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.