“Legally passing” driver sideswipes, kills woman on bike

A pair of cyclists participating in a charity ride to benefit law enforcement chaplaincy were apparently sideswiped by the driver of a 2004 Chevrolet dualie pickup truck who was passing a grape truck from the opposite direction. The second cyclist, 55-year-old Amy Suyama of Sebastopol, California, perished from her injuries in the crash. According to the Sonoma Press Democrat, the CHP Public Information Officer, Sgt. Jason Bahlman, said the driver of the truck “was legally passing in the sense that he was allowed to do so.” One can only hope this statement is grossly out of context.

eastside road, sonoma county, ca

The cyclists were northbound on Eastside Road in rural Sonoma County; the pickup driver was southbound when he passed the produce truck on the narrow road. I’m pretty sure CVC 21751 is in the little traffic code pocket guide issued to all CHP officers, but here it is for quick reference.

21751. On a two-lane highway, no vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.

With my sincere condolences to all of those involved.

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11 Comments

  • Jym Dyer
    September 12, 2016 - 11:15 am | Permalink

    • Not only did this officer get the CVC wrong, the previous day’s story quoted the CHP as trying to determine whether the three-foot law applied. It’s pretty distressing to see how thoroughly they don’t know the law. 🙁

  • September 12, 2016 - 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Traffic includes people using bicycles.

  • September 12, 2016 - 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Is it wrong to support the death penalty for people who have such little regard for human life? Cyclist lives matter…

  • September 12, 2016 - 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I can’t BELIEVE they were not cited…

  • September 12, 2016 - 2:41 pm | Permalink

    We had a very similar fatal crash in rural San Diego County about 10 years ago. I don’t think it’s just a visibility issue, or motorcyclists would be more vulnerable to this type of crash. I think it has to do with the passing motorist overlooking the oncoming cyclist (or cyclists) because they are at the edge of the road rather than in the center of the lane where they are likely to be looking. Plus, they might even see the cyclists at the edge and assume it’s safe to go. In the San Diego case it was a group of four cyclists riding single file. The ones in front slowed in reaction to the oncoming pickup, and the one in rear, apparently unaware of the oncoming pickup, swerved left to avoid colliding with the slowing cyclist in front of him, into the path of the oncoming/passing pickup. Tragic.

  • September 13, 2016 - 8:59 am | Permalink

    Pretty much by definition, hitting something or someone you were trying to pass is less than a safe distance. One might make excuses for the motorist failure like edge riding, but there should be NO excuse fo failure to exercise due care and such a failure is and should be a serious criminal act. PSAs should reinforce what should be a societal taboo just as they try to stigmatize texting while driving.

  • Skip
    September 13, 2016 - 2:24 pm | Permalink

    CHP is claiming that they aren’t sure if you constitute “traffic” if you’re on a bike.

  • September 14, 2016 - 12:18 pm | Permalink

    “…AT A SAFE DISTANCE WITHOUT INTERFERING WITH THE SAFE OPERATION OF THE OVERTAKEN VEHICLE…”!!!!!

    21750. (a) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle
    proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe
    distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken
    vehicle, subject to the limitations and exceptions set forth in this
    article.

  • September 14, 2016 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    21750(a) does not apply here, and neither does the 3 foot law, since those laws address overtaking traffic moving in the same direction. The overtaking vehicle in this case did not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle. It interfered with oncoming traffic.

  • September 14, 2016 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    The relevant law is 21751:

    ———————
    21751. On a two-lane highway, no vehicle shall be driven to the
    left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing
    another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side
    is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient
    distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely
    made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle
    approaching from the opposite direction.
    ———————

  • September 14, 2016 - 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Since the left side was not free of oncoming traffic (yes, CHP, bicyclists ARE traffic, per 620 “other conveyances”), the driver of the overtaking vehicle was in violation of 21751.

    —————
    620. The term “traffic” includes pedestrians, ridden animals,
    vehicles, street cars, and other conveyances, either singly or
    together, while using any highway for purposes of travel.

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