No Charges in Fatal New Berlin Crash
Waukesha DA says teen pedaled into road without stopping.
No charges will be filed against the woman who hit Brittany Barnstable when she was riding her bike across the intersection of the New Berlin Recreational Trail and Sunny Slope Road last month. I received a copy of the thoughtful letter Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel sent to the Barnstable family in which he tells them he reviewed interviews with witnesses who said it appeared the teen pedaled into the road without stopping. Brittany was identified at the crash by an iPod, with earbuds, which indicate she could have been listening to music while riding.
Note that in the title of this blog post, I purposely used the word crash rather than accident. Our goal at the Bike Fed is to make riding a bicycle more convenient, more fun, and safer. Given the apparent circumstances that led to this tragic crash, there are several things we can learn from this crash that can help prevent future needless deaths, both when we are riding our bicycles and when we drive our cars.
We must take responsibility for our own safety when we ride our bicycles, even on recreational trails. That means paying full attention, obeying the rules of the road. Personally, I never ride with earbuds in. I prefer to enjoy my connection with the world I ride through, listening to things like the sound of frogs croaking in the babbling Menomonee River as I roll silently along the Hank Aaron State Trail. I also use all my senses to keep me safe when riding in traffic. The ability to hear motor vehicles around me is important.
I also watch for stop signs and red lights. Riding through a stop sign on a bicycle trail that intersects with a busy, high-speed road without at least slowing to a near stop and looking for cross traffic is very dangerous. Certainly there are many unwarranted stop signs out there. Many of them were inappropriately installed on low volume neighborhood streets in a misguided attempt to get people to drive the speed limit. Those are less of a safety issue than stop signs on roads like Sunny Slope, but remember that cross traffic can be dangerous at any speed. Your safety, and the law, require you to stop when riding a bike.
From a statistical standpoint, riding a bicycle remains one of the safest ways to get from point A to B. If you factor in the health benefits, it is a far safer way to travel than driving a car, particularly if you ride on streets with low motor vehicle speeds, like in cities. That said, crashes are more frequent in urban areas with more intersections. If you are involved in a crash, a helmet will dramatically decrease your chances of a serious head injury even at low speeds. If you ride in suburban or rural areas where crashes are very rare, but cars are traveling 40-55 mph, wearing a helmet can mean the difference between life and death. It is a personal choice, but you need to understand the risks.
Finally, most of us drive cars as well as ride bicycles and walk. When we get behind the wheel, we are often just as guilty of inattentive driving and speeding as people who never ride bicycles. In the light of this horrific loss of a very special girl, we can all pledge to give the act of driving the full attention it deserves. We must also take extra care when we are driving near more vulnerable road users. None of us wants to hit a person on a bike or walking, even if it is not our fault. This crash has negatively affected all involved, and I’m sure the driver is devastated as well. Ride safe, and keep all the affected survivors of the New Berlin crash in your thoughts and prayers.
End Note: More stomach turning information has been released about the abhorrant actions of the woman who hit and killed the popular Chippewa area dentist. Read that here in a report by the Eau Claire Leader Telegram.
This story was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.