Bike Jax posted two bicycling safety PSAs that I think show the tension between two ways of thinking about responsibility on the road.
I like this PSA because it promotes the idea that bicyclists are responsible for their own safety. One of the ways to exercise that responsibility: Follow the rules of the road. I also like the visual implication that a bicycle helmet won’t save you in a car crash.
I do not like this one because it promotes the idea that the safety of bicyclists is in the hands of alert car drivers.
And that brings me to an interesting nexus: I’ve recently been reading The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. It’s one man’s journey to discover why some countries are happier than others. One of the important themes in the book is the role that trust plays in a society’s happiness. People who trust their neighbors and friends are happier than people who do not. People who trust the average Joe on the street are happier than people who do not. People who trust their institutions are happier than people who do not.
Now recall a passage I highlighted from The Cyclist’s Manifesto:
As a bicyclist, then, the primary task is not to plug oneself into a shaky system [traffic], but to withhold trust in it on the fundamental level. In traffic we find the very essence of fallibility. It’s most important feature, if not its most prominent, is the basic human mistake…. That’s not to say bicyclists should shun the rules of the road, mind you. They just have to be realistic about them. The task is to ride always with the understanding that you could be overlooked easily by this or that mistake-prone motorist and to remember the potentially very serious consequences, and ride accordingly, rules or not.
I largely agree with this. So connect the dots.
Trust plays an important role in happiness. Part of taking responsibility for one’s safety on the road is withholding trust in the system. Therefore, we’re all doomed to unhappiness.
OK, I’m obviously exaggerating with a rather poorly constructed syllogism. But I think there’s something interesting to consider here. I was trying to get at it when I wrote about self-inflicted nonsense: “I find myself getting into mental conflicts with other road users (mostly the drivers of automobiles) even when nothing remotely bad has occurred. I see a potential situation, and I begin thinking how I’m going to handle the resulting conflict.”
Could the following be true in the context of our current traffic system:
TRUST –> HAPPY –> UNSAFE
DISTRUST –> UNHAPPY –> SAFE
Should it be the case that SAFE = HAPPY? And if so, what role for TRUST?