Monday, July 6, 2009

Exposing the myth of the outlaw cyclist

Have you ever driven in inclement weather, going your safe reasonable speed, only to come up on someone going what you feel is too slow. "What a chicken shit," you say. Suddenly this overly cautious driver is a menace to the other cautious drivers such as yourself. A few minutes later someone passes you, "what a crazy fucking idiot," you say, "he's going to kill someone." Surely this other driver is overdriving the conditions and is dangerous to everyone out on the road.

We've all done it. Society has a perception unfortunately that anyone doing something different is wrong and doesn't deserve the respect and freedom to do what they are doing without ridicule and criticism. The critic believes what he is doing is justified and they always uphold the law, and they feel the need to police everyone else as well.

I've written this post because the lemming is tired of hearing it. Let's be realistic, almost EVERYONE breaks the law at one time or another whether it be driving, cycling, or walking. Get over it and worry about yourself. Anytime the local news posts some story about cycling or a cyclist hurt or killed, a bunch of deadbeats contributing to the current recession all hop on and the comments section explodes with incredibly broad and uninformed statements bashing cycling and blaming the cyclist regardless of relevant information. I loathe posting a comment on those news stories because the saying that you should never argue with an idiot as he'll bring you down to his level and beat you with experience is way too true. So I've decided to post this, and now anyone can just put a link back to this blog on those news articles and refute the statements like:

"I'll start sharing the road when cyclists start following the law"

"I've yet to see any cyclist obey the rules of the road."

"Cyclists are too slow to be on the road. If I come around a corner and see a cyclist, my only choice is to hit them, go in to oncoming traffic, or swerve in to the ditch."

"A law requiring drivers to give cyclists 3-5 feet while passing them will force me in to a head-on collision with an oncoming car."

Let's address those last two first. If a person believes that they HAVE to get in to a head-on collision with oncoming cars to pass a cyclist, then we are doomed as a society. Perhaps it really is true that only stupid people are breeding and because of that society will implode upon itself. That statement is ludicrous. Furthermore, if a person can't stop in time coming around a curve then they are going too fast and it is THEIR fault, no matter what is in their way. What if a policeman is standing in the corner at the scene of an accident? Is the only choice to hit him or swerve in to the ditch?

To refute some more uninformed statements with reality:

Some cyclists run red lights, just like some drivers run red lights. In Denver, the red light camera program issued 125 red light violation tickets in a 12 hour period to motorists. Similar results were seen in Seattle. Cyclists don't rock as much metal as cars, so we can't trip the sensor to change the lights. If we don't have a car going the same direction as us we'd have to wait indefinitely for someone else to come and trip the light. The key here is drivers run red lights too.

Some cyclists roll stop signs, just like this study found nearly 50% of drivers roll stop signs. Who really, car or bike, comes to a COMPLETE stop? For cyclists, it's hard to get started again and drivers get mad if we take too long, so we gravitate towards Newton's laws of motion that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. It's still a perception issue and why I wrote the articles Bicycling should write that would change cycling forever. What excuse do drivers have when criticizing cyclists? It's just slightly pushing the right pedal down to get going again. Again, drivers run stop signs too.

Some cyclists seemingly rudely try to sneak by walkers unannounced, just like some walkers illegally have their dogs off the leash. Some walkers have their headphones on so loud that they don't hear "on your left, and some pedestrians jaywalk outside of a crosswalk.

Some cyclists rudely don't say "on your left", just like many drivers illegally turn on a walk signal. Some drivers illegally continue through crosswalks when a pedestrian is present on the side of the road.

Some cyclists take more of their lane hoping that cars will give them space and not try to squeeze by within inches of their head or ride two abreast so they can talk, while almost all drivers at one time or another illegally sit in the left lane even when not passing. Some sets of walkers span the entire width of the trail and only grudgingly move after a cyclist says "on your left" 3 times.

Almost every driver speeds. In DC the photo radar program issued 170 tickets per hour when it was first introduced.

Some drivers park illegally.

Some drivers drive drunk and some drivers drive aggressively (ie road rage).

Cyclists wear spandex so that they'll be seen and not run over and because pedaling 100 times a minute for any prolonged amount of time wears away skin while sitting on big cotton seams. You wear a glove and baseball hat when playing softball so that the ball doesn't smack your hand and the sun doesn't get in your eyes.

Let's see some more facts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted two nationwide surveys, one in 1997 and one in 2002 to collect data on speeding and aggressive driving.

Taken straight from the site referenced above:

"Speeding is a pervasive behavior with about three-quarters of drivers in the survey reporting they drove over the speed limit on all types of roads within the past month.
A majority of drivers of all ages admit to speeding.

At least eight of ten younger drivers report speeding at least monthly on each road type

Six in ten drivers age 65 or older report speeding on all road types

Males are 50 percent more likely than females to drive over the posted speed limit.

Perceived Threat of Others Speeding

While many drivers believe that the speed limits on interstates should generally be higher, 68 percent of survey respondents feel that other drivers' speeding is a major threat to their own personal safety. Perceptions of this threat increase significantly with age, from just 48 percent of drivers age 16-20 believing speeding by others is a threat, to 86 percent of those age 65 or older. More than three-quarters of drivers feel that it is at least somewhat important that something be done to reduce speeding on all road types. This finding suggests a strong "it's not me, it's the other guy who is a problem" mentality among many drivers.

Unsafe and Aggressive Driving

While speeding is the most common unsafe behavior on the road, other unsafe behaviors account for a sizable proportion of motor vehicle crashes. Drivers reported doing other unsafe and aggressive driving behaviors "at least sometimes."
Entering an intersection just as the light turned from yellow to red (40 percent)

Rolling stops at stop signs (30 percent)

Making angry, insulting, or obscene gestures towards another driver (12 percent)

Cutting in front of other drivers (10 percent)"

So, in conclusion, don't throw stones when you live in a glass house, it's not the outlaw cyclist that is the brazen law breaker. There are good and bad cyclists, there are good and bad drivers, there are good and bad walkers, the biggest critics are violators themselves. More than anything else it's the attitude of "it's not me, it's them" that is the problem. Until WE, meaning society at large, or everyone, can recognize that and be responsible for our own actions we are all doomed.


Cyclin' Missy said...

Thank you! I will definitely link to your post the next time I feel the need to respond to a bike v. car argument. *sigh of relief*

RANTWICK said...

Hey, that was a pretty darn good summary! Nice post, man!

Nick said...

Newton's Law only works in a vacuum. As do most critics opinions.
I hate being so critical. it leads to a miserable life.

Bike Lemming said...

Both great points Nick.

BadBeard said...

Nice work Lemming!

jeff said...

I think my bike was making angry, insulting, or obscene gestures towards me the other day. Is that a problem?

Bike Lemming said...

Jeff, only if no one else saw it..

dmourati said...

My attitude is that I need to follow the rules to set a good example for other cyclists and also to let cars know I'm trying to cooperate.

A good attitude on the bike goes a long way in both bike/bike and bike/car relations.

The Mop said...

Good stuff!

It's tough, but you just have to accept that there are some very stupid people out there.

Even some stupid enough to think that somehow they could be justified in hitting someone on a bike.

And "being in the way" the only thing more dangerous is riding "with Traffic" if the speed limit is 30 and you do 35 with traffic, they will do 40 to pass you... because they spent a ton of money on that Shit-Mobile, and there is no chance they will be beaten by some quire in spandex"

Bike Lemming said...

dmourati and The Mop, agreed. Usually I try to set an example, at least when people are watching.

Anonymous said...

So your you ASSUME it's ok for the cyclists to break laws because you ASSUME everyone else does?.....And you wonder why the world views the cyclist community in a negative light while on the roads. As someone with a perfect driving record i assure you yes i DO come to a COMPLETE stop. No i do NOT run red lights and shame on you for assuming my driving habits. In the same light i realize MOST cyclists are responsible on the road and stay on the SIDE of the road and do not create problems. It is the minority that decide to cycle in groups of 20 side by side in the middle of the road that create problems for the rest of you.

Bike Lemming said...

I applaud your perfect driving record and following of the laws, I'm also glad you never speed.

FWIW, you missed my point. My point was that people who say they'll start giving rights to the road when cyclists start following the laws are following a "it's not me, it's them" scenario. Studies, surveys, and traffic tickets show that drivers break the road just as much as the "outlaw cyclist", hence the name of the post.