“Cars”

If you haven’t seen it already, you’ve gotta read Suburban Bike Mama’s recent post about cyclists struck by cars.  The anecdotes within that post (and corresponding news article which she links) are enough to frighten – but probably not surprise – even the most seasoned biker.

SBM laid out the set of circumstances and motivations behind these crimes, and why the situation must change, much more clearly than I ever could.  However, there was one thing which I’ve noticed about this and many other cyclists’ anti-car posts (myself included):

We all say, “I was almost hit by a car!”  “A car struck that guy right in front of me.”  “A car swerved and tailed me for over a mile.”

See the common thread?  The common misstatement?  It’s only now that I realize the error – the weakness – in this word choice.

CARS aren’t hitting us and harrassing us.  PEOPLE IN CARS are hitting us and harrassing us.

In every near miss or direct altercation that each one of us has had or heard about, we weren’t randomly assaulted by some self-propelled steel-and-glass box.  There was a living, breathing person behind that.  Someone who – away from their internal-combustion enclave – may have let us cut in the grocery line.  Or held open a restaurant door.  Or followed us to return a pair of dropped sunglasses.  Outside of their cars, these people are (almost) all perfectly kind human beings.

It’s not my place to speculate what exactly makes people turn from “perfectly kind human beings” into “roving assholes” as soon as they get behind the wheel.  But as cyclists who share these experiences, it is our place to take them to task.  Each time that we relay a story of an impatiently honking horn or a too-close turn, we need to call out the true offender – not the inanimate object.

Rather than saying, “A car almost hit me this morning!”, try – “A guy almost hit me this morning with his car!”.  It’s a subtle change, but – I think – an important one.  It will be a reminder to those who hear our stories (probably drivers themselves) that when they step behind the wheel, they don’t become a part of the car; they don’t somehow lose responsibility for the machine’s actions.

Admittedly this is only a small tweak in word choice, and there are much larger and more pressing issues out there re: safe cycling.  But maybe by returning the blame for dangerous situations to humans rather than deflecting to the machines they operate, we can advance one small step forward in our goal of a safe riding experience.

Or at least make the assholes feel guilty.

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4 responses to ““Cars”

  1. Okay, I wasn’t hit by a car – I was hit by a nasty trashy woman who had a horrible driving record including wreckless operation, child endangerment, failure to control and probably shouldn’t have been ever given a license!

  2. Hi and thanks for the link. I usually feel my writing is a bunch of rambles. gld it made sense!

    I agree. The other thing I think about is that most of us on bikes- are drivers too. I am more often than I like a driver and I try to keep the sanity going even when in a car. We need less them vs us in this! Although I was laughing today as I was driving my son to school. I was going 30 in a 30 zone. I was not going as fast as I sometimes have gone when in a mindless rush and not super slow. I was a bit distracted and just driving calmly on auto pilot. I noticed behind me that I was being tailgated and I resisted my usual nervous speed up move and just kept driving b/c it felt like a good safe speed at the moment. I was tailgated until a turn off and I thought to myself- people get all mad b/c bikes slow them down- but I guess I do it when I’m in a car too. The Car never honked however- just followed very closely. I am sure if I were on a bike where they COULD have passed me widely I would have been honked at…. a little ramble.

  3. That holds true for most road rage behaviors. We had a neighbor who was just a JERK behind the wheel. One day he tailgated me all the way down our main street, then passed me across a double yellow line, doing 55 in our 25 residential street, yelling and honking and carrying on. The thing that was really amazing about it was, at the time I drove a *really* distinctive van. He couldn’t possibly have not know it was, you know, HIS NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR he was doing this to – but behind the wheel, I think it could have been the pope, or the chief of police, and he just couldn’t stop himself.

    And then as I’m pulling into my driveway (like, five seconds after him – because it got him home SO MUCH FASTER), he’s all, “Oh hai, lovely weather we’re having…” and I was just…speechless. He wasn’t even in a hurry to get inside or anything! No pregnant wife in the car! No “I’m about to miss the Big Game!” Just “automatic asshole, just add car.” }8^[

    To make things worse, I didn’t think of any really good zingers until 3:15 the next morning. Which is a recurring theme for me. I’m always stunned into slack-jawed silence by someone’s outrageous behavior, and then stew about it for the rest of the day, only to wake up at 3:15 the next morning going, “OH, I SHOULDA SAID…!!!!” – and it’s BRILLIANT and all, but just, you know, WAY too late…

    We actually just had a letter to the editor from a cyclist in our local paper about how *awesome* our local drivers are toward cyclists. It made me happy and proud. 🙂

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