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crime and punishment

2013-11-11 16:14:22.317942+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

I had read through NY Times: Is it O.K. to kill cyclists?

“We do not know of a single case of a cyclist fatality in which the driver was prosecuted, except for D.U.I. or hit-and-run,” Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told me.

but hadn't linked to it for two reasons:

First, "punishment" is complex: Many of you know that a bit over two decades ago I was driving below the speed limit through a mixed residential/industrial area, came around a corner, and there was a toddler standing in the road, in such a way that as I rounded the corner he was obscured by the down tube. I hit him, when I got to him I couldn't find breathing or a pulse. Luckily, the State of Tennessee required that as a professional whitewater guide I have up-to-date Basic Life Support training, which includes CPR for toddlers and infants, and that training kicked in.

Edit: The kid survived, with a hospital stay. Video of me covered in blood appeared on the evening news captioned "hero".

I wasn't charged. I struggled for many years with whether I should have been, but the fact is that even though I was driving below the speed limit and the parents who let their toddler walk out into the street outside of the cement plant had been on TV within the past month bemoaning people speeding around that corner, my driving changed dramatically after that incident. Punishment or not, I changed.

So a few years ago when that sheriff's deputy down in San Mateo county crossed the yellow line and hit a group of cyclists head-on, I was one of the voices suggesting that the real issue was the management of his department that had let him be on-duty for far too long. That he was going to wake up in a cold sweat to the faces of those cyclists impacting his windshield for the rest of his life, and we didn't gain anything by terrorizing him further, but changing the institutional approach to wielding a deadly weapon while tired might be a place to start fixing the system.

And for regular drivers, clamping down hard on basic infringements, rather than only coming down on drivers after they've killed a cyclist or pedestrian, is also a good step forward.

Second, because it appeals to the same tired appeasement that isn't working for us now:

Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect.

As an exercise, go find yourself a stop sign, and count the cars coming through. Watch the wheels, and make a second tick when those wheels actually come to a full and complete stop. I've done this, and my experience, and this meshes with other studies of driver behavior, is that that's about 20% of the drivers through the intersection that come to a full stop. Yes, that number is lower for cyclists, but I'll bet that if you choose a point before the intersection and a point past the white line, that the transit time there isn't all that different.

I've written before that I've been hit because I stopped at a stop sign. Being good little target cyclist only gets us so far. We need to be aggressively taking our lane and asserting our rights. Yes, sometimes that means slapping hoods and breaking off mirrors. We must aggressively respond to out of control drivers. We can do that with or without law enforcement cooperation, but appeasement only gets more of us killed.

Thanks, Shadow, for forwarding this along and reminding me that it's enough of the zeitgeist that I should respond to it.

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2013-11-12 05:09:30.225352+00 by: Dan Lyke


#Comment Re: made: 2013-11-12 06:18:54.185211+00 by: ebradway

I had a thought while reading this. The basic principle in piloting an aircraft (or boat) is that it is the responsibility for the larger, more maneuverable craft to yield rights of way to lighter, less maneuverable craft. In the case of airplanes, a powered plane has to yield to a glider. And a glider has to yield to a balloon. If you are in a powered aircraft and you strike a glider or a balloon, it's your fault. Period.

The same should hold for automobiles. The larger the vehicle, the greater the responsibility to yield to smaller, more vulnerable users of the road. Semi Trucks yield to SUVs. SUVs yield to Priuses. Priuses yield to motorcycles. Motorcycles yield to bikes. Bikes yield to pedestrians. If you are driving an SUV and you hit a cyclist, it's your fault. Period.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-11-12 16:25:49.473066+00 by: Dan Lyke

The Economist article digs into the notion of "the motorist is presumed at-fault", and likes it. In fact, most people like it.

Given the number of, let's face it, likely poor immigrants of questionable documentation status that I see riding the wrong-way against traffic that I see, I understand the arguments against it. On the other hand, returning motor vehicle traffic to the legal state of "you are endangering people with your introduction of a mechanism into a crowd, it's up to you to keep it safe" really seems like a damned good idea.

So, yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think that's the way society should move.

And Bike Snob addresses the "we should be good little targets" argument: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2013/11/shafted-again.html

#Comment Re: made: 2013-11-14 01:31:44.980503+00 by: Shawn

> We need to be aggressively taking our lane and asserting our rights.

Back when I worked in a bike shop, one of the guys there taught me to ride 3 feet from the curb, regardless of the size of the shoulder/bike lane, for just this reason.