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Defensive, patient riding key to cycling safety

  • 11/8/2009:A1: EXTRA ROOM: A car gives a group of cyclists a wide berth Thursday on Liberty Road near Petaluma. The cyclists, who work at Tellabs, were taking their almost-daily lunch-hour ride.

    PC: On their lunch hour, cyclists from Tellabs, stay in a group as they cycle down Liberty Road near Petaluma, Thursday Nov. 5, 2009.(Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2009

It was every cyclist's worst nightmare.

On June 8, Steve Norwick, 68, a Sonoma State University professor and experienced cyclist, was riding south on Petaluma Hill Road. He rode on the right shoulder of the road and wore a helmet. It was daylight, the weather was clear and the visibility was good.

No mistakes.

And yet, Norwick was struck from behind and fatally injured by a hit-and-run driver. Norwick died June 19 without ever awaking from a coma.

The tragedy made front-page news, sent a shock through the cycling community and raised the profile on the ongoing issue of cyclists and motorists sharing the road, already somewhat sensitive.

"The type of crash that Steve Norwick was in, being hit from behind, is the type of crash that most bicycle riders fear the most, and with good reason. It's the most potentially fatal type of crash," said Sandra Lupien of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"It's also the rarest," she said. "It's so unusual, and so tragic, when it occurs."

The CHP, which tracks accident statistics for the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County, reports about 2,500 motor vehicle accidents every year, from fender-benders to fatalities.

So far this year, 17 of those accidents have involved cyclists, and last year the total was 36, said CHP Public Information Officer Jon Sloat.

There were two previous local cycling deaths this year, both in May, and in both cases, the cyclists made serious mistakes, Sloat said.

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