Having finally had Internet access connected to my new apartment, I have spent probably a little more time than usual browsing Internet message boards over the last week or so, something I'm becoming increasingly convinced serves no major purpose save for entertainment. Nothing particularly unusual has jumped out of course, but a couple of posts have stuck in my mind, along with an incident that took place on my ride home from work on Friday.
First of all, someone on one forum was struck by an object thrown from a car while they were out riding. They apparently suffered no major injuries apart from some nasty bruising. Evidently they were happy enough to laugh off the incident as a case of "kids just being kids". As an aside, it makes me wonder if I should call a lawyer and sue my parents. As a kid I was always taught that with privileges come responsibility, and that if I abused my privileges I could have them revoked. I hadn't realised that I could always just use the "I'm just being a kid" excuse as a way to justify my behaviour. Just think of the fun I could have had, had I not had such responsible parents!
On another forum someone was trotting out the old "cyclists invite driver aggression by misbehaving" line, when the topic was simply one of lawfully and assertively claiming a lane when traffic conditions demanded such an action. Finally, yesterday afternoon, two drivers tried to run me off the road while I was riding along the shoulder -- lawful and not even "claiming the lane"! I didn't bother notifying the police because I had the nous to evade them reasonably easily, and the police generally won't act unless someone is actually killed (and even then it's usually just an "inquiry" that almost invariably finds against the victim) .
All of this got me thinking... Why is it that a motorist breaking the law in traffic -- even assaulting someone, is laughed off as being relatively inconsequential, but yet a cyclist doing any of those things is somehow considered to be the worst act in the world? I see people in all transportational conveyances breaking various laws everyday, but nobody seems to care if it's a cyclist. If a police officer issues a ticket to a cyclist for running a red light, he's looked upon as a "brave officer cracking down on the scofflaws", yet if the same officer issues a ticket to a motorist for the same offence, it's considered to be an act of "revenue raising", and we're somehow supposed to have compassion for the driver who must
have been in a terrible hurry. Well I'm sometimes in a hurry when I ride to work too, but I'm still expected to wait at traffic lights like a good little boy.
Take the first incident referred to above, which was apparently laughed off. Let's reverse the roles and pretend for a moment that I had been throwing things at a car from my bicycle seat or even doing so while standing on the side of the road. Would the act have been laughed off with such impunity? Somehow I doubt it, after all, just look at previous violent police responses to perfectly peaceful critical mass rides when no property was damaged at all. I'd hate to see what they'd do if someone actually vandalised a car or threatened a driver.
The second post is even more disconcerting. It basically suggests that if a cyclist runs a red light or breaks the law in any other way, that a motorist or anyone else is justified in taking the law into their own hands. This is clearly vigilante justice at it's least civilised, but again, lets reverse the roles and assume that it was a cyclist or a pedestrian taking matters into their own hands by assaulting a driver who was running a red light or speeding. Would the act now be considered justified? Would we have large groups of people rushing about saying "he deserved it, he was breaking the law"? Again, I doubt it. After all, commercial radio stations routinely announce speed camera locations in their traffic reports, which really serves no purpose apart from giving a speeding motorist the opportunity to get away with it.
With this post I am not intending to condone anybody breaking the law or threatening anybody else. I am merely seeking an explanation as to why such blatantly inconsistent attitudes exist not only within law enforcement, but indeed throughout the rest of society. Either traffic laws are important or they aren't. If breaking the law in a car is "forgivable", then it's equally forgivable if I do so on my bicycle. Simply demonising a small minority of road users for acts that every other road user perpetrates is not going to suddenly restore law and order to public roadways. Allowing one group to get away with blatant illegalities at the same time is just ludicrous.
I suspect, however, that what we're observing here is more to do with a difference between actual reasons and stated reasons. In simple terms, the dislike a small minority of motorists have for cyclists has nothing to do with the acts of the cyclist (which are remarkably similar to their own), but more to do with their own bigotry. When the same people talk about "scofflaws" or "restoring order to our roads", they're just looking for someone to blame for their own frustrations in traffic (which are more often than not brought about by their own inability to cope with the situation). Perhaps they should look at resolving their own internal issues before trying to blame or criticise anyone else. And finally, if they're so sure that cyclists get such a free ride from law enforcement and everyone else, they can always hop on a bike themselves and try it.