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John Demas
John Demas
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Drivers v. Bicyclists. Are we friends?

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We’ve all seen the signs telling us to “Share the Road.” It’s a good theory and a great sentiment, but given the number of bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents in the news, it seems it’s not all that simple to put into practice.

I believe that most drivers sincerely want to share the road. But a recent item in the news about a biking fatality gave me pause.

A Pennsylvania man had completed a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York on his recumbent bicycle. He was on his way back to his home near Phoenix when he was hit from behind by a pickup truck.

What struck me was not just the tragedy, but some of the 138 comments posted on the TV news website. I’d stumbled upon a niche of road rage that I’d never imagined existed. The remarks started out with insensitivity and devolved into nastiness and name-calling – though rest assured there were many expressions of sympathy for both the victim and the driver of the truck.

The very first comment asked, “Can you idiot cyclists explain to me again why it is a good idea to ride on the roads and not expect to be hit by a car?” The next post answered, “Because it is because of idiots like you who don't watch where you are going!”

These were not the worst comments by far.

A poster from Sacramento gave one of the calmer and more sensible opinions: “Yes, cyclists do have a right to the roads as they are considered a vehicle, but they do have the responsibility to follow the rules of the road and to be predictable.”

It seemed that frustration over the small delay of driving behind bicyclists bubbles over into intense resentment for some people. Comments on a website are one thing, but I suspect that anger is often expressed in aggressive driving. Several comments on the news article indicated that there is resentment on the part of cyclists as well.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests that we are getting better at sharing the road, although perhaps not dramatically so. The number of cyclist fatalities (that includes tricycles and other pedal-powered vehicles) in 2008 was 6 percent lower than the 760 fatalities reported in 1998. By way of historical comparison, the highest number of cyclist fatalities ever recorded was 1,003 in 1975. In 1932, the first year these fatalities were recorded, 350 cyclists were killed.

Both motorists and cyclists must travel with a sense of cooperation and mutual respect. That includes avoiding those feelings of road rage at the slight inconvenience they might pose to each other, and replacing them with tolerance.

And while bicycle riders absolutely must make the effort to learn safe practices, such as the ones in this NHTSA brochure, drivers of motor vehicles would do well to read these biking rules of the road and see things from a bicyclist’s point of view. The California Bicycle Coalition, based in Sacramento, also links to information and courses to teach bike safety.

We all should be aware and considerate of one another on the roadways. When I’ve ridden a bike on the road, this was my strategy: Expect hazards from automobiles and be extremely cautious. And when driving my car, bicycles are one of the things I worry about most. I know that I don’t see them often enough to be expecting them. So here’s my friendly-motorist strategy: Expect a bicycle around every curve.