Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's The Blame Game, Vehicular Manslaughter Edition

INFLAMMATORY STATEMENT WARNING: If you've ever been hit by a car while on your bike, you most likely share half the blame.(originally published 6/8/11)
While biking to work this morning, I had a very close call with a white minivan. Had we connected, and had I survived the ensuing head trauma, I'd like to think that I'd still have enough common sense to know that I shared half the blame, even though I hadn't done anything (legally) wrong.
I was biking at top speed, and approaching a light that was about to turn red. I timed it and knew that I'd get to it before it changed, and committed myself to going through. I was coming up on a van that had clearly made the same decision, as I saw no brake lights as it drew closer to the intersection.
I also saw no turn signal, so I started to overtake her on the right (I bike fast). We both got to the intersection at the exact same time, and this is where the driver decided at the last minute, still not signaling, that she would turn right and nearly kill me in the process.
I caught on at the last minute. I swerved as she braked suddenly at the sight of me. I yelled and flipped her off, and continued on my merry way. She drove off probably cursing me for, I don't know, "sneaking up on her" or some bullshit. But if she'd hit me, I would have to accept that it was my fault too, because I wasn't watching for her to fuck up.
Cyclists don't always realize how vulnerable they are on the road. You can't just cycle down a city street believing that your "rights as a cyclist" will somehow provide a force field that will make cars bounce off you. Drivers fuck up all the time, it's just that a fender bender between a car and a cyclist has oh so much worse consequences that one between two cars.
The only way for a cyclist to avoid being turned into sausage innards is to learn to drive defensively. The key to this is to assume that every vehicle is going to fuck up and kill you, and to watch every car you interact with for signs that they're going to end your life. This means watching for:
-turn signals (or lack thereof) without recognition that you're trying to pass on right, like in my little story;
-drifting towards the curb, which would run you off the road;
-drivers about to exit a parked car as you zip past them (I always look in the sideview mirrors of parked cars, and if I see someone sitting in the driver's seat I get ready for a door to open)
-cars that aren't planning on stopping for a red light on an intersecting street, setting you up for the t-bone of a lifetim
You're in the most danger when in close proximity to a car, especially when you're passing it. You have to assume that they have no idea there's a bicycle coming up on their rear, and act accordingly by watching the car very closely for signs that they don't see you. These collisions are preventable in that an observant cyclist will see the fuckup early and react accordingly; that's their responsibilty. Don't get me wrong, the car drivers have a responsibility to not kill anyone, but let's face it, people are idiots when they drive and cyclists have to account for that.
I can think of one situation that's not preventable by the cyclist: getting hit from behind. A few years ago there was an unfortunate situation where a group of cyclists were brutally mowed down by a driver who came up behind them and I guess just... didn't see them? There's really nothing that can be done in a situation like that; even with rear-view mirrors you can't expect a cyclist to watch behind them constantly. They have to keep their eyes on the road ahead of them. I perform a shoulder check every 10 seconds or so, to familiarize myself with the scene behind me, but even that can't prevent me from being hit by someone coming up fast and just not seeing me.
Cyclists are taught to wear helmets and make themselves visible with goofy neon vests. That only skims the surface of bicycle safety, yet it's "good enough advice" for most. Check out this bicycle safety website I came across:
The Canton Police Department and Bicycle Safety
Do you see how much I wasn't kidding about the helmets and vests? Cyclists aren't taught defensive driving, it's something they have to figure out on their own, based on personal experience and advice from awesome people such as myself. Now where's the freaking medal I so clearly deserve?

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