An Appeal to My Sister

Yesterday my sister described how she was driving down a country road, came upon a car parked in her lane, braked suddenly, swerved, and went into the ditch. She went to a nearby farmhouse to ask for help and found that the driver of the parked car was there also. She was livid. She chewed out the other driver. But was the other driver at fault or was my sister?

This question interests me of course because as a bicyclist I am often on the receiving end of anger such as my sister’s. What usually happens is that (1) I am biking in the center of a lane either to turn left, to bike alongside a friend, or to block a car from passing unsafely (all of which are legal); (2) a motorist comes upon me quickly; (3) the motorist stops suddenly and honks and yells at me. Am I endangering myself or is the motorist endangering me? Before you answer note that I am doing something ordinary and legal. From the motorists’ perspective they have been forced to stop suddenly by another vehicle in the road. The correct answer is of course that the motorist is at fault. Their honking and yelling at me is a classic case of “adding insult to injury”.

You might say “but the motorist was forced to stop suddenly! Surely they shouldn’t have to endure such an insult from you”.  Let me be clear: if you are driving so fast that you can’t stop for a stationary object in your path, be it a double-parked car, a left-turning car, a tree, or a bicyclist, you are driving too fast. It doesn’t matter where the stationary object is or why it is there. If you can’t see over a rise or around a curve, you need to slow down. If you hit the object you are not driving at an appropriate speed for the current road conditions. You are at fault, period. Sorry sis.

I might concede extenuating circumstances if the person or object that you struck suddenly moved into your path, or if it’s something difficult to see (such as a deer at night). Even so, I think people succumb to peer pressure and routinely drive above a safe speed. And people don’t think twice about driving their usual speed even if it is dark or snowy.

My son Jasper made the comment that drivers choose efficiency over safety: getting to work on time is more important than concerning yourself with the safety of others. From my perspective I don’t care if you’re late. I do care if your hurry threatens me and my kids. I ask you motorists: what if some sort of divine intervention made sure that it was you who died rather than the person you hit? Would you still drive unsafely? Would you still drive? I have a lot of friends who, when they hear that I’m committed to biking, tell me that they’d like to join me. But they are too afraid of motorists—motorists that include their friends and family. Is this the world we want to live in, where people are afraid of biking in their own neighborhoods? What can we do to change this?

I appeal to my sister and to you to relax, take your time, plan accordingly, and drive more slowly. That could be me on my bike around the next bend. And sis, I think you owe that other driver an apology.