Louisville Bicycle Club
September-October 2008 Newsletter

PaCkMaN's Corner
Our RIGHT to the Road


How many times have you heard from motorists that you have no right to be on the street with your bicycle because you are not paying gasoline and automobile taxes? Have you thought there must be better answers than defensively asserting that you do have a car at other times on which you pay tax and that you pay a lot of other taxes? Or maybe you don't have a car or pay much tax. Still you feel you must be in the right. And indeed you are.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in the first place that you need to pay for a right. Rights do not depend on the payment of taxes. Payment is not required to speak, worship, vote or assemble. Roads are called RIGHTS-ofway for a reason. The First Amendment to the Constitution, added in 1791, guarantees the right of the people to peaceably assemble. Assumed in that right is the ability to get to places of assembly, hence public rights-of-way in order to get about. The right to be on the road pre-existed the car or licensing or gasoline taxes. Unlike the car however, human-powered vehicles pre-date the Bill of Rights by almost a century and possess a status in the existing common law of the time.

Driving a car on the road however, imposes significant dangers and costs on other people. Driving is therefore a privilege predicated on the certification of the responsibility of the driver to minimize those risks through licensing and bear those costs through insurance, as well as to pay for wear and tear on the infrastructure. One pays therefore for the privilege to drive, not the right to be on the road. Anyone who is resentful of your free and relatively light and innocuous presence on the road should be invited to park their car forthwith and join you on two wheels or walk.

Rights must be exercised (in this case with literal exercise) and defended in order not to wither, lapse or be taken away. There is more respect in Europe for cyclists who have been a continuous presence on the road than in America where we are reasserting a right that almost entirely languished between the World Wars and we are still struggling to regain. A drive-thru/ride-by civics lesson may not be welcomed but freedoms of speech and assembly are your rights. You might even copy this and hand it to them.


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web posted: 17 Jan 2009
last updated: 17 Jan 2009