While cars and bicycles appear to be doing a better job of sharing the road, the consequences of failing to do so have become increasingly serious.Reported accidents involving both a motor vehicle and a bicycle are down 21 percent this year compared to the same period last year, but more bicyclists have died in such crashes this year, according to state police figures.
Three bicyclists have died in crashes this year, including two last weekend in Hampton, compared to none in 2012 through Sept. 24 of last year, according to police figures.
The drivers of cars and SUVs - and not the bicyclists - often are to blame for the collisions, police said.
"The majority of cases that you see are related in some way to impaired driving, distracted driving and speeding," said Lt. Matthew Shapiro, state police commander of special services and also the highway safety coordinator.
When bicyclists are following state law and riding in the direction of traffic, they are vulnerable to being hit from behind, he said.
"Oftentimes, the results are debilitating and sometimes tragic," he said.
In the wake of the Sept. 21 crash in Hampton, Darriean Hess, 19, of Seabrook, has been charged with two counts each of negligent homicide and second-degree assault. Police say Hess drifted over the double yellow line on Route 1A and crashed into a group of bicyclists, killing two Massachusetts women and injuring two other Bay State bicyclists.
A third bicyclist was killed in Nashua in August.
Reported accidents, defined as those resulting in at least $1,000 in property damage and/or including a suspected or confirmed injury, have decreased by 26 this year, to 96. The number of injured in those crashes decreased by 31, to 83 this year through Tuesday.
Shapiro said bicyclists and motorcyclists are doing more to make themselves visible to motorists. "The best thing they can do is wear high-visibility clothing," he said.Motorists and bicyclists were eager to weigh in on an online poll at UnionLeader.com. More than 1,700 responded.
In the unscientific survey, 45 percent of respondents said, as bicyclists, they find "some" motor vehicles distracting while riding. Another 36 percent classified motor vehicles as "very much" distracting with the remaining 19 percent saying "not at all."
Among those who responded as motorists, 51 percent said they find bicycle riders "very much" distracting while driving, 35 percent said "some" were distracting, and 14 percent responded, "not at all."
Andrew Roper, a Manchester bicyclist who responded online, said he prefers riding on trails rather than the roads because he doesn't need to worry about a motorist "not paying attention."
Roper said he experiences a close call with a vehicle every couple of weeks, with motorists not concentrating on their driving.
"It's increased the past couple of years, especially with texting - texting while driving," Roper said in an interview.
Most drivers, he said, are pretty good at waiting for oncoming traffic to pass before looping around him on his bike. But occasionally, he said, vehicles pass a foot or less away from him.
"It's almost like a game of inches sometimes," he said.
Ron Provencher, a Manchester motorist who participated in the poll, said he has noticed more bicycles riding on city sidewalks, which is against state law and city ordinance.
"There's a lot of people riding bicycles on sidewalks," he said on Friday. "I don't know whether they don't feel safe on the road."
A Calef Road resident, Provencher said he sees cyclists driving by his home trying to ride at 30 mph on the road, and "then they're in between cars" also traveling the road, Provencher said.
Manchester police recorded 22 reported accidents involving a bicycle and a motorist this year through Thursday, compared to 34 during the same period last year, according to Lt. Maureen Tessier.
Last month, a confrontation between Rye's police chief and a group of bicyclists was videotaped and shown on the Internet and on multiple television stations.
Chief Kevin Walsh said he had witnessed a group of 12 to 15 riders, some three across the travel lane, racing on Ocean Boulevard on Aug. 21.
He got ahead of the bicyclists and tried to stop them by waving his arms. Riders at the front of the pack had their heads down and "absolutely didn't notice me at all," the chief said.
Walsh said he caught up with the group again about two miles later and talked with them, acknowledging "on both sides, tempers were pretty hot."
Walsh talked with others in the biking community to relieve tensions.
Last year, Rye voters passed a town ordinance requiring cyclists to ride single file on any of 45 miles of town roads or face a $62 fine. Under state law, bicyclists can ride two or more abreast, but they can't impede traffic, and they have to stay within a single lane.
Walsh said he has issued a few tickets. "We've been working on education and awareness," he said.
Over the past five years, Walsh said, he's noticed more bicyclists, attributing that to more wanting to get exercise or simply enjoy themselves. He said most bicycle riders are responsible.