Annual Ride of Silence is held to honor cyclists injured or killed by motorists

The Ride of Silence raises awareness to promote safety for bicyclists

We’ve all been there: stuck driving down a narrow road with a bicycle taking up the lane. Maybe we’re late. Maybe we just want to get home. Either way, it’s easy to get frustrated, to try to skirt around the cyclist, to speed up and get on with our lives.

But it’s important to remember that those cyclists are people too.

Wednesday, May 17 was the annual Ride of Silence, a bike ride to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured by motorists. The event is simultaneous around the globe, with a riding time at 7 p.m. EDT. Along with groups in 47 states, there are participants in Antarctica, Aruba, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Fiji, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Panama, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Taiwan and Tanzania for a total of 353 groups.

This year’s event, which began at the Gloucester Townships Premium Outlets in Blackwood, is the fourth that Debbie Kaighn has organized. The first Ride of Silence was in 2003 in Dallas, Texas. Since getting involved in cycling through her boyfriend, Kaighn found out about the Ride of Silence and the work they do to raise awareness for cyclists’ safety.

Every year, there is a “ghost bike” — a bike that is parked along the ride — to honor a person who was killed. This year the bike honored Lieutenant Joseph Franklin, who died on May 9 of injuries sustained in a bike crash during the Police Unity Tour. Local florists donate flowers and as riders pass by, they can place flowers at the bike.

The Ride of Silence also accepts donations to assist families with loved ones who were injured or killed by motorists. The ride is free, so the only way they can raise money is through donations. All money raised is given to families to help with medical bills or funeral costs, as these sudden financial burdens are unexpected. Any assistance, even though in small amounts, helps and is appreciated.

Just this April, Kaighn worked with a family to hold a tribute ride in honor of a man who was killed in Mays Landing. He was a school teacher — two-time teacher of the year — and was killed while he was riding into work.

“Working with that family, I realized that could be me,” Kaighn said.

Kaighn has had a lot of personal experience with friends who were hit by cars. She has known people who have gone through windshields, broken arms, broken jaws, dislocated shoulders and suffered other terrible injuries.

The Ride of Silence has helped in raising awareness.

“Because they are held around the world, and because people see a massive amount of people riding, people are curious about what’s going on,” Kaighn said. Most of these rides have police support, which helps call attention to the riders.

“They get a lot of respect — they consider this a funeral — they are riding slowly, different places have arm bands or wrist bands. People can associate the black bands with death and realize that ‘hey, wow, these people exist. Maybe we need to be more cautious,’” Kaighn said.

Inconsiderate or rushed drivers aren’t the only culprits, though. Many injuries or deaths in recent years have been because of distracted drivers using their cell phones.

What people don’t always realize is that cyclists are considered motor vehicles and not only have the right to be on the road, but they have to abide by all the same traffic laws that cars have to abide by. Kaighn, and other cyclists like her, just ask that motorists give cyclists space. They often try to ride in the shoulder when they can, but legally, they are not supposed to.

“Sometimes there is no shoulder or there is debris,” Kaighn said. The skinny bike tires are not designed to go over gravel, rocks or glass, so it can be more dangerous for them to be off the road than on it.

“Don’t try to scoot around us if there are other cars in the way and you can’t pass safely,” Kaighn said. “We just ask that [motorists] share the road with us. Give us respect and we will respect you.”