Thursday, April 28, 2011

Driving cars drives us crazy

I drive to work over the same two lane route that I ride on my bicycle. It's a little slower to be sure, but it's also far less stressful than the highway.

On the bike, I see the same motorists day after day. They come to expect a cyclist somewhere along the road, and for the most part they treat me courteously and safely. Getting buzzed or honked at is a comparatively rare occurrence.

It seems worse when I drive and I can only speculate why. All those other motorists are essentially anonymous behind a few tons of steel and tinted glass. Given that we're all traveling at the same speed more or less, the chances of encountering the same motorists on the commute are relatively low. In other words, my speed matches the other driver's speed, so the number I see each day is smaller than it is when I'm on the bike.

The lower speed on the bike means I see a larger cross-section of drivers, and as I said, they come to expect a cyclist. Once they're acclimated to that idea, they're very accommodating on the road. Again, this is speculation, but I think that by seeing the same middle aged guy each day, they really do see a cyclist as another person, one on his way to work just as they are.

There is some anecdotal support for this idea. On those occasions when I've ridden outside my usual times, or when I've been on other routes, I've been subjected to more motorist abuse. Now, anecdotes are decidedly NOT evidence, so this is something that bears more study.

Despite seeing fewer other drivers when I'm driving, I think the number of instances of road rage, simple stupidity, and dangerous driving are actually greater. I've watched as multiple cars run a particular red light nearly every day. One guy was in such a hurry to get in the gate at work one whole car length ahead of me that he passed in a right turn lane. Others tailgate and speed on that narrow two lane road, oblivious to the numerous deer and skunks, seemingly in a rush to reach that red light just up ahead. I've concluded that there's something about the act of driving that makes ordinary people lose their senses.

Maybe riding a bike has altered my expectations on the road. I know that if I leave the convenience store with my newspaper by a certain time, I'll be at the time clock X minutes later, plus or minus a couple of minutes depending on the wind direction. When I drive, of course, I don't have to be concerned about the wind, but the same principle applies. There's no pressure to drive fast or risk an too-close encounter with a skunk.

And yes, I still try to lift my butt off the car seat when I'm crossing the railroad tracks. Old habits die hard.


Blogger Steve A said...

I really can't comment on my experiences driving my commute since it's only happened this year when we were having ice/snow events, but one other point you made hit home:

"On those occasions when I've ridden on other routes, I've been subjected to more motorist abuse."

I rode a different route today to avoid some new asphalting on my primary route and got honked at while slowing for a four-way stop. A first-ever experience. I considered following the dweeb into his driveway to find out what he'd had in mind, but decided I really didn't care as long as he didn't have more than a "must use horn" disorder. He was, no doubt, merely another lefty motorist that'd left his decoder ring at home.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Someone (and I'm sorry that I've forgotten just who it was) said that if they're honking, at least they've seen you. Let's regard that as a plus, albeit a small one.

And I'll get that decoder ring right out to you, Steve!

8:25 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I agree on "losing your senses..." My theory is that technology at greater levels removes us from "true" experience. Bikes being lower tech leave us with experiences closer to "nature" than cars....

9:02 PM  

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