Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Entitled and helpless...

Bill Bean of Take the Lane linked to this diatribe against winter cycling. Leaving aside the mistakes the writer makes about the highway traffic act, the rant against winter cyclists displays the combination of entitlement and helplessness often seen in the excuses abusers come up with.

The letter at issue contains this revealing passage:

If they fall they deserve what they get for being stupid -- and no helmet is going to save them -- but how about the poor driver who runs over them? The driver is going to feel guilty when they shouldn't -- not to mention being made late for wherever they were going.

I have written before about the lack of responsibility in automotive culture, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me when a driver has no sense of their obligation to drive prudently. Driving prudently includes leaving sufficient room to stop when any vehicle ahead of them, whether a bicycle, scooter, hummer or semi-trailer, stops suddenly for any reason. The above quote shows a blended sense of entitlement, of having the right to operate a two-ton steel bomb in public with no obligation to do it safely, and helplessness; drivers do not only have the right to operate recklessly, they have no choice but to do so. Drivers have a choice. They don't have to drive recklessly, they don't have to drive impaired, they don't have to drive in cars, or on days, in which their ability to stop safely comes into question. Drivers who make these excuses deserve the same answer we give to abusers: no, you had a choice. "She" didn't "make you mad", you chose to let yourself get angry, and you chose to express your anger with abuse. Adults in this society have an obligation to control themselves, and that applies to the way they behave in control of a road vehicle. No driver has to run over a cyclist, least of all a cyclist that has fallen in front of them. They can leave more space, they can slow down, and if they really doubt themselves or their cars, they can leave the car in the garage and take the bus.

Going back to an article I discussed before, from the January 26 "Wheels" section of the Toronto Star and other papers, I noticed this interesting argument:

...if radar is supposed to be a traffic safety measure, why would they run it on a bright sunny Saturday morning, on a three-lanes-each-way bridge, [the Bloor Street Viaduct] with excellent visibility in all directions, without a single intersection, store, home, school or in fact much human activity at all?

This context, too, links the excuses offered for irresponsible and dangerous driving, and those offered for various forms of abuse. Abusers have an agenda, and often the excuses they offer provide a clue to that agenda. Consider: the author of the article in "Wheels" justifies speeding on the grounds that the Bloor Street Viaduct, one of the major links between East and Central Toronto, has "no human activity". Well, except a subway station at each end, and sidewalks, which speeding cars will make more dangerous and less pleasant to use. In other words, this argument calls for two things: the restriction of large areas of public space to cars and drivers, and also the right of drivers to behave in ways that informally, or illegally, enforce this restriction. Things like speeding, which both ignores and discourages those pesky pedestrians and cyclists. Or to take things that revealing little bit further, as the author or that letter to the Waterloo Record does, driving recklessly and actually running people over.

Abusive drivers have a choice. But so do the rest of us, and the rest of us include pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers who take their responsibilities seriously. We can accept this kind of attitude from reckless and abusive drivers, and we can accept the actions this attitude promotes, or we can say no to it.


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