Cyclists and Car Drivers Must Share Responsibilities As Well As The Road

If infrastructure and cultural improvements are to be made to better bike riding, it must come with more responsibilities.

In recent years, the upsurge of people using bicycles not as a recreational vehicle, but as an actual means of transportation, has led to a massive cultural clash.  Due to the way this country's infrastructure developed over the last six decades, bicyclists have been forced into a situation where they must share the road with car drivers.  Bicyclists hate it rightly because there are few dedicated lanes, and car drivers have a greater potential of killing them.  Drivers hate it rightly because they do not know how to deal with bicyclists, and changes made to cater to bicyclists often result in the loss of parking spaces as well as a possible increase in traffic congestion.  When the state of Georgia attempted to require bicyclists to register their vehicle, in order to perhaps give them more legitimacy, bicyclists complained loudly, and they withdrew.  There is a way to deal with this, but it means both drivers and cyclists have to take on more responsibility in sharing the road, even if it means forcing these responsibilities on children as well.

To give you some context on where I stand:  I am primarily a pedestrian, a person who walks everywhere and uses public transit.  Up until soon, I have never ridden, nor have I completely learned how to ride a bicycle.  I learned how to drive a car and have a license, but I can count the number of times I have actually driven since then on two hands since first receiving my license nearly 10 years ago, and the last few times I managed to hit something (a van mirror, a bike, etc.).  I have been nearly hit by a few cars due to a flagrant disregard of the pedestrian crosswalk and have been hit once by a bicyclist while stepping off a bus.  I am relatively neutral to the debate.

The problem with bicycling in this country is not just a matter of personal bias, which is inherently applicable to both drivers and bicyclists, but also a matter of understanding, or rather the lack of it.  Traffic laws are incredibly inconsistent and vague when it comes to riding a bicycle, both on the road and on sidewalks.  The only cycling law that has any form of universal support is requiring helmets for children, and even then, only 21 states in the United States have statewide laws, while 13 have no laws whatsoever regarding helmet use.  After that, any thing regarding how a bicyclist rides on the road, from distance between vehicles to passing rules to legal left turns, is completely left up in the air.

Enforcement of these laws are even more inconsistent:  Either cops are too biased in ticketing bicyclists running red lights and other traffic violations, or they are nowhere near when a bicyclist actually does run a red light and disrupts traffic.  Because of both the lack of clear laws and an uneven enforcement, both bicyclists and car drivers are angry and feel that the other side is getting a better shake than they are.

The solution has to come with clarity.  State traffic laws need a standard set of rules on bicyclists, period.  That includes adding and changing traffic laws so that there is a clear understanding of what motorists can and cannot do around bicyclists, and what bicyclists can and cannot do on the road and on the sidewalk.  Law enforcement must equally be trained to properly enforce these rules.  Finally drivers should be held completely accountable for any accident or law breaking they cause against bicyclists.

These bicycle traffic laws must come from bicyclists themselves, and they need to do it.  Bicyclists need to stop speaking and acting out in isolation, and actually work with car-driving organizations such as AAA so that everyone can get what they want.  Important infrastructure developments such as dedicated bike lanes, special traffic signals, and others will continue face heavy opposition from drivers and others in cities and towns if bicyclists do not try to reach out to drivers, and if there are no new rules and responsibilities to go with these improvements.

This is not to say that bicyclists should be treated as equals to car drivers on the road.  That would be impossible to do, simply because of the nature of each vehicle.  Rather, the resulting laws should be like those of motorcyclists and commercial truck drivers:  They, too, share the road with car drivers, and follow most of the same rules of the road, but they also have specific rules that cater and accommodate their situation.  Bicyclists should seek the same thing.  If that includes bicycle registration, mandatory helmet use on all riders (with a possible exemption for users of bike-share programs), and maybe some testing, so be it.

Some will immediately question "What about the children?"  Young riders should just be treated the same, with only different punishments for violating traffic laws because of their age.  People should stop treating children like a completely separate class of human that has to be coddled and shielded from everything, because it ruins actually meaningful debates such as this one.  The country has laws against children committing crimes, and juvenile prisons are used when they commit those crimes.   It is perfectly reasonable for them to be punished for violating traffic laws.  Furthermore, by learning these laws while young, children will be able to become better bicyclists when they grow up.

To do something as important as this will require a lot of willpower and sacrificing pride on this front, which is not something either car drivers or bicyclists have at the moment.  But not everyone either camp is a Republican in the House of Representatives right now.  Finding common ground on this and sharing responsibility as well as the road will be the one of the few ways bicyclists and car drivers can at least be at peace with one another on the road.

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