Crime & Public Safety

Bicycle-versus-car crashes spike on Hilton Head

Tips for safe bike riding on Hilton Head

Ron Knight, founder of Kickin' Asphalt Bicycle Club, talks about bike safety while riding on Hilton Head Island on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, on Hilton Head.
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Ron Knight, founder of Kickin' Asphalt Bicycle Club, talks about bike safety while riding on Hilton Head Island on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, on Hilton Head.

Bruce Hicks had the right of way when he was struck by the motorist in the crosswalk.

He’d slowed his bicycle as he neared the crossing that carries pedestrians southwest over Shipyard Drive and alongside William Hilton Parkway.

He’d seen the motorist sitting at the stoplight, waiting to make a right turn onto the parkway.

He’d seen the white stick figure — the walk sign — that beckoned him to enter the crosswalk.

On May 23, the final day of his Hilton Head Island vacation, Hicks eased into the crosswalk in front of the motorist and ended up in with stitches in his left leg and broken bones in his foot.

Hicks’ accident — a right-turning motorist striking a cyclist in a crosswalk — is typical of the bicycle-versus-vehicle collisions that happen on Hilton Head. The island, recognized as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, has seen 13 bicycle-vehicle collisions through the first four months of the year, up from five during the same time span in 2015.


* through April 30, 2016


The spike in collisions could be because of the increased traffic — pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle — on the island, or it could be a statistical anomaly, some say. Either way, Hicks’ collisions offers an opportunity for bicyclists and motorists alike to think about the safest way to share the road.

“Luckily it’s titanium and didn’t crack,” Hicks said Wednesday, joking about the injuries to his left knee, which had been surgically repaired more than a year before the accident.

Hicks said he and his wife had been careful to enter the crosswalk on William Hilton Parkway even though they had the “walk sign.” The signage at crosswalks in Palmetto Dunes, where they were staying, advised pedestrians to yield to vehicles, his wife, Kelly Hicks, said. Making the transition from cycling in the gated community to using the signalized crosswalk on William Hilton Parkway was confusing, she said.

“The state law requires that motorists yield to pedestrians within crosswalks,” town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker, said, emphasizing the word within. “But it also requires pedestrians not to enter crosswalks unless there’s an adequate gap in traffic to do so.”

In communities like Palmetto Dunes, that “adequate gap” is established by pedestrians and cyclists, who have to stop and scan for traffic before entering a crosswalk. On busy main roads such as William Hilton, the gap is established by electronic signs that advise pedestrians when it’s OK to cross.

Shoemaker said he continues to see “low rates of compliance” in terms of cyclists obeying signage. And he said well-intentioned motorists who yield the right of way when they shouldn’t to pedestrians waiting to enter crosswalks can create “adverse” situations.

Accidents like Hicks’ account for half of the collisions reported by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department and S.C. Highway Patrol, Shoemaker estimates.

“When they get a clearing, they just zoom out,” Hilton Head’s Bicycle Advisory Committee co-chairman Frank Babel said, referring to motorists at stop lights trying to make right turns but failing to look both directions before they do so.

And we always say that cyclists should make eye contact with the driver (before entering the crosswalk).

Frank Babel, Hilton Head's Bicycle Advisory Committee Co-Chairman

“A lot of (drivers) look left, and they don’t even think,” Babel said. “And we always say that cyclists should make eye contact with the driver (before entering the crosswalk).”

Babel calls this year’s early spike in collisions “an aberration,” explaining the town averages 1  1/2 to two collisions a month. That monthly average was about the same a decade ago, Babel said, when there were only an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 bikes for rent on the island.

Now, there are an estimated 25,000 rental bikes on the island, he said, plus another 10,000 privately owned bicycles. That context is important, he said, and explains why Hilton Head is one of only 21 communities nationwide to receive the League of American Bicyclists’ gold rating.

Almost all of the collisions happen at intersections, Babel said. They can be prevented by cyclists making eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them and by drivers looking both ways — twice — before making a turn.

In 2000, there were just 12 crosswalks with pedestrian signals on the island, Shoemaker said. Now there are 46. Soon, there will be 50, when four new crosswalks with signals are installed at the intersection of Pope Avenue and Lagoon Road. Bicycle-vehicle collisions at that intersection was one factor that led to that installation. Shoemaker anticipates all of the work will be completed by the end of the year.

As for the Hickses, they say they’ll come back to Hilton Head.

The motorist who hit Bruce Hicks got out of his car and offered to take him to the hospital. But he soon sped away. The Hickses didn’t file a police report.

“I should have said, ‘Yes, (and) call the police,’ ” Kelly Hicks said, remembering the brief exchange she had with the motorist before he drove away. “But I was really just worried about Bruce and what he was going through.”

“When somebody gets hit like that, your logical thinking cap goes off.”

Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston