I’m going to let you in on two secrets. One, I break the law all the time on my bike. Two, I don’t really care, and you shouldn’t either. Here’s why.
Cyclists around the world have garnered the notorious perception of being consistent rule-breakers, thumbing noses at traffic laws, running red lights and weaving through cars. This perception is not altogether untrue, though I am always quick to point out that almost every driver speeds, rolls through stops, speeds up to beat a yellow light, and blocks the crosswalk, to name a few infractions. Indeed, both cyclists and drivers have their share of naughty moments.
Here’s the difference, and honestly it’s so rarely appreciated that it hurts my soul. The average U.S. automobile weighs about two tons, and is capable of reaching highway speeds in seconds.
A typical bike weighs between 20-30 pounds, and in most cases is limited to a 15-20mph top speed, depending on the strength of the rider.
Comparing these two with regard to how much damage they can potentially inflict when the law is broken is kind of like comparing a loaded assault rifle to a Nerf gun, or perhaps a water pistol. While annoying, cyclists have almost no ability to cause serious harm to people or property other than themselves when they break the law. Cars, in comparison, can become giant bullets of destruction in the case of even the smallest infraction. Even if we figure in alcohol, a swerving driver becomes an extreme danger to his or her surroundings, while the intoxicated cyclist will likely endanger only himself.
This is not to say that it’s OK for cyclists to put themselves in harm’s way, nor am I implying we should all give up cars for bikes (though that would be kind of awesome). This is simply a commentary on the hypocrisy of the perception that cyclists are a bunch of rule breakers, when drivers are just as guilty, and inherently pose a far greater risk based on the sheer weight and speed of the average vehicle.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that you ARE the perfect driver. Even if you’re driving precisely the speed limit, fully engaged with no distractions, using your signal, looking both ways and coming to complete stops, you’re still far more likely to harm other people or property than a cyclist who is breaking traffic laws.
Let me put it to you this way, and forgive me for being blunt… if you’re a parent and your teenager wants to go out late with his or her friends on a Saturday night, are you worried about her being on the road with drivers who break the law or cyclists who break the law? How about when you strap your baby boy into a car seat… do you do so because there are distracted drivers out there, or dangerous cyclists?
I get it… the laws for cyclists exist for their own good. Cyclists should obey the law because they want to minimize personal harm. But the classic demonization of ill-behaved cyclists is simply hypocritical coming from the glass house that is even the safest driver and the potential damage cars can cause with a moment’s lapse in judgement.
The rules for cars exist for a reason… automobiles are capable of causing significant damage, injury and loss of life when piloted without extreme care. And while cyclists are, by default, beholden to most of these laws as well, the resulting impact of breaking them is almost nonexistent.
Again, I am not condoning breaking the law. But before we shame those of us on bike who may occasionally ignore the rules of the road, just remember… you are far more dangerous when you roll through a stop sign than we will ever be running a red light.