If you’re a cyclist, chances are you’ve had someone roll their car window down and yell something insulting. After a while, you start to lose track of how often this occurs. Of course there are the major ones that stand out, like the time I was on the Delmar Loop and a guy in a pickup truck screamed at me non-stop through an entire light change. Obviously, I’d ruined his day.
Last night, while walking bikes home through a residential neighborhood, someone yelled at us for not having lights. We were walking. We were technically pedestrians. Are we all supposed to carry lights at night?
Later, I started thinking about accountability and anonymity. It was dark. The man was in an SUV. He could simply spout his rage and drive away. Who would know? Would he have acted that way in front of his co-workers, his boss, or his family? Anonymity lets people act how they normally wouldn’t. There are positive sides to this, like an anonymous tip in solving a crime; however, there are also negative effects. Cars especially provide a means to be anonymous. People are encased in steel, plastic, and glass. Hidden and out of contact. There is no face to face context. Through a series of turns or pressing on the gas, the driver can flee at a high speed.
What would have happened if I’d taken his anonymity away? What if I published his identity? How would that change things? Cyclists aren’t dealing with rational people. The people who become angry might already be heading toward road rage. It can be dangerous enough on a 16 lb bike while riding along a 2,000 lb car. Now imagine that car being driven by someone out of control. So, what can we do? Sure, there are the standby’s like, be vigilant, and be courteous. Does that change anything? Do cyclists need to work more on educating drivers, on creating bike lanes, and awareness?
Overall, the bicycle is a wonderful invention. It provides easy, clean transportation and keeps people fit. Instead of being at odds with those who commute on bikes, drivers should be thankful for the reduction in carbon emissions and traffic, as well as the increase in parking spaces. Next time a driver yells or cuts you off, maybe you should take out your camera or phone, snap a picture or video, and post it online. Anonymity can work both ways.
– Psychosocial and environmental factors associated with cycling for transport among a working population, Bas ed Geus et. al., Health Education Research, Vol. 23 No. 4, 2008.
– The Effects of Trait Driving Anger, Anonymity, and Aggressive Stimuli on Aggressive Driving Behavior, Patricial Ellison-Potter, Journal ofApplied Social Psychology, 2001.
– Models of perceived cycling risk and route acceptability, Parkin et. al., Accident Analysis and Prevention Vol. 39, 2007.
Anger on and off the road, Brian Parkinson, British Journal of Psychology Vol. 92, 2001.
– Cyclists and motorists vie for limited space, By Charles Lewis, National Post, September 1, 2009 http://www.canada.com/health/Cyclists+motorists+limited+space/1952495/story.html.
– Anonymous Group, accessed Nov. 5th 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_(group).