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Discussion: Is it OK to kill cyclists?

in: Orienteering; Off-Course

Nov 10, 2013 1:59 PM # 
When a car kills a cyclist or pedestrian, the driver is seldom cited or prosecuted, even for the lesser charge of endangerment. This car-centric attitude may be changing. A California non-cyclist wrote this nice opinion piece in the NYTimes this morning:

...there is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.” If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, “Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,” that will most likely be good enough.
Nov 10, 2013 10:42 PM # 
What about the situation whereby a motorist (or passenger) yells out the window or honks their horn within close proximity with the intention of scaring you? If you fell off and suffered serious injury are they to blame and can be prosecuted? Both incidents happened to me yesterday (and happen regularly), minus the falling off bit. Would he or she (mostly he) even stop.
Nov 10, 2013 10:50 PM # 
Isn't the traditional response to kick a panel when you catch them at the red lights?
Nov 10, 2013 11:38 PM # 
This is one aspect of road safety that self-driving cars and data recorders promoted by the insurance companies is probably going to improve.
Nov 11, 2013 1:08 AM # 
I tried that once (ran into his bumper after he practically ran me off the road) and the driver got upset with me to the point that he got out of his car and abused me. It's okay to nearly kill cyclists because we're not real people but touch someone's car and boy you're in trouble.

Also yesterday's two incidents occurred nowhere near traffic lights or stop signs for that matter.
Nov 11, 2013 5:40 PM # 
We are in free country. Get permit, wear a gun. Visibly.
Nov 11, 2013 6:04 PM # 
For those interested in a New Yorker's take on this Californian's opinion, the Bike Snob blog post today makes a valid and humorous rebuttal.
Nov 11, 2013 7:06 PM # 
The blogger seems to object to cyclists needing to obey traffic laws because "the streets and the laws are designed specifically for cars". I think this is really the crux of the problem. As a biker (mostly), pedestrian (frequently), and driver (occasionally) in San Francisco I strongly identify with the original article's view that bikers would be better off if they obeyed stop signs, red lights, etc. The main goal of traffic laws is to ensure everyone has the same expectation of how traffic should flow. When some cyclists flaunt these laws it creates a lot of uncertainty, dangerous situations (for everyone, including pedestrians), and resentment.

But at the same time I agree with the blogger that there are situations when I break laws because it actually makes things safer. For example, there are intersections in San Francisco where pedestrians will get a green before the cars, and I'll start crossing with the pedestrians because I'll be blocking a whole lane on the other side, and want to reduce the amount of time that I'm in the way. And there will be intersections where I will bike in the crosswalk in order to change lanes in front of the cars so that I can avoid changing lanes in heavy traffic.

In summary, I do think it comes down to sound judgment and not necessarily the letter of the law, but I also think that the bikers who are running stop signs and red lights are often showing poor judgment.
Nov 11, 2013 8:19 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
Idaho has it right; cyclists should be able to run stop signs when reasonable. You are approaching a fraction of the speed of cars, you have no A pillars restricting your visibility, and your hearing is unimpeded.
Nov 11, 2013 8:32 PM # 
Thankfully I don't live in such a free country.
Nov 11, 2013 8:44 PM # 
I wonder if a visible headcam (also permissible in said free country) would also be an effective deterrent.
Nov 11, 2013 9:06 PM # 

And no prosecution of the driver - who was texting at the time - to date.
Nov 11, 2013 9:59 PM # 
This is the first I've heard that the driver was texting. Last I heard it was "sun glare" in a following drivers eye's after a large truck moved over to give Scott room. Is the reason for no prosecution because its not being pursued by Scott's fam, or for some other reason?
Nov 12, 2013 12:27 AM # 
I think you can get cardboard replica headcams from the same place that SUV drivers get their spray-on mud.
Nov 12, 2013 3:00 AM # 
The Economist has weighed in with their response to yesterday's NYTimes opinion piece, with a comparison with bike laws in The Netherlands. the Netherlands, if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist, the accident is always assumed to have been the driver's fault, not the cyclist's. ..."the law treats pedestrians and cyclists as weaker participants in traffic... The driver of the motor vehicle is liable for the accident, unless he can prove he was overpowered by circumstances beyond his control (overmacht). The driver must thus prove that none of the blame falls on him, which is extremely difficult in practice."

This regulatory regime places an extra burden on drivers. That burden can be summed up as follows: before you turn, you have to check carefully in the mirror to see whether there's a cyclist there. That's it. When you are driving in the Netherlands, you have to be more careful than you would when driving in America....
Nov 12, 2013 3:13 AM # 
Have you guys seen this view of cycling in the USA from a Dutch perspective? I was more entertained and more fascinated the longer I watched
Nov 12, 2013 4:41 AM # 
The Economist article also says:

"Cyclists in the Netherlands learn to stay inside the country's ubiquitous bike lanes, not to run red lights, and to signal before turning, and they obey those rules more scrupulously than Americans do—partly because if they don't, they are likely to annoy or crash into other cyclists, who will give them a verbal hiding"
Nov 12, 2013 7:25 AM # 
Or how the Dutch race the postie
Nov 12, 2013 8:21 AM # 
The driver must thus prove that none of the blame falls on him, which is extremely difficult in practice.

Guilty until proven innocent?
Nov 12, 2013 8:30 AM # 
Isn't that similar to the fault nearly always falling on the rear car of a rear-end collision? There aren't many situations where a cyclist is going to be at fault, just as there aren't many where the front car will be at fault.
Nov 12, 2013 9:17 AM # 
It seems to have gone from one extreme to the other. In our great state if a cyclist hits a pedestrian (or a pedestrian hits a cyclist), it is the cyclist's fault unless you can prove otherwise.

This discussion thread is closed.