>traffic & prejudice


When bicyclists violate a traffic law, research has showed it is because, in the eyes of drivers, they are reckless anarchists; drivers, meanwhile, are more likely to view the violation of a traffic law by another as somehow being required by the circumstances.

~ from Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and what it says about us), p.23

We cannot help but bring our prejudices with us where ever we go. My observations have shown me just how easy it is to lump people together into false “guilty by association” relationships. Not all bicyclists are the same and not all drivers are the same. But we can easily pejoratively categorize all those who ride bicycles into a single, unified group of “those cyclists.” Bicycle advocates, nearly as much a motorists do, chastise the bad cyclists for breaking laws and being irresponsible. It is said that bad cyclists give good cyclists a bad name. And yet, the reality is that bad cyclists don’t really give good cyclists a bad name, they give bad cyclists the name they deserve. In terms of “bad name” giving the problem is not with the bad cyclists, rather it is with anyone who is willing and eager to make the logical fallacy that since one person behaves badly and is a cyclist that therefore all cyclists are bad.

We know not to do this, but we do it anyway. I can make the error with both eyes closed and one arm tied behind my back.
Pushed to the proverbial wall most makers of such claims will equivocate and claim that they are sure there must be plenty of good cyclists. I would agree, but there lies the problem. Good cyclists, like good motorists are hard to spot precisely because they are good, that is, they are not breaking any obvious laws nor are they inconveniencing anyone. I don’t like bad cycling behavior. I have done some in the past and I still regret my foolishness. I also do not like bad driving behavior. I also have done some in my time. The thing is, if I take the time to notice the way the world really is, I see most drivers drive acceptably. I also see most cyclists cycle just fine. Bad cyclists are few compared to the rest. That they give the rest of us a bad name has more to do with societal prejudices than facts. People believe what they want to believe.
Many cyclists will say similar things about motorists. However I don’t see a corresponding tendency of motorists saying motorists need to behave because a few bad apples are giving all motorists a bad name. I also do not see articles saying that if drivers want to be taken seriously and respected then they need to behave. What I do see is a lot of finger pointing going both ways: Cars are heavy and can kill, and cyclists need to start respecting the law and stop being irresponsible, etc.
Which makes me think of some questions:
  1. Have you ever heard of a cyclist getting killed by a car or truck? (Probably yes.)
  2. Have you ever heard of a motorist getting killed by a bicycle? (Probably no.)
  3. Have you ever heard of a car or truck literally forcing a cyclist off a road intentionally or not? (I have experience this personally.)
  4. Have you ever heard of a cyclist doing such a thing to a car or truck? (Probably no.)
  5. When driving your car have you ever been so inconvenienced by a cyclist that you were 1) late to work, 2) late to a meeting, or 3) saw your life flash before your eyes? (Probably no.)
  6. Who is more to suffer from making an error in judgment when traveling in traffic, a motorist or a cyclist? (Probably the cyclist.)
  7. Do bicycling activists groups/activities like Critical Mass exists because they are expressing their “reckless anarchist” natures or because they are trying to find a way to say they want to keep on living and not get killed by motorists who, as it turns out, have the upper hand everywhere in the world? (Probably an expression of vulnerability in light of unfair odds and a felt lack of respect.)
I am a driver more frequently than I am a cyclist. I have seen all sides and felt most all the emotions from every angle. I love having a car. I love riding my bike. I don’t like to see bad cycling. However, I have come to realize that the questions above have, in some fashion of another, gone through the minds of most cyclists. For how great cycling is it also brings into focus the fragility of the human body next to an SUV traveling at 40 miles an hour. And considering how distracted most drivers are…

As the inner life of the driver begins to come into focus, it is becoming clear not only that distraction is the single biggest problem on the road but that we have little concept of just how distracted we are.

~ from Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and what it says about us), p.77
Be safe.

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