I was impressed by the message of our club president, Earl Jones, on the cover of this newsletter. I ask that you open the tabs and read that first.
It is true that cyclists provide a steady stream of victims to our automobile culture. Although most drivers experience a nervous tightening in the presence of cyclists and exercise the special care that their weight, bulk and speed advantages require, many improperly regard us as interlopers and exhibit a dangerous tendency to flout that advantage and buzz or attempt to intimidate us. Worse, we sometime don't even register on some drivers' minds until it is too late. Earl is right that riding in groups, even just pairs, increases our visibility to this last group, reducing the chance of inadvertent encounters.
It should also be noted that the same thing happens in our town almost every day to motorcyclists. PSAs have been regularly run on radio and TV warning drivers to be careful around motorcyclists. And recently, PSAs have begun airing about the need and requirement for caution around cyclists.
I suggest that it would not be a mixed message and would leverage ad time to include both kinds of two-wheelers in the same ads because both face the same hazards of being smaller vehicles, not as visible to many drivers and suffering serious accidents under similar circumstances, such as left turning cars, cars stopping too fast and cars squeezing the lane.
But obviously it is not only we on two wheels who are at risk from automobiles. Carelessness, road rage and the unavoidable claim the lives of drivers themselves every day, over 40,000 Americans and 1 1/4 million worldwide (2002 World Health Organization report) every year. Clearly we and our presence on the road are not the problem.
I believe that more than exhortations are required to do more than reduce the carnage slightly at the margin. Yes, tougher enforcement before and after incidents as called for by our president would also be helpful. But drivers need to be called more to account for their true human costs. I propose several measures which I believe would have a dramatic impact: 1) Take care of the seriously injured by increasing insurance minimums, often only $25,000, to $2 million with full prepaid annual premiums and serious measures to remove the uninsured from the road; 2) Presumption of right-of-way by smaller vehicles, as is the case on water; 3) Serious criminal penalties in wrongful deaths; 4) Juries of our peers, including cyclists; 5) Reduced speed limits on roads without shoulders and traffic lights timed to 20 mph, which is what city traffic actually averages anyway.
Belied by the annual autumn falloff in gas prices, it was just reported that world oil production is now in 9% annual decline and our automobile society is headed for a wall in the next few years. It would soften the impact on everyone to begin reducing driving now and move to alternatives such as cycling whenever possible, which would increase our visibility and group formations. That more than anything will make the roads safer eventually.
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web posted: 17 Jan 2009
last updated: 17 Jan 2009