Paul Andrews

Terrorism? Cyclists don’t need T-word to combat driver animosity

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Bicycling, Obama Bikes on August 20, 2009 at 7:11 am

Are car drivers anti-cycling “terrorists”? SeattleLikesBikes says yes, sometimes:

“Personally, my car was killing me before I started bicycling. The lack of exercise had me on track for a heart attack. I’ve made great strides, from being unable to climb 3 flights of stairs without being out of breath over 5 years ago to bicycling over 900 miles in the last couple months. The irony is that, despite my health gains, with the way some people drive the car may kill me yet.”

BikingBis discusses the horrific hit-and-run-with-dying-cyclist-on-board tragedy in Dallas, where a driver ran over a cyclist and then tossed the stricken victim into the back seat of his car: “The 27-year-old driver crossed the centerline, struck the bicyclist head-on, stopped, dragged him off his car and stuffed him onto the floorboard in the back seat.”

Cyclelicio.us asks if a Minnesota driver who “tried to run over a bicyclist with his pickup truck and then came at the cyclist with an ax” was engaged in terroristic threats, a felony. Good comments queue on Richard’s post.

These and innumerable everyday attacks on cyclists are indeed inhuman, cruel and even murderous. But terrorist? Probably not. The term should be used judiciously for repeated, conspiratorial and planned acts against humanity. The car culture in America may terrorize us cyclists in a general psychological way, but specific acts of violence against cyclists are more appropriately described and dealt with legally: Manslaughter, vehicular homicide, hit-and-run and so on.

The legal arena, in fact, is where there actually is room for expanded description and treatment of acts against cyclists. Legislation does not have to involve incendiary terms like “terrorism,” which takes the discussion into the realm of 9/11 and Oklahoma City, to provide an effective flashpoint of defense for cyclists.

One example: We at BikeIntelligencer believe that cycling should be considered for hate-crime status along with racial-, gender-, and sexual-identity-based aggression. In cases where there is a pattern of action against cycling or cyclists in general, and where perpetrators can be shown to carry severe antipathy toward cyclists just because they are riding a bike, the legal system should reflect a higher degree of prosecution and penalization.

The primary rationale for treating cyclists as a persecuted class would be to address the issue of driver animosity and raise our society’s general consciousness on the discrimination and aggression that cyclists face on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis. David Hiller, advocacy director for Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club, may well be right that drivers who hate cyclists are “people who hate people.” And there are a lot of the latter out there, as evidenced by the whackos waving swastikas and Hitler-moustached images of Obama at Town Hall meetings on health-care reform.

But people who hate people are a big problem for cyclists as well as for America. Passing enhanced legislation, as Hiller and other tireless crusaders for the cause of cycling are working to do, is the most effective means we have to further understanding, and protection, of people who ride bikes.

Most efforts now are focusing on 3-feet-please, legislation to expand the clearance that vehicles give to cyclists, and vehicular assault, laws that permit prosecution of drivers who act carelessly or aggressively toward cyclists. Several states are making strides, and even in cases like Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a 3-feet-please law that had won an excruciatingly hard-fought victory in the state legislature, the seed has been sown. (A state legislator said she will reintroduce legislation after her cycling granddaughter was struck by a car.)

In Washington, vehicular assault and 3-feet-please legislation has been introduced in bills but never made it out of committee. As cycling continues to expand, both in recreational and transportation sectors, we need to continue to draw attention to anti-cycling behavior. Perhaps 2010 will mark the year when cycling makes encouraging inroads in the legislative arena to address the attitudes and hazards we all face on a daily basis.

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