On a recent evening, due to no fault of my own, a rogue cyclist almost crashed into my car.
Here’s what happened: Around 8:15 p.m. my car stood still, waiting for the light at 35th and Jefferson to change to green. The street was dark and empty except for one car behind me at the stoplight. A few seconds later, the light changed to green, and I drove forward. I was halfway across Jefferson when a cyclist suddenly appeared in my car’s path. The cyclist was turning left on Jefferson from the other side of 35th. He had ignored his red light, and his poor judgment landed him right in the path of my car. I hit the brakes, he pedaled fast and we managed to avoid a collision.
But what if I had hit the cyclist? People would assume it was my fault as the one driving the car, even though I was not the one running the red light.
Cyclists see themselves as victims of the road. On the Austin Cyclists Association website, the group warns members that “in Texas, hostility is often encountered by cyclists when sharing the road with cars, SUV’s and Trucks.” The website also warns cyclists of the potential retaliation from drivers if they resort to “shooting the bird” when frustrated on the road.
I have some news for cyclists: More often than not, it’s you, the rogue cyclists, not us, the innocent drivers, who ignore the law. This is especially true at UT. When I asked cyclists around campus about the rules they follow while biking, many (though not all) replied with nonchalance: “None” or “Whatever I feel like.”
Prodding further, I asked how these cyclists felt about their lawless rides. Akos Furton, a Plan II freshman, replied, “No shame.” Asked whether he had ever hit anyone, he said, “Not really … Well, I hit a cyclist if that counts. I was texting on my bike.”
As an afterthought, he added, “Don’t text while biking. It’s bad.”
Really? Who would have thought?
Cyclists feel that they are above the law, arguing that because they are neither pedestrians nor motorized vehicles, no law code applies to them. This lofty attitude has swept the nation. Randy Cohen, former author of “The Ethicist” column in The New York Times Magazine, justified cyclists in Manhattan running red lights. He wrote, “The rule-breaking cyclist that people decry: that’s me. I routinely run red lights ... I flout the law when I’m on my bike.”
Cohen qualifies his recklessness with the claim that his riding is ethical (if not legal). He explains, “I roll through a red light if and only if no pedestrian is in the crosswalk and no car is in the intersection — that is, if it will not endanger myself or anybody else.”
In other words, Cohen believes his own judgment is sufficient grounds for disobeying the law. He even urges fellow cyclists to do the same.
But Cohen’s approach has two flaws. First, it is illogical. A cyclist is a person on a bike. When that same person is driving a car, he or she must obey the law. When that same person is walking on the street, he or she must obey the law. There is nothing magical about a bicycle that gives the person on it the right to ignore the law.
Second, the point that cyclists have no proper legal classification (and can therefore come up with their own version of the law) is not relevant to the realities of traffic. Reckless cyclists who run red lights, bike into oncoming traffic and weave between pedestrians all partake in dangerous behavior that threatens everyone around them. Being a threat to society is an issue regardless of what the threat-giver’s legal classification is.
By law, and according to the UT Police Department, cyclists have to abide by the same rules as motorized vehicles. So, I have some words of advice for the many riders wreaking havoc in Austin: Obey the law. I might have missed this time, but I can make no promises about what could happen next time you find yourself driving head first into my car.
Malik is a Plan II and BHP freshman from Austin.