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Tuesday, December 01 2015 @ 09:54 PM UTC


Biking ElsewhereBy Rick Bernardi, J.D., Bicycle Law

You’ve probably seen “the comment.” It goes something like this. A news article reports that a cyclist was injured, or maybe even killed. The cyclist was following the law. The driver was not. Maybe the driver was just being careless. Maybe the driver was deliberately targeting the cyclist for harassment, or worse.

It doesn’t matter, because “the comment” always follows the same logic: “When cyclists stop breaking the law…” Regardless of what actually happened, regardless of the fact that this particular cyclist was following the law and this particular driver was not, some aggrieved motorist feels obliged to point out that cyclists break the law.

This is the myth of the scofflaw cyclist.

Now, let’s talk about myths for a moment.

Typically, people will use the word “myth” to mean a falsehood. That, however, is not an accurate meaning of “myth.” A myth is actually a story that explains the world according to the perspective of the story-teller. Every culture, for example, has a myth about how the world was created, and how the people of that particular culture came to be in this world.

So by “myth,” I don’t mean that it’s falsehood that cyclists break the law. Of course it’s true that some cyclists break the law. But it’s also true that some cyclists obey the law. Some drivers break the law. Some drivers obey the law. Some pedestrians break the law. Some pedestrians obey the law.

The truth is, motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians are all really just human beings getting around by different means, and all three groups break the law, each in their own way. Motorists speed. Cyclists run stop signs. Pedestrians jaywalk.

The problem is, if somebody wants to explain why one of those groups—cyclists, for example—are a cultural outsider that should be discriminated against, the truth is too complex, too messy, to support that conclusion. So a myth, the myth that cyclists are scofflaws, explains why they are unworthy of protection, unworthy of justice, unworthy of compassion.

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