Blaming the victim — some drivers say cyclists are just asking for it

It wasn’t that long ago that a woman was just as likely to be blamed as the man who attacked her.

All too often, a woman would report a sexual assault, only to be asked why she was out that late or what she was doing in a place like that. And if a case overcame the odds and made it to court, a judge or jury might conclude that her short skirt or tight top meant that she was asking for it.

Or if a woman was the victim of domestic violence, she was likely to encounter an attitude that she was the one to blame because she shouldn’t have made her husband or boyfriend that mad to begin with.

Case dismissed.

Fortunately, times have changed. That sort of attitude went out with the onset of the women’s movement, when it slowly dawned on society that a woman had a right to say no or stand up for herself. And that we all need to be held accountable for our own actions, regardless of what anyone else does or doesn’t do.

Except, it seems, when it comes to sharing our streets.

The last socially acceptable vestige of that blame-the-victim attitude is firmly on display whenever the subject turns to bicycling and a riders’ right to the road — and the wisdom of putting our wheels on the asphalt some motorists claim as their exclusive domain.

Consider the L.A. Time’s recent Talk Back L.A. post asking for comments on the proposed anti-harassment ordinance, for instance.

By now, we’ve become accustomed to attitudes like this one that merely express a misguided hatred for anyone who moves on two wheels.

EVERY single person i know hates bicyclists. Your cute little mass protest rides have pissed off a lot of people. Your very existence on busy, clogged streets is an annoyance. Learn to drive or bust a gut-check and pay for gas like the rest of us.

No, the problem comes from those who absolve themselves of any responsibility for their own actions. It’s the cyclists’ fault for being where we shouldn’t be, in the eyes of the outraged and inconvenienced drivers.

ban all bicycles from main roads and their riders won’t get hurt or killed. they can’t keep up with traffic and provide no passenger protection. automobile drivers have enough to worry about when on the road, traffic rules, stop lights, pedestrians and now we have to watch over these cry babies who think they are special, really.

Yes, drivers have enough to worry about without watching out for other traffic on the road. And there’s certainly no need to acknowledge that a car or truck is a dangerous machine and must be operated carefully.

It’s just those two-wheeled crybabies who think they’re special, and insist on using the roads as if the law said they could.

Which it does, of course.

If you ride a bicycle on the street, you’re taking your life in your own hands. Bikes are too slow, too hard to see and take up space in the lane preventing cars from driving around them.

It’s the cyclists, they insist, who are risking their own lives; it’s not the drivers’ responsibility to look for them or pass safely. So if you hit one, it’s really his or her fault, not the fault of the careless, distracted or overly aggressive person behind the wheel.

On a busy 8 lane (8 lane!) street I had a bicyclist pull up in between my truck and another car at the stoplight at one of the busiest intersections in the city like he was on a motorcycle or something. Ridiculous. Just an accident waiting to happen. He perfectly could’ve use the available bike lane and cross walk. But no, he uses a major throughfare as his preferred route of transportation. And guess who’s fault it is when they get hit?

Honestly, the nerve. A cyclist riding on the street like it was a safe, legal and reasonable thing to do. Which it is — or at least, should be.

Then there are others who make the connection more directly.

Rather than a new law, enforce the current laws, laws that bicyclists are supposed to follow. If they drove as they are supposed to drive, harassment would become a non-issue.

From their perspective, drivers are entitled  to harass cyclists because cyclists break the law, or at least they’re not acting unreasonably if they do. Never mind that, despite what some people seem to think, a drivers license does not authorize vigilante enforcement of traffic laws.

I had to hit her, your honor. She made me so mad, I just couldn’t help myself.

Then again, there are some who bend over backwards to blame the victims.

This conviction (of Dr. Christopher Thompson) was total B.S. The doctor DID NOT hit the bicyclists. They ran into the BACK of the doctor’s car. The bicyclist that went thru the car’s back window was going 40 mph at the time. Why was he going so fast? Because he was CHASING the doctor’s car.

Even when a motorist is clearly breaking the law, it’s never the law-breaking driver who’s to blame — as in this heartless comment about the death of cyclist James Laing in Agoura Hills last month.

You have no idea what you are talking about, but that doesn’t stop you from hollering with your righteous indignation.
 Don’t want to get killed? Then stay off the streets, there are PLENTY of parks with bike paths. Insist on your “right” to participate in inherently dangerous behavior, then expect there to be tragedies like this.

No, it couldn’t be the fault of the driver who got behind the wheel after drinking and ran down a cyclist riding on a wide road in a well-marked bike lane. It’s the fault of the cyclist for simply for being on the road.

Or just being born, perhaps.

And it’s not just Los Angeles. And not just anonymous motorists.

A father who tragically lost his daughter in a cycling collision concludes, not that the driver who took his daughter’s life should have been more careful, but that bikes don’t belong on the street.

When are people going to realize bicycles and cars don’t mix? I have had horrible days driving along Highway 1 in Marin County, where the bikers are so thick that they force cars to pass on the opposite side of the road — in many cases on blind curves. We need some strict laws that restrict bicycles to roads specifically designed with bike lanes. How about a registration and helmet requirement to ride on streets and highways? Anything else should be illegal and subject to a citation. How many more people need to die before something is done?

Never mind that the law clearly prohibits passing on blind curves, or that it only takes a few extra seconds to pass safely in most cases.

The fact is, it’s not easy to have a collision.

It requires one or more people violating the law or using the road carelessly; if everyone drove and rode carefully, paying close attention to the traffic and circumstances around them, while observing the law, it would be virtually impossible to have a collision. And wrecks, whether between motor vehicles, bikes, pedestrians or any combination thereof, would become so rare that a simple fender bender would be front page news.

Because most accidents aren’t accidents.

But even the newly elected mayor of Toronto says it’s cyclists’ own fault if they get killed — whether or not they’re riding in a traffic lane.

What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks, and sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. And my heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.

No need for drivers to be careful.

No need to slow down or put down that cell phone, watch the road or take alternative transportation if you’ve been drinking.  It’s not your fault, really.

It’s those darn cyclists who just don’t belong on the road.

They made me do it.

Case dismissed.

.………

In a truly astounding example of a driver refusing to take responsibility for his actions, a convicted drunk driver sues the parents of the bike riding boy he killed for allowing him to ride without a helmet — even though no helmet on earth would protect against a car moving at 83 mph in a 45 mph zone.

.………

And in case you ever wondered just what a harassing driver looks like, they seem to look kind of sheepish when they get caught.

.………

In a horrific weekend for New Zealand cyclists, two men are killed and a woman critically injured in a collision that left a bike embedded in the side of a car, and another woman killed by a car during a training ride, leading a cycling organization to call for urgent action; meanwhile, a Christchurch cyclist is seriously injured after colliding with a pole.

.………

Herbie says Google responded very quickly to a suggested change for a more appropriate riding route. The paparazzi catch Gwen Stefani teaching her son to ride with training wheels in West Hollywood. Bike lanes are coming to Valencia exactly where they’re not needed most. A Corona del Mar cyclist traces his route to bike advocate. A biking and baseball literary doping doubleheader can be yours for just $5. It’s your bike, ride it the way it feels right to you. Orem, Utah plans to become more bike and pedestrian friendly. Hats and scarves for cold weather riding. Police reports are often wrong. Yet another case of a cyclist suddenly materializing out of nowhere. As Witch on a Bicycle aptly put it, one zero-emissions vehicle collides with another. Evidently, L.A. isn’t the only city where the roads are falling apart. Sometimes, a sacrifice to the biking gods may be in order. Ivan Basso wants his first bike back. Italian police raid the home of Lance Armstrong teammate Yaroslav Popovych.

Finally, a tongue-in-cheek study shows that electric cars take up as much space as the gas-driven ones.

26 comments

  1. Chewie says:

    Don’t let them get you down. There are a lot of people out there who get it. The number of people who die on our roads is totally unacceptable. This affects everyone. In fact most of the deaths are car on car.

    People who don’t drive carefully should be treated as what they are: dangerous criminals who need to be removed from the roads for the protection of society.

    And we need roads that aren’t death traps more geared towards high RPMs than human survival and happiness.

  2. [...] on the Network today: Biking in LA examines the way many drivers absolve themselves of responsibility for the safety of cyclists. The [...]

  3. Digital Dame says:

    I’ve quit reading the comments on articles about cyclists. It’s astonishing that no one ever suggests banning alcohol, or even CARS! Far fewer people died in car accidents when NO ONE DROVE CARS.

    It’s just that kind of morning.

  4. [...] Sac Bee in an Associated Press story: Driver in fatal Conn. crash sues victim’s parents. Via Biking In LA, who editorializes on blaming the victim with numerous other [...]

  5. JRF says:

    I believe a foundational understanding gap is recreation versus transportation. The view of the bicycle as a recreational vehicle is overwhelming. For recreation, bike paths are fantastic and functional, so it makes perfect sense for a driver to think the bike should be on the path.

    For transportation, trails tend to be a scattering of disconnected fragments, making “you can’t get there from here” the the norm, unless you venture out with the cars for some part of your journey. That is so completely obvious to those of us who bike we may even forget about it.

    But for someone who doesn’t recognize cycling for transportation at all, the “why the heck are you on MY road slowing me down and risking your life?” is arguably a logical response. The fact that it may be completely legal doesn’t even enter in to it because it doesn’t compute that a cyclist would need to ride on the road when they have “perfectly good” bike paths.

    • I’ve long disagreed with this “recreation vs transportation” distinction. We don’t insist on it for any other transportation mode, so why do it for cycling?

      The busiest traffic days into my town — Santa Cruz, California — are hot summer weekends as tens of thousands of people flock to the beaches. Interstates and airports are jammed during the holidays. I-70 west of Denver and I-80 east of Sacramento are always virtual parking lots on powder days. The busiest day in San Francisco transit history occurred just a couple of weeks ago as 1.7 million people flocked into the city for a parade honoring a baseball team.

      • bikinginla says:

        Thanks Richard. I had the same reaction, and have been trying to figure out how respond. But you did it beautifully, so I’ll just say “what he said.”

      • JRF says:

        I absolutely disagree there should be a distinction as well, but I do believe the distinction is out there, and is part of the world-view context by which many motor vehicle operators rationally conclude that bicycle operators should not be on the road, and should stick to the bike paths.

        While I’m horrified by the “cyclists are just asking for it” conclusion, I think it is best to understand the context from which the conclusion comes and fix what is wrong or misunderstood with that context.

        Someone who doesn’t cycle doesn’t understand that a disconnected set of trail fragments do not make a connected network of trails. For some non-cyclists, simply understanding that may change the conclusion. But others may not get that it matters if the trails connect because their view of cycling is “drive to the trail, ride for awhile, then come back, drive home”. In that is an implied “bicycles are for recreation” stance. It is an incredibly myopic view of cycling, but I do know a few folks who cycle quite a lot and do it exactly that way.

        In short, I think it is more important to understand how someone rationally arrives at what we see is an irrational conclusion. I believe people are basically rational, but with a limited and sometimes incorrect information context for the rational process to work in. It is an uphill battle to fight the symptom and ignore the root causes.

  6. melinda says:

    “It wasn’t that long ago that a woman was just as likely to be blamed as the man who attacked her.”

    I hate to be the one who calls this out, but it still happens. I think that victim-blaming happens to every group that is in the minority or has less power in some way.

    It’s a big thing that we have to work against.

  7. Ted,
    Your editorial resonates with me, particularly after my experience with a motorist on Saturday morning. A Toyota Corolla trailed me for nearly a mile, then honked at me multiple times as he cut me off, and of course, we landed at the same stop light together. I calmly/meekly told him it was unnecessary to honk, and that it scared me. Then, a few moments later, he pulled into a parking spot and started yelling some stuff at me. I didn’t make much of it except for the words “you” and “parking lane”. Was he insinuating I should drive next to the parking lane, instead of taking the whole lane as I did in this instance because of the road geometry? Who knows. I tried not to be shaken up over this, but it did get my blood boiling. Luckily, there are online communities like this one where I know I can find camaraderie and support!

    • Jared says:

      A friend and I had a vehicle pass us on a Sunday morning at 8am (noooo traffic) on a 4 lane road in the gutter. We were in the right lane, waved him to pass us on the left (which was an open lane) and the driver got angry and passed us when the lane opened up just enough for him to pass where cars would be parked.

      And of course, he was yelling and angry. Apparently passing in the gutter is way easier than passing in the passing lane.

  8. Skip Pile says:

    The anti-harrassment ordinance LA is considering passing is ground-breaking legislation. We should be proud that such a car-centric city is considering it.
    There is a significant minority of car drivers who use their vehicle as an extension of the more aggressive part of their personality, and that needs to stop. Just as the NRA continually likes to point out “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” you can make the same argument about cars. “Cars don’t kill people, aggressive and inattentive people kill people”. We have plenty of laws on the books for restricting gun ownership after threatening behavior, why not cars?
    I also belive that one thing which would go a long way towards making roads safer, would be to include mandatory revokation of driving privileges if convicted of harrassment. Getting aggressive people out of their cars for a while might make them more aware of how vulnerable other users are out there…

  9. Ted, I’m not sure if you saw my comment responding to all those comments in the LAT, but you hit on some things that I said there but most importantly: when a driver tells me it’s too dangerous to ride in the street even if it is legal (and they acknowledge that it’s legal) I find that to be a direct threat against any and all cyclists. To me, those drivers (which is like all of them) are telling me that they cannot be responsible for their own driving habits or for their own obediance of laws. They are telling me they refuse to obey the law and safely pass slower traffic; they refuse to obey the law and recognize the right away; and they refuse to act safely in a situation when human life is on the line and they know it. These drivers are acting in reckless, intentional disregard for human life. If you cannot exercise your right to the road (not right to drive, just your right to the road, because you don’t have a right to drive) in a safe manner as required by law, then you are not qualified to drive and should have your license taken away. Period.

  10. [...] are people who just don’t like cyclists and don’t think we belong on the roads — and believe anything that happens to us as a result is our fault, regardless of what the law [...]

  11. Phil says:

    The author of this article failed to mention that 75% of cyclists are assholes on the road.

  12. Phil says:

    Furthermore, cyclists need to start obeying the rules of the road themselves before writing these “oh poor me” masturbatory-type articles. Until that happens, they more or less are responsible for what happens to them as a result of their endeavors.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thank you Phil, you just confirmed the entire point of this piece.

      • Phil says:

        So you’re saying that people who travel on the roadways but don’t obey the rules don’t deserve–or at least are not largely responsible for–the things that happen to them while doing so, regardless of their mode of transportion?

        I agree that cyclists should be allowed on the road. But the fact of the matter is most cyclists DON’T follow the rules of the road, thus making it impossible to anticipate what they are/are not going to do at any given moment. That’s dangerous to themselves, other drivers and pedestrians. Furthermore, many cyclists alternate between traveling on the road AND the sidewalk (cycling on sidewalks is illegal).

        Until more cyclists take some responsibility and follow the rules of the road themselves, articles like this will fall on the deaf ears of non-cyclists since you’re basically asking for a double-standard.

        Then again, I live in Boston not LA so maybe cyclists are different here than they are over there.

        • bikinginla says:

          Phil, most drivers don’t obey the law, either. Does that mean they deserve to die? Or are you one of the few that never speeds, always signals and changes lanes safely, and always comes to a full stop at all red lights and signals?

          I couldn’t agree more that everyone needs to obey the law and ride/drive safely. But your comments about a double standard are pretty meaningless unless you apply them to everyone — drivers included. And if I may quote myself — which you seem to have missed in your zeal to blame cyclists —

          …if everyone drove and rode carefully, paying close attention to the traffic and circumstances around them, while observing the law, it would be virtually impossible to have a collision.

          And while biking on the sidewalk may be illegal in Boston, it’s perfectly legal in many places, Los Angeles included.

        • JRF says:

          Phil, if you want to be taken seriously, drop the unsubstantiated generalities like “most cyclists don’t follow the rules”, opinions thinly veiled as unverifiable statistical fabrications (75% of cyclists are assholes), and facts that are simply wrong (the legality of riding on sidewalks is generally locally determined, and being legal is not at all uncommon, for better or for worse).

          There exist cyclists that do stupid things. There exist cyclists that die because they do stupid things.

          Frankly, I don’t care if people strictly obey the letter of the law when driving a motor vehicle. What matters is achieving what the laws exists to protect: the right for all users to travel safely on public roadways. It does no good wrap yourself in up in the letter of law and close your eyes to the situation in front of you on the road.

          If you agree that law exists to protect public safety, consider two scenarios:

          1. Someone driving a 2.5 ton car at 45mph blows through a red light.

          2. Someone pedaling 170 pounds of bike and rider at 15mph blows through a red light.

          Which one is the larger threat to the safety person rightfully in the crosswalk at the time?

          If we pay police to protect public safety, and we give them limited resources to do so, it makes sense to prioritize the larger risks to public safety over the smaller ones for enforcement. Chasing down scofflaw cyclists isn’t a priority simply because motorists are a vastly bigger threat. So it appears as though there are no consequences for a cyclist breaking the law, which irritates motorists to no end. But just possibly, the enforcement is appropriately dished out relative to the respective threats to public safety.

          This is a really thorny issue that pushes all sorts of emotional fairness, respect, entitlement and personal safety buttons, and further complicated by so many existing laws and roads being crafted for a monoculture of automobiles.

          I don’t have an answer for resolving the conflict. Whether I’m driving a car, bicycling or walking, I just try to keep my eye on foundation: behave in a way that respects all road users’ right to travel safely, using the law as a framework to guide that behavior.

          And don’t be surprised if people get prickly when you step on their right to travel safely. And take care to distinguish between irritating behavior and actual public safety threats.

          That is my opinion anyway.

  13. diyer says:

    If people were taught cycling at school and not just for an hour one day out of the entire school time. I’m sure that they would be less accidents as we all know the perils of riding on the roads can bring.

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