Cats and dogs, oil and water, white socks and black shoes. Some things just don’t fit together, and (in North America at least) cyclists and drivers sit at the top of the list. But why is this? We’re all just people trying to get from point A to point B, aren’t we?
I could list the usual suspects for the hate-filled intersection of driver vs. cyclist, like drivers are bullies who won’t share the road, to cyclists are stupid hippies who don’t obey the rules. But all those reasons divide cyclists and drivers into black and white opposites – and seeing the world through binaries is rarely useful.
So let’s look at it from both perspectives, shall we? I’m going to start with the cyclist’s perspective, and before you go getting your seat belts in a twist, drivers, know that you’ll get your unbiased perspective too.
Why Cyclists Hate Drivers
As a cyclist, I’m happy to report that the vast majority of drivers seem to want to respect my space as a vulnerable human sharing the road. This may be because they empathize with my vulnerability, or because they don’t want to hurt/kill me and suffer the legal liabilities/emotional trauma that comes with that. Or perhaps a bit of both. Frankly I don’t care either way, as long as I get to where I’m going in one piece.
What’s troubling, however, is just how easy it is for drivers to behave differently when faced with a mild inconvenience. Drivers cut me off if it means saving a few seconds of time. They pass me within inches of hitting/killing me. They bully me from behind if I’m in some way hindering them from getting to the next red light faster.
It’s difficult to express what having your safety threatened in that way feels like, especially when it’s for the impatience or absent-mindedness of drivers. And I don’t just mean that it’s frightening, or angering, or frustrating – those are the surface feelings. I’m talking about underneath all of that, something stronger, something deeper, something more dramatic:
Cyclists hate drivers because they reveal a disappointing side of the human race – one where we humans don’t actually care about each other (because hey, maybe we don’t?). When I’m on the receiving end of a driver’s choice to put my life at risk in order to get to the next red light a couple seconds faster, I lose a little faith in the human race.
Am I being dramatic? Maybe. Maybe I “shouldn’t take it personally.” I could do that. I do do that all the time actually, because I recognize that getting angry on the road as a cyclist is dangerous. It’s like stepping into a cage full of jaguars and getting annoyed because one is in your way. But it’s hard to keep up. It’s an effort to remind one’s self that nearly being injured/killed as a result of the illogical impatience of another human being isn’t something I should take personally. I need this body to survive, I love my life, and there are a lot of people who care about me being alive and healthy.
What’s not personal about that?
Why Drivers Hate Cyclists
Now if you’re a driver, you might be annoyed with me right now with a parade of “Yes, but…” statements gunning their engines at the tip of your tongue. Before you go, trust me on this: I feel your pain. I have been a driver myself. In fact, as a cyclist, other cyclists drive me nuts and can be a hazard to my safety on the road.
So I’m empathetic.
I also know that you don’t want to hit a cyclist, and that you fully understand why that’s expected of you. The problem for you is that cyclists don’t always make it easy to fulfill that responsibility. I see the way some cyclists weave in and out of traffic with no helmet on and headphones in their ears. I see them ignoring the rules – rules designed to protect them – for the exact same illogically impatient reasons that drivers do. It’s difficult – even for me, as a cyclist – to empathize with someone who behaves in a way to suggest that they don’t care about their safety.
We don’t always talk about the role that the careless behaviour of a cyclist plays in car/cyclist “accidents.” That’s because 99.9% of the time it’s the cyclist who gets hurt. Or perhaps, more accurately, the harm that we empathize with is the harm to the cyclist – because ultimately it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.
Setting aside the terrible tragedy that can and does result from a driver/cyclist collision, cycling carelessly is ultimately a choice that lacks empathy for the drivers who are legally, socially and emotionally responsible for the safety of those careless cyclists.
And that causes feelings of resentment.
What to Do About It
The thing about Canada, and our extensive set of road rules and laws, is that there’s one rule missing – and it’s the most important rule. It’s the main rule I use when I’m on my bike, and it’s the one that keeps me safe above all other ones:
In Canada we don’t teach road users to take ownership over their actions. We teach them to simply follow the rules, because the rules will keep us safe. But the rules don’t always take into account that we are impatient, that we don’t like being told what to do by a traffic light, that we’re ultimately illogical, emotional creatures. These are not qualities inherent to either drivers or cyclists. They’re just plain old human traits.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t follow the rules. On the contrary, we absolutely, 100% should – cyclists included. And at the same time we should also use common sense for the times when blindly following the rules puts us or the people we share the road with at risk. An example for me as a cyclist would be that, although I’m legally allowed to turn left the same way that cars do, my common sense tells me that hovering in the left lane in the centre of a busy intersection does not feel safe. So instead I turn left in two stages, the same way that pedestrians do. I can even get off and walk my bike if that’s the safest option. I’m not doing this because I believe that cars have more right to the space than me. I’m doing it because I can’t fight the laws of physics.
Blindly following the rules can allow us to forget that there are choices we can all make to be safer out there.
Listen Up, Road Users
Hey Cyclists: Take responsibility for your safety out there. Wear a helmet, light up your bike, don’t listen to music, signal your intentions, make an effort to follow the rules. Cycle with the goal of making it easier for drivers not to hit you by accident, because they sure as hell don’t want to. And when you come across a driver who’s trying their hardest to respect your safety, give them a ‘Thank You’ wave.
Hey Drivers: You’re gonna get to where you’re going when you get there. Leave 15 minutes earlier. Stop rushing yellow lights. Stop fighting to get ahead of other cars. Stop rushing around the streetcar like your life (and the cyclist you nearly kill in the process) depends on it. Submit to the infrastructure – as poorly designed as it might be. And most of all, enjoy the cleaner air and savings to your healthcare system we non-polluting, regularly exercising cyclists are providing you with. 😉
And Hey Cab Drivers and E-bikes: