Monday, August 16, 2010

Two types of drivers

One of the best t-shirts I've seen in years:

There are 10 types of people in the world.
Those who get this t-shirt and those who don't.

But, I digress.

From a cynical cyclist's perspective, there are two types of drivers:

  • Those who hate us
  • Those who are going to kill us

I had this insight the other day as a commercial van driver in the lane I was in honked at me. The people who get angry at bikes honk, which is tedious. But, the angry drivers are rarely -- in my experience -- the ones who are involved in close calls. Most people just aren't homicidal.

Almost to a person, the people who cut me off, are abjectly apologetic. "Sorry, I just didn't see you." That also seems to be the case in the recent car v. bike incidents where the cyclist was not at fault.

The notion, if generally true, that the inattentive driver, not the hostile driver, is the greater threat to cyclists has important implications for both the we've-just-got-to-get-along crowd and the same streets/same rules approach. The get-along advocates stress the need for mutual respect. But, a lack of respect doesn't make streets unsafe for cyclists, it's a lack of attention. And, there is no logical causal connection between bad cyclist behavior and inattentiveness. It just doesn't make sense that a driver, consciously or otherwise, is going to decide to be inattentive as a response, for instance, to seeing cyclists ride through red lights. ("Damn those two-wheeled scofflaws! Next right turn I take, I'm definitely not looking in my side-view mirror!")

The same streets/same rules advocates suggest that mutual respect for existing rules will make the roads safer and calmer. It's not clear that existing rules prevent conflicts. The driver who ran over a bicyclist on Comm. Ave., for instance, was not cited and the cyclist was blamed though he was engaged in perfectly legal conduct. And, any policy that relies on strict adherence to the laws of the road is bound to fail. Motorists and bicyclists routinely flout the law. (More on that in another post.)

The reality is that bikes and cars are radically different beasts and engage in radically different behaviors on shared roadways. To prevent incidents, we need to do what we can to separate bikes from cars. And, we need both motorists and bicyclists to understand and recognize the opportunities for potential bike v. car conflict and avoid them. The potential bike v. car conflicts are different than car v. car conflicts. The specifics of the rules are almost irrelevant, especially by focusing on the rules that are the same. Ultimately, the same/same philosophy masks or distracts from the need for motorists to engage the road differently than they have before. And, it falsely suggests that law-abiding is all that bicyclists need to do to stay safe.

You don't have to like me. Just don't kill me.


dr2chase said...

May I suggest, and I do not know if this is a third category, or a subcategory of does-not-see, and that is the driver in a hurry? These are the people who right hook bikes, who dash through stop signs, etc. The hurry makes people focus over-much, and get very hopeful in their estimation of the speeds of things that they actually do see and react to -- they just react wrong.

I did once ride with a rear-facing camera, and was pleased to discover that a solid majority of drivers do see me, and do react appropriately, often very early. And the one stupid behavior I caught behind me, was someone who was in a hurry, and felt that even though they were behind me, that it was their place to pass a turning car before I did ("HONK!"). That is, in their hurry, the focus on their plan, which was "pass that slow bike and car", not realizing that the bike was perfectly capable of passing the slow (turning) car and in the process of doing so.

I also had a driver this weekend (Massbike ride) stop me at a farm stand to remark that there must be something wrong with my bike, because I was (as she put it) nearly invisible in wooded shadow, yet clearly intending to be visible (the half-square foot of reflective tape, and the multiple watts of daylight running lights, were some clue). We checked my rear (1/2 watt LED, red-orange, dozens of lumens) light, and were both frankly quite puzzled that she did not see it, because it was on. But she cared enough to stop and ask, so some people really are paying a lot of attention.

(My best guess is that I need a larger diffuser; perhaps it is so small that it fit in her retinal-nerve blind spot. Of course, she had to be driving with her lights off, unlike me on my bike, because otherwise she would have painted the giant reflective mud flap.)

Sean Roche said...

Without question, there are more than 2 types of users. The vast majority of drivers are reasonably attentive (and not angry) and pose no threat to the careful cyclist.

That said, I say in-a-hurry is the cause and inattentiveness is the consequence.

You describe another, distinct type: the you-could-be-safer driver. Often an older woman scolding me for some, to her, dangerous conduct -- like taking the lane to avoid a danger on the shoulder. She may be misguided about what's safe, but it's nice that she cares and the fact that she saw me means she's paying attention.

dr2chase said...

No, she was totally not scolding. She saw me, saw my bike, figured out what I was about, and concluded that there must be something wrong with my bike. And she is right, if she did not see me easily in that shade, then something was wrong, because I completely intend that I should stick out like a sore thumb in exactly that situation. We never did figure out WHY she didn't see me. I didn't say at the time "you should get your vision checked", and it might have sounded insulting if I did, but honestly, the thought crossed my mind later. The light was working, either it is too small a source, wrong color for her vision/windshield, or she has a lurking vision problem. But absolutely, she was paying attention, and understood, and meant well.

This is the rear view, this is with the lights on. I'm thinking I should relocate the yellow "running light" in the center and face it to the rear, higher on the bike.

Anonymous said...

If she couldn't see that bike, I think "eye exam" is a good call.

I think the in-a-hurry driver falls into a more broad category of the entitled driver. They aren't necessarily late, but there time is so much more important than yours that it is OK for them to pull out suddenly in front of you.

I think I fall in the I-don't-want-to-hit-anyone-or-thing category. :)