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Enough Excuses: Cars Cause Death 25

Watch Out Bicycles

Photo “WATCH OUT <>” courtesy of Kevin Schraer

Car-centric societies tend to make excuses to defend a way of life – a life dependent on automobiles. These excuses are disproportionately emphasized in the media and accepted by society.

When a tragedy occurs between a motorist and a bicyclist,  the media looks for reasons to explain how such a tragic event could occur. Was the bicyclist wearing a helmet? Was the driver under the influence of alcohol? Was the bicyclist wearing dark clothes?

It’s easier to deflect blame than to accept that cars are dangerous and drastic measures are needed to improve safety.

Motorist mows down group of bicyclists in Italy

Early Sunday morning, a speeding automobile plowed through a group of bicyclists in Italy while passing another automobile – killing 8 of the bicyclists, and injuring another 4.

A CBC article stated matter-of-factly that police allege the driver had been smoking marijuana.

Instead of talking about the danger posed by automobiles and trying to find solutions to the core issue – the fact that automobiles inflict death on innocent humans – the comments in the article focused on the marijuana, wrongly assuming that the fatal collision was caused by marijuana.

The man who killed the bicyclists had his license revoked six months ago for dangerous driving. Yet people seem to focus on the marijuana as the root cause.

Speeding, careless driving, sense of entitlement, poor road design, and lack of enforcement are all root causes of collisions that inflict casualties on humans at the helm of automobiles.

Blaming marijuana on the death of these 8 people is just another excuse.

If a city devoid of automobiles had a million bicyclists riding around – all high on marijuana, do you think there would be mass carnage? Hardly.

Marijuana is not the issue. Helmets are not the issue. They are just excuses to defend a sense of entitlement and to avoid changes to actually improve safety on our streets. Even the New York Times piece covering this tragedy calls it an “accident”.

No such thing as an accident

There is no such thing as an accident when it comes to automobile collisions – and to imply this is an “accident” is naive at best, wilfully deceiving at worst. There is only carelessness or negligence and human error.

Human error in an automobile often has fatal consequences. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the great responsibility they have while driving – as can be evidenced by the careless driving that we all see every single day in our cities.

Changes to improve safety is often met with strong resistance. Drivers will do anything to fight against traffic-calming measures that might slow them down. They feel threatened by the possibility of adding proper infrastructure for bicycles because they feel it will increase congestion.

To make matters worse, motorists often get a free pass from the media when they are involved in fatal collisions. If it’s not the victim’s fault, it must be the weather – or the marijuana.

Exercise caution when overtaking a bicyclist

The other week I had a friend tell me she gets really nervous when she drives past cyclists in the city. She is afraid to pass them because there is such little space, and she fears she will hit them.

Well, that is certainly a sign that she’s probably driving too close to the bicyclist, instead of slowing down and safely merging over to safely pass the bicyclist.

In our car-centric society, motorists feel they have a right to continue full-steam ahead without letting a petty cyclist slow them down. She certainly didn’t want to injure or kill a bicyclist, but she very well could have.

If the bicyclist swerved to avoid a pothole, and she ended up hitting and killing him, the media probably would have reassured her that it wasn’t her fault. “Accidents” happen, they will tell you.

That is not a world I want my kids to grow up in.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ jamesmallon

    I agree completely. Living in Tokyo at the moment, so I looked up traffic fatalities here: about half for drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. Bear in mind that many Japanese streets have no sidewalks, and virtually none have bikelanes. I’d say each road has three times the traffic on average as Canada. How do they keep the carnage down? Easy. There are no ‘accidents’: hitting someone makes you deeply financially liable, and the burden is on whoever drove the heavier vehicle. ‘Mitigating factors’ count for little. More at my blog: http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/2010/11/put-that-between-your-legs.html

  • Kam

    Come along Jim. It’s nice that you put in the effort to highlight the issues. But don’t twist your friend’s words to make a point that was never there. She says she’s afraid when passing cyclists. I’d rather more drivers were as careful. Saying she wouldn’t want to hurt/kill the cyclist “but she very well could have” – is like saying a cyclist wouldn’t want to lay down in front of an approaching car, “but very well could”.

    The argument that there’s no such thing as an accident is a particular favourite of mine. I firmly believe in it. Even to the point that i can argue that all pedestrian fatalities are ultimately avoidable: As a pedestrian I should be aware of my fragile nature, and always always always be extra cautious about incompetent drivers before venturing out on the street. As a pedestrian I hold no one else responsible for my own safety. Because as a driver I know how tilted the odds are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Kam, the point I was trying to make is that some drivers feel it is acceptable in our society to pass a cyclist with mere inches in between the automobile and the bicyclist. Instead of feeling “nervous” and passing a bicyclist closely, I’m proposing that the driver (my anonymous friend) slows down and safely merges partially into the next lane to provide some space in between the deadly automobile and the bicyclist.

    This is one of the most commonly cited reasons that people don’t feel comfortable on a bicycle in our city – because drivers pass too closely.

    Several U.S. states have implemented a 3-foot passing law, and an MPP has proposed this law here in Ontario.

    If nothing else, the 3-foot passing law would help make it socially unacceptable to pass a bicyclist too closely.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ jamesmallon

    Kam, stop trolling. Unless you drive with your eyes closed (which in Ontario is not unlikely) you can see that drivers make more errors than cyclists and pedestrians. That is by the nature of the recumbent seating, and how little enforcement we have. Even if that is untrue, and it isn’t, the burden of care is on the more dangerous vehicle: how many people die under a bicycle, or a pair of shoes? Don’t forget that safer driving also makes drivers safer, even if you scorn the rest of us.

  • Kam

    Are you going to trust your life to the “burden of care” being on the more dangerous vehicle? Does this imply that since a cyclist or pedestrian poses no danger to a vehicle – they have no “burden of care?” LOL. So I can step out into the street whenever I want because the burden of care is on all those heavy vehicles can I? (Come to think of it, that’s exactly how I see many pedestrians behave downtown – whether I’m in my car, or in a street-car or walking.) No thank you. When I’m on the street I look out for myself. I don’t feel entitled to the care of the strangers around me. I was taught to “Stop Look Listen and Think” – no matter what my mode of road usage might be at the time. I’m not arguing that vehicles are not dangerous. I accept that they are, and I take responsible action to be safe, and remove myself from harm’s way.

  • jamesmallon

    Well then Kam, by your logic, we should never put any murderers or rapists in jail, but the entire population should just keep out of their way.

  • Kam

    @jamesmallon

    Sir, at least I am applying some logic. Your last remark shows that you either can’t or won’t. To carry your “burden of care” case further, are you now saying that the burden of care lies with the more dangerous murderers and rapists? Please explain the line of thinking that takes you from a discussion about road users to murderers and rapists.

    I think Jim uses this platform to make some very interesting observations about transport policy and life in our cities. It’s because I don’t agree with everything he says – just some of it – that I find it interesting. Why derail a valuable discussion?

  • jamesmallon

    Sigh… My final comment. If you can read you can see I did not accuse you of poor logic, but poor precepts. Goodbye.

  • Kam

    I really don’t know why, but we just don’t seem to be understanding each other at all. I think we need a mediator :) Anyway nice talking to ya.

  • Kam

    A quick word on one of Jim’s follow up points – re the 3 foot rule. I’ve seen a lot of these Safety Wings on the roads in the UK. It’s like the physical embodient of the 3-foot rule. I’m curious what cyclists think of this sort of thing? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Y61hSfp6Mc

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Kam, I must admit that I love these safety wings. I sometimes ride my bike with a child chariot attached to it, and it’s amazing how careful drivers are when I have the chariot compared to when I don’t.

    If these safety wings provide education to drivers to give us more space – resulting in more safety, then I’m all for it.

  • Anonymous

    “To make matters worse, motorists often get a free pass from the media when they are involved in fatal collisions. “

    I would amend this statement to read ‘SOBER motorists…’. The media and the laws have been increasingly tough on drinking and driving, and rightly so. Drivers should also be prosecuted if they are high or using handheld devices while driving. I don’t even think the GPS screens in cars are a good idea.

    As for the lady who is afraid to drive near cyclists – best thing is to just follow him at a distance while looking for an opportunity to pass. If she has to go partly into the other lane to pass the cyclist, so be it. That’s what I do when I am driving. (I seem to be the only person on these boards that both drives and cycles) As it is, driving in the downtown core requires very frequent lane changing anyway.

  • Kam

    re “partly into the other lane to pass the cyclist” … no no no.. go all the way. Cyclists are supposed to use the whole lane anyway – and probably would if we didn’t only “partly” change lanes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Kam, I wish it was that easy (that we could always take the lane). But in reality, I only feel safe taking the lane in specific scenarios.

    The HTA states that a bicyclist must move as far right as safely possible. This means that we are entitled to take the lane if it isn’t safe to allow both a cyclist and a car in the lane.

    That is all in theory. In practice, most streets I ride on have parked cars (except at rush hour). So I will ride between the parked cars and the moving cars. Taking the lane in this situation isn’t necessary. At rush hour, drivers are very impatient and I feel more at risk when I take the full right lane. Drivers get very angry. Even if it is my right, I don’t want to get run down.

    So I usually ride far enough from the curb that I have room to maneuver, but without taking the entire lane.

  • Kam

    Jim your explanation is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I described “taking responsible action” for my own safety – including keeping “myself out of harm’s way.”

    To say the least, it is a disgrace that drivers are such arses at rush hour. (If it’s any consolation they get very angry at each other too – not just you ;) )

    As for the HTA I think it’s a shame that it asks you to move to the right of the lane, whereas it asks other vehicles to move to the right lane… a subtle turn of phrase which leaves you at the sharp end of the stick.

    But you can only turn to the law as a shield *after* an accident. It won’t do anything to protect you *during* a collision – and there’s every chance it might not help you after the fact either. But you know that, so you take appropriate measures.

    Your posts keep reminding me of the long-neglected retired his’n'hers Canondales in our garage…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Kam, I think next spring would be a good time to revive the Canondales ;)

  • asdf

    Cars CAUSE death? You’re idiots…

  • asdf

    Cars CAUSE death? You’re idiots…

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