It’s been recently suggested in the Bicycle Friendly Springfield group on Facebook that a vehicle driver (e.g. a bicyclist) controlling the lane and traveling about 10 mph on a 2-lane road with a 35-mph limit and non-sharable width (<14 feet) is being “rude, arguably unethical, and possibly sociopathic.” Let’s examine this assertion.
The system of traffic works on a few foundational principles — the primary one being “first come, first served.” This principle governs numerous situations and behaviors, primary among them is the first order of right-of-way. Simply put, motorists are obligated by principle and law to yield right-of-way to vehicles ahead of them in the travel lane.
There exists no natural right or expectation to be ahead of any particular traffic user. Speed is meaningless. If I am ahead of you in traffic riding my bicycle, and you are behind me in your sports car, you are obligated to yield right-of-way. While there exist rules regarding impeding traffic, it is widely recognized that a vehicle moving at a speed normal for its type cannot be said to be impeding traffic.
Further, there is no expectation or guarantee that one can drive 35 mph on the road in question. A speed limit is the fastest one is allowed to travel when conditions are good enough to allow it. It is not the speed you must go. It is not the speed you have to go. It is the fastest you are allowed to go. Any expectation of speed on the part of any driver is entirely misplaced. Here’s what the Missouri Driver’s Guide has to say:
Your highest duty as a motorist is to drive your vehicle carefully and prudently.
Your speed and manner of driving must create a safe environment for yourself and other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.
Use the same care when passing a pedestrian or cyclist as when passing a motor vehicle. You may need to slow down and wait for a safe opportunity to pass a pedestrian or cyclist, just as you would for any other slow-moving traffic.
Operators of slow-moving vehicles have exactly the same rights and privileges to use the road as the operators of vehicles capable of speeds greater than the speed limit.
Bicycling education courses such as those run by CyclingSavvy and the League of American Bicyclists teach a form of courtesy known as control-and-release. It works this way: If traffic is stacking up behind a bicyclist, the bicyclist may, as a courtesy, pull to the right or otherwise yield room for cars to pass if it is safe to do so. This is not an obligation. It is a courtesy. Not extending the courtesy is not a form of rudeness because a courtesy can never be an obligation. If it were, it would be an obligation and not a courtesy. The control-and-release courtesy only becomes an option in situations where the stacked traffic is unable to pass. When passing is an available option, the bicyclist has no need to offer the courtesy; the following motorist, on the other hand, always has an obligation to yield right-of-way.
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to white man, she was breaking the law. She was also acting ethically against the immoral system of segregation and the laws that created it. Sometimes laws are immoral. But this doesn’t apply to traffic laws and the foundational rules of traffic that have been in development and use for more than 100 years.
From a duty perspective, we owe our fellow traffic users fidelity to the law and the foundational rules because, as the driver’s guide states, our “highest duty” is to drive carefully and create a safe traffic environment. Nothing about using our hypothetical 35-mph road at less than the speed limit relieves the faster traffic user of this duty. In fact, given the role of speed in traffic deaths, I argue that slower is more ethical for all traffic users.
It is also a simple matter to argue this from the perspective of consequence or utilitarianism. We have an obligation to create a safe traffic environment because it leads to the greatest outcome for the greatest number. You might not get to where you’re going as fast as you would like (your tender convenience) but you and others may get there alive (the social good).
Sociopathology is a field of study that examines anti-social behavior. A person who is sociopathic lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Given the argument I have made so far, the assertion that controlling the lane of our 35-mph road is “possibly sociopathic” is absurd on the face of it. It assumes that the bicyclist is unreasonable or controlling the lane not because it is objectively safe to do so but because the bicyclist wants to annoy motorists.
Does anyone have an actual example of this? I’ve found that most transportation and sports bicyclists simply want to get where they’re going and, possibly, have a little fun (or get a little exercise) doing so. I’ve yet to meet the bicyclist who enjoys trying to annoy motorists.
It is a sad fact that many in the bicycle community — and far too many so-called advocates — actually do not believe that bicycles are vehicles and that bicyclists have the same rights to the road as anyone else. Deep down they believe that bicyclists should get out of the way of motorists. They have fooled themselves into thinking that bicyclists need bicycle lanes. The real purpose of these facilities is not safety but segregation — getting bicycles out of the way.
Don’t fall for it.
Same roads. Same rules. Same rights. It is the safe, courteous, ethical, and socially-responsible way to drive your bicycle.