I first rode a bike as a child in England in the 1940s; I started riding at a club level in the early 1950s at fifteen years old, and began racing a year later when I was sixteen.
Right from the start I was taught the rules of the road in school; we were given a Highway Code book that laid out all the rules and laws for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. We studied the rules for cycling and later took a Cycling Proficiency Test; on passing we were given a certificate.
I left England in 1979, and up until that time I do not recall a single instance of seeing an adult on a bicycle riding on the wrong side of the road, riding on the sidewalk (Or pavement as it is known in the UK.) I never saw anyone ride through a red light.
I have said this before but it bears repeating. I was amazed when I arrived in the US and found there were absolutely no rules for cyclists; people pretty much rode anywhere and in any way they pleased. I remember my first ride with the bike club in New Jersey, a traffic light turned red, I stopped, and everyone else just kept on riding.
Just last week I listened to a half hour broadcast on National Public Radio. The subject was, “Are cyclists their own worst enemy? The link is below, and if you haven’t heard it, it brings up some interesting points.
People phoned in and several admitted that they broke the rules of the road, and some went even further and said a person had to be crazy not to break the rules, because that was a good way to get yourself killed.
The strange thing is I follow rules of the road most of them to the letter; it was ingrained in me as a kid and has stayed with me since. I do not find myself in danger because of this.
Listening to these cyclists talk about the way they ride, it occurred to me that they were simply riding the same way they had always done since they were children. Taking the shortest and most convenient route, whether that is the sidewalk, or the wrong side of the street, whatever.
As kids no one ever told them they shouldn’t do that; no one really cared, they were just kids, doing what kids do. This manner of riding has become ingrained as surely as my style of riding. And now they justify it as somehow necessary and a safer way to ride.
It is not a safer way to ride; the safe way is to follow the rules, because if you at least try to do that everyone else knows what you intend to do.
It annoys me that many car drivers will not lift one finger to operate their turn signals, if they obeyed the law and used their turn signals everyone else would know what their intentions are.
This brings me to another point that was brought up time and time again during this broadcast that motorists also don’t obey the rules, but cyclists get noticed more; again this is an excuse to justify law breaking.
Stop and think about it, this was one of the rules that our parents and teachers tried to drum into us; pointing a finger at someone doing the same wrong was never a valid excuse. What was it they always told us? “If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you do the same?”
The fact that so many motorists break the law is society’s problem. A teenager is given a minimum amount of drivers’ education and he/she is allowed to drive. There is no follow up or later test and people quickly learn to do whatever they can get away with.
Cyclists on the other hand are given no training what-so-ever; they are never told what they can and can’t do to begin with.
When I first witnessed the lawlessness by people on bicycles in New Jersey 1979, no one really cared; there were not that many cyclists. Now we have an ever growing number of cyclists in our larger cities, and we are on a fast track towards absolute chaos.
There has to be a uniform and acceptable pattern of behavior that everyone can follow. Below is what I think most cyclists who consider themselves to be “Law abiding” would follow.
1.) Ride with the flow of traffic (Never ride the wrong way.)
2.) Don’t ride on the sidewalk
3.) Use hand signals if you want to change direction
4.) Stop at red lights
5.) Don’t blow through stop signs at speed, or go out of turn
6.) If you are riding in a crowded city, especially during rush hour with a lot of cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists; ride at a sensible speed. Your commute is not a race; if it is you need to leave home a little earlier.
Licensing all people who own and ride a bike would be an impractical bureaucratic nightmare, but clearly a situation where everyone does as they please is not good either. What do you think; does something need to be done, and if so what?