Hey, Drivers!

As a driver myself (60 miles a day for my normal commute alone) I get it. You sit high & dry in a 1-2 ton vehicle, designed with your safety in mind. You’ve got kids to pick up (I have one); you’re late to work (I’m in trial service at a new job & can’t be late); you’re mother in law pissed you off (mine’s the sweetest you’ll ever meet!); you’ve been driving for ten, twenty, thirty years without accidents like clockwork.

What I don’t get, either as a driver or as vulnerable pedestrian and bicyclist, on why you value your time more than my life. Why is giving me space and five extra seconds to herd my kid and dog across the street so painful for you? Creeping up on me when I’m trying to keep myself and others safe makes the hair on the back of my neck crawl, and realize how very easy it is for a car to maim a human body, especially a small one.

It’s dark at 4pm these days, dark and dreary and rainy. You worry about money for the holidays, less than loved relatives bitching about politics at the Thanksgiving table, navigating through traffic and just trying to get home. A guy cut you off five blocks back and cost you four seconds; you had to wait five minutes for the freight train to crawl through town; your 3pm shot of coffee wore off too fast. It doesn’t matter what stupid/dumbass/possibly illegal or just ill-advised thing said pedestrian is doing; you are not God or the cops (but if you are the cops, maybe they could use a talking to if they are doing one of those things). It’s your responsibilities as a driver to be hyperaware and in control of your vehicle and reaction times, which means assuming every corner has a person waiting to cross and not creeping up on someone crossing the damn street (ugh god, how dare they use public space in front of YOU.)

In a contest between an impatient driver and my son, my dog, my partner, or myself, we will always come out the losers. There is no scenario in which a car speeds up to turn in front of us as we cross the street, or doesn’t stop and rolls through a right hand turn as we step out that ends well for anybody. We’ll be dead or seriously injured, and you’ll be traumatized and facing criminal charges.

Remember those days when your driver’s license was shiny new, something you showed off in English class and bitched about your DMV photo? You remember checking and rechecking your mirrors before you even backed out of the driveway, mom or dad or crazy Uncle Larry breathing down your neck, just waiting for one slip up to yank your driving privileges away? Drive like that, every day. Shove the worry about your kid’s grades, your last performance evaluation, the leaky roof with a storm on the way in the trunk, and drive like you’re 16 again, convinced every bush holds an unwary deer ready to dash out and scrape up your dad’s precious ’69 convertible and you’ll be in for it if he finds out.

Or, you could, you know, just drive like you want everyone else to get home as safely as you feel entitled to. Don’t be the person a stranger gets home and says to their person, “Let me tell YOU about this ASSHOLE who almost RAN ME OVER in the CROSSWALK today.”

Bikes on Roads

When I mentioned that pushing myself out of my comfort zone mainly consisted of riding on roads “not meant for bikes” I wasn’t quite expecting such a lively response. As I dive into a bit of that conversation, I speak as someone who has really only been bike riding seriously for about six months, not a life-long follower of road user issues.

Someone asked a question, “Why do bicyclists ride on roads with no shoulders?” Let’s break this down shall we? This was coming from a perfectly nice lady, who, so far as I know, was only speaking as a driver of a 1 ton or more metal vehicle, designed for speed and safety…for her as a driver. Asking why another user group feels entitled to use the publicly funded, publicly available road system lacks a certain understanding of the word “public”.

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One of the more tired arguments against both horses and bikers on roads is that “they don’t pay taxes, so they are not entitled to use this system.” The equally tired but also true rebuttal is that the great majority of those people are also drivers, which means they do pay taxes for that system, they are just choosing to enjoy them a different way at different times. Speaking of myself, my partner and I own two vehicles, which means we do pay the assorted vehicle registration fees and gas taxes which fund road maintenance in Oregon. In all my circle of friends and coworkers, many of whom are also bikers, only one of them doesn’t own a car.

kadephotostruck

“With no shoulders?” This breaks down to “as a driver, this puts other slower user groups in my lane of travel, and anything that impedes me in my way is frustrating/annoying/not legal/unwelcome/how dare they”. This is just a silly concept, really, as it applies to more than just bikers; road workers, slower vehicles, lost pets-roads are public settings and as such pretty much anything could be in the road at any given time. Just this winter, I drove over a tree that a particularly nasty winter storm had dumped in the road, and ripped a giant hole in my gas tank. Once road maintenance season started back up, there was a rash of construction workers killed by speeding or inattentive drivers.

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As a driver in most states, you bear more responsibility for your control and care of your vehicle and it’s impact on other people than do people not ensconced in a car. Another friend pointed out in response to my call for a study on time saved by speeding and inconsiderate driving had been done, and the average time saved versus driving slower and more politely was under five minutes. To me, that comes down to empathy; are those five minutes of your time to be more considerate of other people around you really so inconvenient? At one point I researched and considered going back to school to become a paramedic, and it seems the most horrific cases they deal with are motor vehicle accidents.

Another argument against bikers on roads is “they don’t follow the rules.” Although a study did show this was true (self-reported), the motivation behind the majority was staying safe…from drivers. “But some bicyclists are dicks!” Yes this is true, because they are human. But so are other drivers; ever been tailgated driving a horse trailer? Ever sped up to pass a semi truck you didn’t want to be stuck behind? But in the frustration between “people are impacting my life by being in my way/making me go slower” and a cyclist or rider trying to train or enjoy their day, the construction workers trying to do their job, a pedestrian trying to get home…anyone outside will always loose, as they are not in a vehicle designed to protect them in the event of an impact.

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So, next time you are driving along and encounter any one who impacts your path, be it construction workers, an equestrian or a bunch of cyclists, take a deep breath, acknowledge their humanity and pass as carefully as possible, even if this means waiting a little bit. At the end of the day, all the above arguments and your frustration don’t matter; what matters is everyone getting home safe and unscarred for life, and that should be worth a few moments of care and consideration on your part.

kadesleep