I’ve spoken here before of the danger that is posed to bike riders every day in our city streets and rural country roads. Maryland provides cycling enthusiasts with a wonderful venue for sport and recreation, but when it comes to cycling on public roads, riders everywhere must be vigilant. As a Baltimore personal injury attorney, I have read the stories of bicyclists who have been hurt, permanently injured or who have died senselessly at the hands of thoughtless or inattentive motorists.
But another danger exists, one which many riders may already know, but which nobody ever expects until it happens to them. I’m speaking of the real threat posed by those who steal manhole covers in Baltimore, such as Annapolis, Frederick and the District. Though it may be portrayed comically in old movies, there is nothing funny about having your bike’s front wheel fall into a two-foot wide hole at 20mph or more.
According to the news, scrap metal thieves have targeted these heavy cast-iron discs even though the value on a per piece basis only about 10 dollars. Although manhole covers weigh in excess of 100 pounds, people strapped for cash are still willing to try and lift them. But the void left behind could be extremely dangerous for bicycle riders and motorcyclists alike.
Injuries such as traumatic head injury, spinal injury, cuts, bruises and broken bones are just the tip of the iceberg. Riding into an open manhole can be deadly, especially at higher speeds. Where a passenger car or commercial truck may only suffer extensive mechanical damage the occupants of these larger motor vehicles will likely escape with only minor injuries, if any, cyclists and bikers are a different story.
Based on reports earlier this summer, the city of Baltimore found 17 of them missing on one particular Tuesday in July. That discovery was the city’s largest manhole-cover theft in the past four years, according to the Baltimore Department of Public Works.
While some were stolen from grassy areas, others came from locations on public roadways. While the cost to the city is relatively small, according to the article, the level of danger from an open manhole is quite high.
Not only can such a situation kill or maim a motorcyclist or bicycle rider, the cost to a family who might lose a bread winner in the process can be devastating. Negligence like this, the kind that can result in the death of an innocent person, is unacceptable and reprehensible. We can only hope that in the future, acts like these will lessen as the economy begins to improve and people find other means to make a living. Meanwhile, be aware of the potential hazards on the road and stay safe.
City replaces 17 stolen manhole covers stolen for scrap, ABC2News.com, July 22, 2010
Bulky manhole covers yield thieves little payoff, BaltimoreSun.com, July 22, 2010