Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Law of the Jungle

My mom's in town and the weather outside is frightful. So, after my ride in the cold and rain and dark this evening, we briefly discussed the safety of riding in that stuff. I contend that it can actually be safer, in terms of traffic, to ride when it's awful out because drivers are more alert and cautious.

That's not to say that drivers are driving well, just not as badly because things are different. They're forced to acknowledge the change. Anyway, mom totally gets it, which is good because with my hours on the bike I need family buy in.

Here's my point, though, and that is this concept or paradox that it can be safer to cycle when it's dangerous.

1) In bad weather, drivers are actually paying attention
2) In heavy traffic, cars move slower
3) Riding in the middle of the lane, cars have to move around rather than brush past you

In an obnoxious debate with my sister recently, this idea came up. That what seems dangerous can actually be safer. For example, sometimes I'll ride erratically, swerving and veering a little, just so that the cars behind me know not to get too close. From the motorist's perspective I'm behaving dangerously because they believe anything unpredictable is dangerous.

But that's just it! Being unpredictable forces others to pay attention. That's why so many car crashes happen close to home, because motorists think they know what to expect. When motorists don't know what to expect, when some crazy cyclist is out on the roads where and when he shouldn't be, he's noticed--he's safer.

Dr. Thompson's psychotic behavior was the aberration, even if his attitude wasn't. Motorists don't typically collide with cyclists from spite as much as inattention. That's how Lauren and I were hit in 2008--the driver wasn't paying any attention.

PSAs, safe passing legislation, bright colors, these are all very helpful. Sometimes, though, I like to spice it up with a little brake-check in the rain.