Most discussions about bicycles on the roads revolve around their interactions with cars. Cars are the dominant and most abundant vehicles on the roads, and bicycles are the most vulnerable and least prevalent vehicles on the roads. So, naturally, given that the two are diametrically opposed, and must share the roads, the conversation revolves around this “David versus Goliath” battle.
Actually, it should never have been a battle. In modern times, most first world countries have come to value cooperation and peace over conflict and war. This is not to say that we have eradicated war. Far from it. War is as much a part of everyday life as it was several thousand years ago. The main difference is that first world countries don’t fight wars on their on territory. They fight in foreign lands in the name of some political issue.
While cooperation has come to be the ideal, it is generally not practiced. Just like the first world countries who fight in foreign lands, on principle and out of self-interest, motor vehicle drivers “fight” against invaders on their turf; these invaders are bicyclists.
Fair enough. All species practice self-preservation as an instinctive behavior. This includes protecting their turf. But, some species evolve to the point where they understand the benefits of cooperation. They deliberately allow “invaders” to coexist on their turf.
As far as bicycles go, they are not the first invaders who took exclusive road use away from cars. Motorcycles came first.
Motorcycles have been in use since the latter half of the 19th century. In the Western world, they have been used primarily for utility — as in military use — or for recreation. In other parts of the world, they have been and still are used as inexpensive transportation. So, their prevalence is higher in other countries than here in the U.S.
Still, motorcycles have been ridden on the roads since the early 20th century. Perhaps this became more commonplace from the 1960’s onward. Prior to that, cars were a symbol of the American dream and probably kept all but the young, who used motorcycles for the thrill of adventure, from riding them for transportation.
Even today, motorcycles vastly outnumber bicycles in most areas of the U.S. This is probably true in most parts of the world, with the exception of places like The Netherlands, where cycling is the norm.
Within the last few decades, increasing numbers of bicycles have wandered onto the roads. Most cyclist fear encounters with cars. Their sheer size can be intimidating. Whereas other motor vehicles, such as motorcycles are closer in size to bicycles. This reduces most cyclists’ fear of interacting with them. But should it?
A quick search on the subject shows that in most cases where a bicycle gets struck by a motorcycle, both riders are injured. Sometimes the injuries are extremely serious as in the case of a 13-year-old Cleveland boy who lost his leg when he was hit by a motorcycle. He was the lucky one. The motorcyclist died in the crash because he was hurled under an oncoming car.
Crashes of this type are not unique to the U.S. In Canada, a similar crashes have occurred, again resulting in both riders suffering serious injuries. Last summer an incident of this type was reported by CTV News.
“An investigation found a southbound Harley Davidson motorcycle collided with a bicycle, causing both riders to be ejected. The 61-year-old Pert East man on the motorcycle and the 26-year-old Stratford male on the bicycle both suffered major injuries and were transported to hospital.”
The motorcycle riders in these accidents are generally younger people. In this case, the rider was 61 years old. Riding a motorcycle requires a number of things, not the least of which is good reflexes. Perhaps, the risk of a crash goes up once one passes the age of 50, when reflexes decline significantly from what they were in one’s youth.
As it is, according to statistics compiled by the United States Department of Transportation for passenger cars, there are 18.62 fatal crashes per 100,000 registered vehicles. For motorcycles, there are 75.19 per 100,000 registered vehicles – four times higher than for cars. “The same data shows that 1.56 fatalities occur per 100 million vehicle miles travelled for passenger cars, whereas for motorcycles the figure is 43.47 which is 28 times higher than for cars (37 times more deaths per mile travelled in 2007). Furthermore for motorcycles the accident rates have increased significantly since the end of the 1990s, while the rates have dropped for passenger cars.” [Wikipedia]
With respect to motorcycles versus bicycles, there are further issues to consider. If a bicycle and car collide, the driver of the car is unlikely to suffer injuries. The same cannot be said when a motorcycle and a bicycle collide. In these cases, the motorcycle rider will be injured most, if not all of the time.
This is another reason why bicyclists should obey the traffic laws. Failing to do so is not only a hazard to pedestrians and other cyclists, both of whom can get seriously hurt if struck by a bicycle, but it is also hazardous to motorcyclists.
Take, for example, an incident which happened recently in Honolulu, Hawaii. “A a 34-year-old man on a motorcycle suffered critical injuries when he struck a bicycle crossing an intersection against a red light. Neither man was wearing a helmet. Both men were thrown from their bikes. They were rushed to Queen’s Medical Center in critical condition.”
In this case, the bicyclist illegally ran the red light. Had he not done this, the motorcyclist would not have been critically injured.
Many cyclists do not understand what it is like to ride a motorcycle. Sudden, unexpected braking or maneuvers to avoid an obstacle can cause the motorcyclist to lose control of the motorcycle. This inevitably leads to a crash.
Sometimes a motorcyclist can walk away from a crash with relatively minor injures. But, this it not usually the case when the motorcycle hits something. Crashing with an object changes the trajectory of the motorcycle, and the rider is often thrown off of the motorcycle in this situation.
There are still holdouts in the bicycling community who advocate for separate rules for bicyclists. They do not want to follow the same rules as cars, particularly when it comes to stopping at red lights and stop signs.
If no other vehicles are around, such as in the middle of the night, there is no harm in a bicycle going through a stop sign. However, in traffic, the belief that a cyclist is only risking his or her own life by running a red light or a stop sign is fallacious. Sometimes, that cyclist is risking the life of a motorcyclist, who cannot react fast enough to the cyclist’s illegal actions.
We must remain cognizant of these things if bicycles are ever to become mainstream. Bicycles must fit into the landscape of the road, not refuse to comply on the grounds that a bicycle can’t harm anyone. Bicycles, ridden irresponsibly, can injure other road users. Therefore, we must advocate for riding bicycles as if they were motor vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers have.