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CAN CARS AND BICYCLES CO-EXIST PEACEFULLY ON UTAH ROADWAYS?

SHARE CAN CARS AND BICYCLES CO-EXIST PEACEFULLY ON UTAH ROADWAYS?

For a fifth-grade teacher struck while bicycling home to Copperton in June, the debate about road ownership is no longer pertinent.

Russell Joey Tolman, 45, may never walk again without the aid of a brace. Bicycling is likely out of the question.Tolman is among those cyclists who come up against cars on Utah's roadways each year and lose. By law, the bicyclists have the same right to most roads as their four-wheeled counterparts, yet the two often conflict.

Last year, the situation resulted in at least nine fatal accidents, with six such deaths the year before. Police investigated 1,060 auto-bicycle accidents statewide in 1992, with 844 of them involving injuries, according to the Highway Safety Division of the Utah Department of Public Safety.

The debate is complex and as old as the advent of the paved road. Motorists complain that the bicycles ride out in traffic lanes and often create a bottleneck on busy roads, prompting cars to pass in situations they would otherwise avoid. They also complain that many bicyclists ride against traffic or ignore red lights. In turn, the cyclists criticize the lack of trails and say drivers don't recognize them as a legitimate mode of transportation and user of the roadway.

"I think we've got to have somewhere for the bikes to drive," said Jason Garland, 23, a Midvale truck driver who witnessed Tolman's accident. "I see it all the time with me in a truck. I get up to those bikes, especially on main roads, and I swerve to get as far as I can away from them and I'm skimming cars on the other side. If it would have been me that hit him (with the larger truck), he would have never made it."

In Tolman's case, the seriousness of the situation was amplified when the driver who struck him fled the scene.

He was pedaling west June 30 on 11800 South in South Jordan when a westbound orange pickup truck ran into him. Witnesses told police the driver initially stopped, ran over to look at the downed cyclist, but then got back into his truck and fled.

"I wasn't even worried about what he was doing. I thought he was getting a blanket or something," said Garland, who aided Tolman. "I just can't believe he left."

Earl John Davis, 23, pleaded guilty July 18 in 3rd Circuit Court to failure to remain at the scene of an injury accident, a Class A misdemeanor, and operating a vehicle without insurance, a Class B misdemeanor. Charges of driving without a registration and a license plate violation were dropped and Davis was ordered not to operate a vehicle until the completion of a pre-sentencing report. He also pleaded no contest to a reduced count of negligent collision, amended to a Class C misdemeanor.

For the Copperton man, still laid up in the hospital, the court case and possibility of restitution is little solace.

"The last thing I remember is that I got up, I screamed and yelled that something was wrong with my left side - it hurt really bad - and then somebody came and told me to stay down," Tolman said. "I was in a ditch of water. The water was so cold I kept trying to get out . . . some guy just held me in the ditch to keep me from moving around and getting worse. It was so cold."

Tolman, who has taught fourth and fifth grade for four years at Meadow Moor Elementary in South Cottonwood, woke up in intensive care at University Hospital, his body wracked with painful spasms. Today, he's healing slowly in a short-term care facility in Davis County. More than three months of rehabilitation will follow, with hopes that he can return to school in the fall.

Until then, he has many empty hours each day to consider his bad luck. The June 30 incident marks the third time Tolman has been hospitalized as the result of a cycle-related accident.

In 1976, the front wheel fell off his 10-speed and he crashed face-first in the cement on University Avenue in Provo. He was hospitalized for a week. In 1978, three days after his college graduation, a woman turned in front of his motorcycle, resulting in a collision that fractured his skull and again put him in the hospital, this time for a month.

But this is the final straw, according to Tolman. No more bicycling. Maybe he'll take up something less dangerous and easier on his injured left leg.

"I loved to bike. I would have liked to bike across the country," he said. "Not any more . . . I'm done biking. Right now it's one day at a time. The healing process is incredibly slow and incredibly frustrating."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Auto-bicycle accidents: Utah

YEAR FATAL INJURY PROPERTY DAMAGE TOTAL

1988 6 630 168 804

1989 7 685 188 880

1990 8 751 249 1,008

1991 4 667 190 861

1992 6 844 210 1,060

1993 9 N/A N/A NOT AVAILABLE

SOURCE: Utah Department of Public Safety