Friday, October 17, 2008

Who's Responsibility?

Every once and a while I post something that riles some folks up, which I suppose is a good thing, as getting folks riled up is kind of what I do so at least I'm getting through to some folks, whether they agree or not... A while back I wrote a piece about some stickers that I'd found and how they're important to cycling and cyclists. I also commented about how I thought that folks in cars needed to take the extra 3 seconds to look in their mirror to make sure that there was no cyclists coming up that would be negatively impacted by a door suddenly opening in their path. This is a position I stand by with great resound, Motorists in general need to pay more attention. This post is about the other side though, and it's another side that we need to hear.

That post led to a very lengthy conversation with a friend of mine who wondered: "why is it always the drivers responsibility to keep you cyclists safe?" I insisted that in many posts I call for cyclists to take responsibility for their safety (which is true) and that when I ride with novice riders I teach the rules of the road, and the steps to take to ensure safe(r) passage. Still, she was convinced that the amount of finger pointing that I direct at cyclists isn't anywhere close to the amount of finger pointing that I direct at Motorists.

Now, I'll willingly agree that most of the finger pointing I do is aimed at motorists, but in my defense it's not based on the small number of motorists who are like her; motorists who are constantly on the lookout for cyclists to make sure that everyone is safe. No, most of my finger pointing is aimed at the drivers who don't look, who talk on their cell phones or text while driving. Motorists who insist that the road is theirs, even though the lobbyists that first lobbied for smoother roads weren't motoring lobbies, but cycling lobbies... that's right, thank your local cyclist for todays asphalt standards.

Finger pointing aside, my friend brought up a great point. Why are drivers always the responsible party? On her way to work she had pulled up to the stop sign at an awkward intersection, stopped, and had begun to proceed with her left hand turn (with signal on) when a cyclist blew by the line of waiting cars, through the stop sign and nearly hit the front driver side panel of my friends car. Now, if that cyclist had hit her car, and then told me about it instead of my friend telling me about it, how differently would the story had sounded? Would SHE be the one who almost hit the cyclist? And would I have immediately jumped to take his side and condemn her as a terrible driver? It's hard to say. If it were any other driver I probably would have taken this news with a roll of the eyes, as I always hear how "The cyclist swerved into the lane" or how "the cyclist totally blew through the light" or how "they shot out of nowhere" in the litany of excuses that drivers use to excuse themselves of responsibility when they hit or kill a cyclist. But like I said before, this friend is very cycling friendly, very fair and unbiased, and very honest. I also know that the intersection she was at is a favorite of cyclists who disregard stop signs.

The double stop sign on Victory Blvd in Burbank CA, leading into Griffith Park seems to be one of the most commonly disregarded stop signs, second only to every stop sign on the Montrose Route. I've seen cyclists blow through those signs like they aren't even there, and like there is no threat of hapless drivers coming off the freeway. If I'd been in the car that morning and seen that cyclist blow through the stop sign I probably would have chased him down and had some words. Now, I'm all for blowing off a stop sign or red light here or there... IF there is zero traffic, and absolutely no one at the intersection but me. But when you roll by five waiting cars, you should know that there's going to be traffic coming from other directions. If that's the case, you don't have the right of way, and if you try to ride through it like you own the road there are going to be consequences, and consequences that aren't of the positive type.

Now, that cyclist might not face those consequences. There may be no accident, no enraged driver chasing them down with their weapon on wheels, but there will be consequences down the road (figuratively). I hear from motorists day in and day out about how so many cyclists ride with complete disregard for the laws of the road. I hear about how we all blow through stop signs, and how we roll through red lights. Then I hear how we all take up the road and block traffic. Now, I tell these drivers that we have a right to the lane if there's no bike lane (and even if there is one that's obstructed) and that I'm sure they don't follow every single rule of the road perfectly every moment behind the wheel, and until they do that they really shouldn't be throwing stones. I also point out that not all cyclists are the same, and that for every cyclist someone berates for NOT following the rules there are 10 cyclists who are following the rules who they've most likely ignored... but I'm getting to the point where I'm blue in the face with this argument. I've said it so many times that I'm getting tied of saying it.

Now, as cyclists we know that we have an inherent right to the road, it's written into the vehicle code. The invisible, and dangerously pervasive consequence of cyclists disregarding laws is this: The more we break the law, the more we alienate ourselves from it. When we alienate ourselves from the law, others stop viewing us as legally valid. Officer Rodriguez from the Santa Monica Police is right, we're cutting our own throats. If you want to be respected on the road, you have to respect the rules of the road first. Every day I'm trying to throw stones to say "Hey, respect my peoples right to the road" but every time you run a stop sign, or roll through a heavily trafficked red light you take one of my stones away.

1 comment:

BSLA said...

I recently discussed this very subject with a local police officer.

She advised me that it is always the driver's responsibility to insure that their entry into the roadway, in this case with their door, is safe and clear. It's no different than pulling out into traffic while driving.

Here's the interesting part; they are also responsible for ANY outcome of their disregard of this. Therefore, if they open their door into the lane, a cyclist swerves to avoid and is hit by a passing car, and a pile-up ensues... the fault goes all the way back to the driver who opened their door.