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Why are drivers so angry at cyclists?

Originally published Friday, January 10, 2014

The Seattle Times: Why are drivers so angry at cyclists?

Where does the animosity some drivers have for cyclists come from? writes guest columnist Joe Sullivan.

By Joe Sullivan

Special to The Times

AS the Seattle City Council considers adopting a new Bicycle Master Plan, I wonder if better bicycle infrastructure will inflame the antipathy some motorists already have for cyclists.

Cyclists know what I am talking about. It is common for people to honk, yell, swear or flip me off when I am riding my bike. Never mind that I am riding in a perfectly safe and legal manner.

Where does this animosity come from? Why do people choose to get angry at bicyclists and not at, say, the weather?

I have heard people say that they don’t like bicycles on the road because bicyclists flout traffic laws. Bicycles are vehicles and are subject to the same rules of the road as cars.

Cyclists sometimes break the law. When you have a cycling community that includes everyone from children barely able to balance on two wheels to highly skilled professional bike racers, behavior ranges widely.

We need to recognize that car drivers are not exactly saintly either. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 55 percent of drivers exceed the speed limit. The U.S. Highway Patrol in 2013 said that 21 percent of all drivers are cited for speeding each year.

When you account for incomplete stops at stop signs, failure to properly signal a turn and other minor infractions, the complaint that some have about bicyclists are routine for motor vehicles.

There is one difference: More than 6,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed annually in accidents involving cars between 2000 and 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

How many are killed by bicycles? Far fewer. Between 1999 and 2010, 69 pedestrians were killed by cyclists in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To be sure, there are far more drivers than cyclists, but that averages out to 6 deaths per year.

I was recently riding on the wide shoulder of Juanita Woodinville Way in Bothell and I was moving at about the same speed as the cars. When we came to an intersection, the car in front of me decided to take a right-hand turn.

He didn’t signal his turn, and he crossed my lane without yielding. His turn was so sudden, it forced me to do a dangerous panic stop, skidding both tires. I managed to stay upright, but I barely avoided a collision. The driver drove off, apparently oblivious.

The consequence of misbehavior for a 3,000-pound car is far greater than for a 180-pound cyclist on a 25-pound bicycle. As a public-health issue, traffic violations by cars are a serious problem; traffic violations by bicycles are a much smaller issue.

If anyone should be angry, cyclists should be angry at drivers for not driving more carefully.

And while we should all hope that the new Bicycle Master Plan will make Seattle safer and more enjoyable for everyone, I doubt that all motorists will see it that way.

Joe Sullivan is an avid cyclist. He lives in Kirkland.