On May 29th Nap Cantwell, the 18-year-old son of Elysian Brewing Co. cofounder Dick Cantwell, was commuting to work at the brewery on a bicycle when he ran a red light at the intersection of Pike Street and Boren Avenue and collided with a van. The teenager failed to regain consciousness after the accident and died eight days later at Harborview Medical Center.

Seattle Police Department has an account of the accident:

According to witnesses, the male cyclist was riding his 10-speed bicycle westbound on Pike Street. The cyclist ran into the side of a van that was travelling south on Boren Avenue. The cyclist was not wearing a helmet. SFD Medics transported the victim to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.

Detectives from the Traffic Collision Investigation Squad (TCIS) responded and began their investigation. The driver of the van was evaluated at the scene by officers for any sign of impairment, which is standard protocol. This remains an active and on-going investigation.

It’s certainly a tragedy whenever any cyclist perishes in an accident, especially when the cyclist is as young as Cantwell was. However, this particular accident could have been prevented. Had Cantwell been wearing a helmet and followed traffic laws, he may still be here with us today. Helmet safety is an inexpensive and simple way to decrease the risk of head injury in cycling accidents. While helmet laws vary by state (California requires riders 17 and under to wear a helmet, while Washington has no bicycle helmet laws), cyclists shouldn’t don them out of a legal obligation, they should wear them because it’s the safe thing to do. Helmets aren’t just for children who are unsteady on their bikes; even if an adult cyclist is in control of his bicycle and is cautious and aware of his surroundings, he can’t prevent a sudden collision with a car who didn’t see him. A helmet can help protect the rider from potentially lethal injuries regardless of whether the cyclist is at fault or an outside force is responsible.

Some cyclists run red lights if there is no cross traffic and if the intersection is clear because they have momentum and don’t want to have to stop and get going again. In Cantwell’s case, he ran a red light and hit a van, so the path was definitely not clear and Cantwell was not properly aware of his surroundings. It’s better to be safe than sorry and obey traffic laws and stop at red lights, especially at busy/heavily trafficked intersections. If you need to slow down, come to a stop, and get going again, it’s still better than risking a close call or a collision with a motorist. After all, wouldn’t you rather be a few minutes late to your destination than end up in the hospital or dead?

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the Cantwell family for their loss, but this unfortunate tragedy should serve as a reminder not to be reckless on your bicycle, especially when you’re navigating through a busy metropolitan area. Safety should always be on the forefront of your mind, and you should never compromise that for a little bit of speed.