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February 25, 2013

Socially Acceptable, Pathological Violence Against Cyclists

I believe there is a dark side, the sinful nature of man and the evil that we do. I've seen enough of it.

I'm sure that in the 1850's, northern anti-slavery advocates could not understand how supposedly decent Christian people (who would otherwise earn respect) supported and defended slavery, and yet loved their families and considered themselves righteous.

I don't understand how an otherwise non-violent American, who teaches their children to behave and is otherwise an honorable citizen, believes it's acceptable to trifle with the safety of another human being because they're defenseless on their bicycle.

  • If that other vehicle was a bulldozer, they wouldn't play games with it.
  • If that were a person riding a horse, they wouldn't do it.
  • If that were a policemen on the bicycle, they wouldn't do it.
  • They will, however, also do it to runners.

The conclusion would seem to be:

  • They do it because they're momentarily powerful and the other person is momentarily defenseless.
  • They do it because nobody's watching and nobody will know.
  • They do it because society says it's OK and there's no offense in it. Fair game, no shame.
  • They do it because the bicyclist isn't a human being on their own level.

How many of these drivers who intentionally use their vehicles to harass, intimidate, and hurt bicyclists would do the same thing to a homeless man, or a lost child, or a mentally challenged individual? I think very few of them would play "fun with a skell", and yet they'll do it to a cyclist without hesitation.

Timely and trenchant editorial from Sunday's Boston Globe:

DOES INTRINSIC bias against cyclists explain why a grand jury recently failed to hand up an indictment against a driver suspected of vehicular homicide in last summer’s death of 41-year-old rider Alexander Motsenigos? Bicycle advocates believe so — fervently. And Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham and Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey aren’t far behind.

Many accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles can be traced to road design, inclement weather, or attention lapse. But law enforcement traced Motsenigos's death to truck driver Dana McCoomb, a man with an extensive history of driving infractions who fled the scene after striking the Wellesley cyclist from the side. Witness statements, video footage, and subsequent police analysis of the scene suggested that the deadly collision was more than an unavoidable accident.

Sharing the road with increasing numbers of cyclists can be frustrating for drivers. But disregard for the safety of cyclists has reached pathological levels among some drivers. And this contempt, whether conscious or subconscious, may well have played a role in the minds of grand jurors. There are widespread misconceptions that cyclists should ride on sidewalks — which is dangerous for pedestrians — or that it’s up to cyclists to stay out of motor vehicles' way.

No matter one’s opinion of cyclists or their riding habits, they are practically defenseless against the smallest sedan, never mind an SUV or a truck. Drivers simply have to take the high road — not only around cyclists who abide by the rules of the road, but even around selfish cyclists who don't. Shaving a few minutes along the way can’t possibly outweigh the risk of maiming or killing a fellow human being.

Police and prosecutors shouldn’t be dissuaded from pursuing similar cases. And cyclists shouldn’t lose heart. As disappointing as this case may be, it is an opportunity for public officials to review road engineering, enforcement policies, and public education campaigns that all play important safety roles. Planners may find that physical barriers between roadways and bike lanes are the best approach wherever feasible. But softer approaches, such as publicizing "best routes" for cyclists, also help drivers to stay alert or avoid such routes altogether.

Judges and attorneys who are exquisitely sensitive to the prejudices of prospective jurors should come to terms with a new problem — deep-seated bias based on mode of transport. Cycling, meanwhile, will continue to expand. The key question is whether public education and awareness can keep up.


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