Bike Safety, Cars, and Caged Jungle Cats

May 13, 2015
Bike Safety

One of my approaches to bike safety is pretending that cars behave with the same unpredictability of caged jungle cats.

I remember a story in the news from when I was a kid. There was a family who lived in a neighbouring town who had a lot of pets, one of them being a panther, which they kept in a large cage. The panther was domesticated; the family used to go in the cage and feed her, play with her, hang out with her. By all accounts, the panther seemed to get along with the family, and they trusted her.

But then one day, while the father was in the cage with the panther, it took a swipe at him – and that swipe was hard enough and strong enough to kill the man.

One might be tempted to reconcile this entirely preventable tragic event by looking to the cat and considering her motivations:

  • Why did she do this?
  • Did she mean to kill the man?
  • Was she just playing with him?

But that presupposes we are capable of objectively understanding what motivation looks like from a cat’s perspective – because we are not capable. Cats are different than humans. They think differently, move differently, and are motivated by different things.

—which is why my bike safety approach involves imagining that the cars I share the road with are the same as caged jungle cats.

Bike Safety Is a Matter of Perspective

Like the panther in the cage, cars on the road are unpredictable. Sometimes they turn unexpectedly, change lanes without signaling, or fling their doors open in my path.

Cars make decisions in the moment based on primal urges, like cats. They are impatient – for no reason that I can come up with. I cannot apply sound logic or reason in order to make sense of some of the choices cars make.

Cats and cars will obey the rules to a certain point, but not if it gets in the way of what they want – and especially not if they can get away with breaking them.

Part of my bike safety perspective is about imagining that cars are like caged jungle cats. This helps to protect me out there on the road. It prevents me from making choices based on the belief that I can trust a car to see me, trust a car to share the road with me, or trust that a car makes choices based on concerns for my safety.

Your bike safety is in your hands; believing anything else would be like getting into a cage with a jungle cat.

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