Ignorance versus Malice

Jul 26, 2011 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

One of my favorite sayings is, “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity or ignorance.” This moral came to mind recently on a bicycle ride with some friends.

My wife and I were riding in the neighborhood with a new rider, one with a family where every member at least owned one bicycle. When my wife and I stopped at an intersection with a stop sign, this surprised new rider asked, “Why did you stop?” To us, the obvious answer was, “There’s a stop sign”.

I had always assumed that bicyclists coasted or “blew through” stop signs because they didn’t want to lose any momentum, they were feeling rebellious or otherwise just found it inconvenient to obey the law. It never occurred to me that they might just not know that the road signs for motorists also applied to bicyclists.

The Nevada revised statutes say, “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle ….” Obviously, there are some provisions that are specific to just bicyclists and some that apply only to motorists. Generally though, the Rules of the Road apply to bicyclists as well as motorists.

That means stopping at stop signs, at least to the extent most motorists do in my neighborhood, by which I mean slow to a crawl and yield before proceeding. That means stopping at red traffic signals and waiting until they turn green.

Why is this important? Very, very few bicycle motor vehicle collisions happen because the bicyclist has ignored a traffic signal or stop sign. It’s not a safety issue. Why it’s important is that it is a matter of etiquette.

Society’s relationships and interactions are lubricated by etiquette and no more so than when operating a motor vehicle. Every motorist knows the Rules of the Road, a kind of etiquette, follows them and, as a result, everyone gets to where they are going without crashing into each other. When a bicyclist uses poor highway etiquette, he’s rude. When bicyclists ask for a little more space on the road, be it a bike lane or a 3 feet passing rule, motorists remember being treated rudely and are less likely to give up a piece of the road, to which they wrongly or rightly feel solely entitled.

So… the message here is, “Don’t be rude on the road.” Vehicle rules apply to bicycles, too.