Last night, riding home from a park near my house, a car came so close to me that I felt the rear view mirror and then the glass window of the passenger door. I looked at the driver through a sense of shock and felt the hateful glare of someone who wanted to show me that I don’t belong on the road. It was frightening. I was so scared, mostly by the anger that bubbled up in me. (You might be surprised how rarely this happens to me, but motorists usually pass safely, especially when you take the lane.) I was just dumbfounded that someone would risk killing me to teach me a lesson.
Fellow friends of the bicycle, fellow humans: take a moment to educate yourself on the rights and responsibilities we all have as users of the road, of our public space. Next time driving, riding, the outdoors, traveling, safety, law, sustainability, equal access, manners, facebook, the weather… comes up in conversation – be the one who says:
“It’s crazy how in other states you don’t have to pass a cyclist with three + feet!”
“Think how much better the world would be if more people felt safe riding their bicycle – every time I drive, I make sure to take a deep breathe and pass bicycles safely and not so fast.”
“I didn’t know until recently that bicycles are allowed to take the whole lane, but now I’m sure to always give it to them.”
In the United States, where the #1 cause of death or injury to people age 5-27 is driving on highways, we know that our society generally takes drunken, distracted, road rage or even illegal driving with little more than a shrug. I believe that makes us all ‘vulnerable users.’ Someone told me that she felt she was whining to her non-bicycling colleagues when she brought up driving safety – but the truth is, we should ALL be talking about it. Everyone has a story of when they drove and they shouldn’t have – because they were tired, distracted, tipsy or some other reason. Everyone knows someone who was seriously hurt or killed by a car. Think about that.
When it comes to motorists passing cyclists, it’s really not that hard. This brief article explains how to pass a cyclists safely, and here’s a video that demonstrates how to ‘share the road‘ and another geared towards cyclists. The UK has one video about taking that extra moment to look for a biker that will take your breathe away. NOTE: The Motherload of Bicycle/Motorist Safety Videos is to be found on Keri Caffrey‘s pages on youtube and vimeo.
You don’t have to be a downer or a buzzkill. There are lots of ways that you can talk about driving better or more safely. You could talk about the guy you know who drove home after just a few beers and got a record-destroying DUI. You can mention all the news and studies finding distracted driving to be as bad as driving drunk. You could get all zen and talk about how paying attention while driving can be a real stress-reliever, how slowing down saves gas. This very facebook-friendly video from the UK reminds motorists to look for cyclists and pedestrians better than anything else I’ve seen. Of course, you can always tell your story of when you had a close call or accident on your bike – when your friend opened the car door without looking, it could be you they knock out….
Personally, I owe it to every one of you who supports the South Florida Bike Coalition to be a most responsible driver (of either car or bicycle) when I’m out on the road. Since we all use the same roads, please accept this as my deepest, sincere ‘Thank you’ for driving safely, too.