focus on what is really important: our safety and the safety of others.