Wednesday, March 25 2009 @ 11:00 AM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
by Raphael Clemente
As one who uses a bicycle for the vast majority of my trips around town, I am often struck by the crazy behavior and strange reactions of some automobile drivers. I am not implying that people who drive cars are evil or by virtue of riding a bicycle for transportation that I am better than anyone else. But some drivers are intent on using their vehicles to barge their way through situations using intimidation and fear as a means of influencing others.
Freedom from Fear
Undoubtedly, one of the most common deterrents to bicycling is fear. Fear of motorists. Notice I said “motorists,” not “cars” or “traffic.” When people talk about bike safety, especially those who are afraid to bike on the roads, they aren’t much concerned about potholes or dogs or sand on the corner or their ability to control the bike. They fear the motorist they can’t see and who supposedly can’t see them. This fear is based on the belief that a significant number of motorists are likely to hit bicyclists while overtaking them. Does it happen? Yes. Is it common? Not at all.
Beliefs are survival tools our brains use when we don’t have sufficient direct sensory information to make a decision. Good beliefs can protect us from potential dangers. Bad beliefs mislead us into being fearless when we should be wary or fearing the wrong things. While I sit at my desk in my office I believe my bike is sitting in the bike locker where I locked it and left it, even though I have no evidence to support that belief. It’s not until I go out there, open the locker and look inside that I know my bike is actually there. I couldn’t function sanely if I spent the day believing my locker was being broken into. Conversely, if I believed no one would wish to steal my bike, I wouldn’t bother locking it and would again sit at my desk believing it was still there.
What kinds of events contribute to our beliefs about bicycle safety? First and most common is sensory information — observation of the motorists and bicyclists around us. Such observations often convince people that bicycling is unsafe. It only takes a few incidents of carelessness or rudeness by motorists to convince some that cycling is a dangerous activity even though most interactions with motorists are non-threatening. We humans are easily startled when something big comes rushing up from behind us. Think — predator! Even after 25 years of cycling an overtaking car still occasionally startles me.
Second are the lies that motorists tell when they have treated cyclists poorly. Catch up to a motorist after one has nearly sideswiped you and you’ll most likely hear one of the following lies: A) “I didn’t see you.” B) “You belong on the sidewalk.” C) “You’re supposed to ride all the way to the right.”
Third are stories about crashes. The media does not report “20,000 people rode their bikes today and none of them were hit by motorists.” They usually report that someone has been killed while cycling and make little or no effort to explain why the crash occurred.
The fourth way is through statistical data on bicyclist-versus-motorist crashes. Here again the information is skewed toward the negative. The statistical data people receive through the media is vague and misleading.
My purpose on these pages is to show you why proper cycling on roads is quite safe and can be accomplished by normal adults. I’ll be covering a few statistics (okay, a lot of statistics) my own experiences, the skills and practices necessary for safer cycling, and some reasoning about the motorist’s perspective.