Dear driver who almost killed me: I’m a person, too.
Dear driver who almost killed me: I’m a person, too.
I know that, subconsciously, I didn’t seem like a person at the time. I was a spandex-clad obstacle in your way on a two-lane ribbon of undulating asphalt. I was a disruption in the speed and direction of your three-ton missile of masculinity. I was, paradoxically, another in a series of threats in an environment that is increasingly perceived as dangerous.
How Deadly Decisions Are Made
As you’re hurtling down the road at 60mph, there are more things going on than you can consciously pay attention to. You have to watch the road surface, predict the actions of other traffic, navigate, monitor your gauges and the feel of your vehicle for anomalies, and a dozen other tasks. You’re also listening to the radio and thinking about what will happen at your destination. I can only hope that you’re doing all of this sober, and not trying to text somebody on top of it all.
You’ve done it enough times that all this seems normal, but driving is a high-stress situation, and that lowers the threshold for rash decisions, like nearly murdering a cyclist. In the moment that you mashed the gas and almost clipped me with your mirror, forcing me off the pavement and into the gravel and grass of the narrow, sloping shoulder, I wasn’t a person to you. In the only part of your mind available for use, I was a sub-species; an “other” that didn’t belong to your tribe, threatened your identity, and was also incapable of retaliation.
That last part’s about to change, but more on that in a moment.
There is a type of bidirectional anonymity that gave you the subconscious green light for attempted vehicular manslaughter. Inside your glass and steel cage, your identity is masked, and your ability to communicate is reduced to the crude tools of a horn, some lights, and a dangerous type of body language. You approached me from behind, so you couldn’t see my face. When people don’t look at each other, it’s much easier to vilify each other. (As evidence, I present every comment section on the internet.)
The Forgotten Sanctity of Human Life
But there’s something you need to realize. More than that, you need to meditate on it, chew on it, and make it a part of your being so deep that your instinctive reaction to me on the road next time will be human compassion and deference, instead of callous indifference and aggression.
I’m a person. Just like you. Well, maybe not just like you; while I drive my car every single day, you probably haven’t ridden a bike in decades. But I pay the same taxes as you, have people who depend on me for love and support, and keep a bucket list of places I’d like to see and things I’d like to do, just like you do. If we met at a restaurant over a beer, you might even like me. I’d try to overlook your unfortunate taste in music.
The common thread running through all of the violence, chaos, and disorder we see on the news every day is that we’ve forgotten this reality. There are too damn many of us to really get to know each other, and we’re all under an incredible amount of stress, so we resort to labels. We lump people into buckets according to their political ideology or party affiliation, sexual preference, or their views on guns, religion, or scientific theory and practice. Once we have applied the label, it’s far easier to make decisions: if somebody’s labels are the same as mine, great! If not, they’re the enemy, a threat to our tribe, and maybe it’d be better if they were eliminated.
We aren’t going to fix our problems as a society until we decide to strike at root causes. In short, we have to change hearts and minds, and the most important change is to remind everyone, at all times and in all situations, that human life is sacred, and that all of it is equally valuable. Even if it has different ideas on healthcare than you, and happens to be pedaling a bicycle on the road you take home from work.
You Won’t Get Away with It Anymore
Enough of the analysis; we need a solution. It’s unlikely (and probably unsafe) for me to pull you over, after you almost killed me, to have a calm and nuanced discussion about the situation. But in any circumstance in which there is a vast power disparity, the playing field is evened by either a tactical or technological advantage. So smile! Because you’re on camera.
After a good friend of mine was hit by a red Toyota and left for dead in a ditch a few years ago, a bunch of us decided to buy cameras to mount to our bikes. I just bought a new set, and they capture crystal-clear, stabilized 1080p video at 60fps, recorded to a 32GB microSD card, and linked via Bluetooth to my phone. I also run an app from RoadID that streams my location to my emergency contacts, and notifies them if I unexpectedly stop. This is the type of fitness tech that even the Unplugged guys would approve.
Every time I put a skinny tire on pavement now, I’m recording. Every driver that passes me is captured in vivid, brilliant detail, from front and rear, and timestamped. There are dozens of us in my area running similar setups, and hundreds more in larger cities.
We’re tired of being killed, or almost being killed, and so we’re lobbying for safe passing laws. In 29 states (including my home state of Ohio), passing a cyclist with less than three feet of clearance is now a prosecutable misdemeanor. We’re also working to establish relationships with local law enforcement, and documenting dangerous drivers on the Close Call Database. We’ve all got good lawyers too, because we ride with half of them. Cycling is the new golf, in case you hadn’t heard.
If all of this sounds threatening, good. It should be cause to stop and evaluate your behavior. And before you bluster that we need to just “get off the road,” you should know two things. First, roads were not built for cars. Second, bicycles are classified as road-going vehicles in every state, and in most municipalities, it’s actually against the law to ride on the sidewalk.
You may not be able to help falling into the state of mind that allows you to take a stranger’s life in your hands, but I encourage you to work on it. If you don’t, there is an increasing chance that the next time you decide to “teach those @#%$ bikers a lesson,” you’ll become famous, and not in a way you ever wanted to.