walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Non Sequitur

Something just occurred to me.

Often, when a collision between a driver and a cyclist results in injuries to the cyclist, a significant portion of the related public outcry sounds a lot like, "Get all cyclists off the road for their own safety!"

However, when someone is injured on an amusement park ride, nobody says, "Get all amusement park riders off the rides for their own safety!" Instead, they rightly assign whatever portion of the responsibility is reasonable to the park management.

Likewise, when a downhill skiier is injured on the slopes, nobody says, "Get
all skiiers off the downhill slopes for their own safety!" Instead, they generally observe that responsible skiiers are rarely injured, and should be allowed to continue as they have for however long mankind has skiied.

When a pedestrian is injured by a car or simply by tripping over something on the sidewalk, nobody says, "Get all pedestrians off the sidewalks for their own safety!" Instead, the situation is assessed and blame is distributed amongst the individuals involved (we may hope it will be done in an equitable fashion).

Perhaps most significantly, when someone is injured while driving or riding in a car, nobody says, "Get all drivers off the road for their own safety!" Indeed, were anyone to suggest such a thing, the suggestion would be seen as sheer lunacy.

This leads me to think that, no matter how well-intended it sometimes is, the 'get them all off the road for their own safety' argument is inherently spurious. It's not really about the safety cyclists — it's about drivers not wanting to feel responsible for the safety of cyclists, especially not if it means they have to reduce their speed from time to time (IMO, if you're that late already, waiting one whole minute to pass a cyclist isn't going to do you any good, but not everyone sees things my way :D).

I believe that on the road each of us — regardless of the number of wheels on his vehicle — is responsible both for his own safety and for those of the other road-users (a cyclist may escape unscathed from a situation that causes an injury-inducing crackup between two cars, and as such remains responsible for not instigating such a crackup if he can help it). I also understand that every now and then there really is such thing as an unavoidable accident — and that most traffic accidents do not fall into this category.

This isn't to say that I believe all cyclists belong on the road immediately — frankly, there are some 'bike salmon,' as BSNYC calls them, who could really stand to be constrained to bike salmon 're-education' facilities until they learn to go with the flow, both for their own safety and for the sake of other cyclists.

For the most part, cycling is a safe activity. It's categorically safer than being sedentary — not only does it promote physical fitness, but it reduces stress (oddly enough, cycling seems to reduce stress even when it's stressfull — funny, that). While cycling will not prevent you from eventually 'buying the farm,' it does make it more likely that you will live a long and healthy life. It also offers many more opportunities to whiz down hills while shouting 'WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!' than non-cyclists encounter*.

Driving, which is both stressful and sedentary, does no such thing. Indeed, one could probably argue that the increased time we Americans spend behind the wheel (or in the car, at any rate) is only exacerbating our national weight problem. Stress and a sedentary lifestyle are linked to heart disease and other chronic, sometimes fatal conditions (stroke, exacerbation of asthma, etc.) — and, of course, the fact that one is riding inside an auto and not on a bicycle does not, by any means, rule out the possibility of being injured or killed in a crash.

Thus, one could argue that cars are, in fact, much more dangerous than bikes — but no one in his right mind is going to suggest that all drivers be removed from the streets.

*As an erstwhile skier who hopes to ski again in the future, I can attest to the fact that one rarely hears a good 'WHEEEEEEEEEE!' on the slopes.

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