Cite a study saying cyclists are only responsible for 10% of crashes and you might as well light a match to a field of tinder. The bike-advocacy community wants nothing more than to prove motorists are the culprits most of the time. A recent article regarding a Toronto crash “study” has ignited a new wildfire of exuberant victim-hood. Despite a correction printed on the original article, the misinformation continues to be spread as validation of what most cyclists desperately want to believe.
Komanoff’s study – if that’s the right word for it – is available on the Cars Suck website. A reasonable person would be hard pressed to expect unbiased, objective information from an organization with such a name, and in fact, Komanoff’s study is little more than an anti-motoring diatribe laced with emotionally loaded phrases. For that matter, the study itself is called Killed by Automobile. If you really want to read it, follow this link to Cars Suck, then click on Research/Killed by Automobile. Please wash your hands afterward. This is a raw exercise in fear mongering, as in riding-a-bike-is-a-horribly-dangerous-experience, and as any rational, experienced cyclist knows, it’s totally wrong.
What’s also interesting about the spread of this misinformation is that there was one piece of useful info in the original article. As far as I’ve seen, Andy at Carbon Trace is the only blogger to pick up on the tips offered for staying safe. Those tips are actually pretty good and worth repeating. But validation of victimhood is so much more compelling.
Yeah, I get it.
I understand the desire to believe that motorists are at fault most of the time. When I started on this advocacy journey, I wanted to believe that, too. I can tell you exactly why. It wasn’t because I hated cars. It was because the way I was riding made me invisible and unpredictable to motorists. As a result, I had frequent conflicts with them, which I naturally assumed were 100% their fault. Plus, it doesn’t take too much observation of mindless motoring behavior to see we have a problem.
We have lots of discussion about personal responsibility here — for both motorists and bicyclists. We write a lot about irresponsible, aggressive and distracted driving because our traffic culture IS in need of improvement. But no amount of finger-pointing and blame-shifting will change the facts on the ground. Consistently, half of crashes involving roadway cyclists are caused by illegal cycling behavior — wrong-way riding, ninja riding and right-of-way violations. Additionally, the majority of motorist-caused crashes are avoidable by smarter cycling practices. Many crashes involve sidewalk cyclists, and most roadway cyclists expose themselves to increased crash risk by hugging the edge of the road. A simple observation of cycling behavior in most U.S. cities will corroborate crash study findings. Mindless (or childish) cycling behavior is epidemic.
But it’s not effective.
It’s very convenient to blame the bullies in the big scary cars, but cyclists have way more control over their safety than most of them employ. Every time people grab onto something that allows them to think it’s someone else’s fault, they get distracted from fixing the things over which they DO have control. Doesn’t it make so much more sense to change the things we can, first? Then go after the external problems. As with any other aspect of life, once we solve our self-created problems, we have a much clearer view of the big picture. A clear view is essential to effective problem-solving!
So, as Ed says, don’t fall for it this.
[It’s] not advocating for better conditions for cyclists. It’s political gamesmanship and nakedly partisan. This does nothing to improve conditions on our roads. It merely serves to increase conflicts.
There are better ways to change the traffic culture.
Let’s remove the victim-advocates’ fuel by promoting empowerment-based advocacy and empowered cycling. Really, this should be easy. These are the two basic paradigms being offered:
- Cycling is safe. With a few simple skills, cyclists can be empowered to control their environment and operate efficiently and safely on any road to reach any destination. Most motorists and traffic movements are predictable, so operating according to the rules of that system allows for safe and efficient travel, regardless of speed. Most motorists are cooperative and courteous of a confident, predictable cyclist. What they need from others is equity, tolerance and the support of law enforcement and the justice system to curb aggressive behavior and keep reckless drivers out of the system. A little intelligent infrastructure here and there enhances our access and enjoyment.
- Cycling is dangerous. Cyclists are helpless, vulnerable and at the mercy of motorists who are mostly reckless, incompetent and unpredictable. Cyclists need expensive, special infrastructure to go anywhere safely. Most destinations are inaccessible by bike.
Why is #2 so much more appealing to bike advocates and so many cyclists?