Thursday, February 21, 2013

Do Drivers Hate Bicyclists?

MinnPost's Susan Perry writes great stories, generally on health research, but her posts get very few comments compared to many others on the site. I'm not sure why.

Well, her recent article about why motorists dislike bicyclists seems to have broken the comment record at MinnPost; it's up to 62 and counting.

The story is a summary of an article by British evolutionary psychologist Tom Stafford, who hypothesizes that drivers see cyclists as (literal) free riders who offend the moral order. He's not saying the drivers are right, mind you, just trying to understand the odd behaviors that happen.

I've known dozens of bicyclists who say that, while just riding along, obeying the law, they were run off the road by cars, or had drivers curse them out just for being there. Drivers yell at them to ride on the sidewalk, which is illegal. It makes no sense, so I find Stafford's explanation intriguing.

The comments are worth reading as well. One choice quote:

Chuck Holtman: On the road or on the internet, I've never noted that motorist anger is directed in a differentiated way toward specific bicyclists that are flouting the rules of the road. I've heard vast numbers of stories of road rage directed toward bicyclists doing nothing but riding along the shoulder.
Many people carry a lot of anger and resentment inside them. It's an inherent part of the existential condition. The healthy manage it, but our present economic & political society does a very good job of cultivating and desublimating it. The car has proven to be a nice, protected place to give vent to one's anger and resentment. A bicyclist is vulnerable and unlikely to be armed, and also simplistically fits the appropriate political/lifestyle stereotype toward which folks are told to direct their anger and resentment. Voila.
One of the key things raised by drivers is the fact that cyclists frequently go through stop signs after slowing down, rather than stopping, and go through red lights after stopping once traffic has cleared. I agree that this is a reasonable thing for cyclists to do, but one cyclist-commenter synthesized my reasoning for it in a really great way:
Chris Farmer-Lies: Cyclists break the law in the same way that everyone else does: at the intersection of convenience, payoff, low probability of harm to oneself or others, and minimal risk of being caught. Running a stop sign on a bike maximizes the first two and minimizes the latter.
I was also struck by how many car-driving commenters used the word "dart" to describe the behavior of bicyclists. I don't know what to do with that observation, but I think it indicates something.

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