By Russ Hymas and Ken Christensen – For decades, cyclists have been subject to aggressive behavior by motorists. They cut us off, throw water bottles or other garbage at us as they speed by, yell obscenities, and mistake the “3-foot rule” for a 3-inch rule. Many cyclists have felt vindicated by recent technological advances (such as GoPro’s and social media) which provide concrete support to – and easy dissemination of – these types of incidents. And rightfully so! However, it’s also important for us to look in the mirror on occasion and ask ourselves whether we’re being good ambassadors of the cycling community in this ongoing debate.
As bicycle accident attorneys, we advocate for cyclists in the courtroom, at seminars, and in media interviews. But we lose credibility by taking a “pro-cyclist” stance in situations where a cyclist has blatantly disregarded the law. A couple of years ago, we were thrilled when a KSL reporter asked us to be interviewed for a cycling story. The thrill turned to frustration, though, when we learned that the crux of the investigative piece revolved around video footage of multiple cyclists speeding down Emigration Canyon, blazing past school buses with flashing red lights.
Acknowledgement of our contributions to the animosity that often exists between cyclists and motorists is crucial to achieving mutual respect on the road. Take a moment to reflect on some common violations of the rules of the road:
- Do I stop at red lights and stop signs, or roll right through them? A primary complaint of motorists and pedestrians involves some variation of a collision or near-miss with a cyclist that ignored traffic signals and blew through an intersection. Remember, though, that a recent change in the law does allow a cyclist to proceed through a red light – assuming it’s safe to do so – after waiting 90 seconds.
- Do I ride more than two abreast (or single file, where traffic may be impeded)? One of organizers of the popular LoToJa race recently lamented receiving repeated complaints from locals about cyclists training for the race during the summer months. The cyclists were climbing Strawberry Canyon and riding three, four, and even five abreast, preventing frustrated motorists from passing.
- Do I swarm or mushroom out at a stop light on group rides? The diagram shows another illegal, but fairly common, practice of group riders, bunching up at a stop light and impeding the path of the car behind them attempting to make a right-hand turn.
- Do I consistently use hand signals when stopping or turning? We all get frustrated with motorists who don’t signal their intention to turn, but our own failure to do the same can limit a driver’s reaction time.
- Am I guilty of other violations that could be an irritant to motorists or a danger to pedestrians or myself?
Many can answer the above questions appropriately, but the cyclists that are truly changing motorists’ attitudes are those that are going the proverbial extra mile. Cyclists are wisely concerned about documenting poor motorist behavior with a GoPro … are we as conscientious about acknowledging courteous motorist actions with a wave to the driver?
There are many ways we can curry favor with the non-cycling community. Last summer, a local cyclist took an afternoon ride in 101-degree heat. As he passed a parked car, he thought he heard a baby crying. The cyclist turned around and returned to the parked car, only to find a baby that had been left in the hot sun. He knocked on the door of the nearest home and located the baby’s parents, who were mortified to learn of what would have been a fatal mistake were it not for the actions of a cyclist that had paid attention to his surroundings.
As cyclists, we are always looking for ways to log a few “extra miles” in the saddle. Let’s be equally assertive in looking for ways to go the “extra mile” by doing our part to mend relationships with the motorists with whom we share the road.
Ken Christensen and Russ Hymas are avid cyclists and Utah attorneys at UtahBicycleLawyers.com. Their legal practice is devoted to helping cyclists injured in collisions with motor vehicles. They are authors of the Utah Bicycle Accident Handbook and are nationally recognized legal experts on cycling laws and safety.