I drive a car. I’ve driven a car three times across this country by myself. I have driven since I was 18. I have driven in all the major cities across the nation. I’ve delivered pizzas by car, I’ve driven 25 foot box trucks in Washington, D.C.’s horrifying rush-hour traffic on the beltway and through Manhattan from tip to tail.
So I don’t understand why driving is so hard for some people. The first time I drove in a city with tons of bike messengers was San Francisco in 1995. I remembered being petrified that I’d inadvertently kill one of my friends.
I didn’t even come close.
There are some things that drivers do that absolutely baffle me. They do these things oblivious of the effect they have on pedestrians and cyclists. I try to understand why they do these things because in having some empathy I’m hoping to reduce my anger at what I find to be callous, stupid and selfish behavior that could possibly cause a cyclist injury or more serious harm.
Driving in the Gutter: There is no real reason or need for drivers to drive right next to the curb. For trucks, it’s understandable, but usually still not necessary because most lanes are at least 12 feet wide and most trucks are at maximum 11 feet wide. For a little bitty four cylinder car that spans maybe 7.5 feet wide, there is no reason to have 5 feet of room on the left while hugging the curb.
Drive Wide: You know these guys, it doesn’t matter that the 15 cars in front of them passed the cyclist comfortably, they swing way wide and into the other lane of traffic to allow for 10+ feet of space when passing. Why? You need maybe 5 feet buffer, but frankly, if you’re an experienced cyclist, you’re likely comfortable with 2.5 feet of buffer.
Speed-up Freak: Speeding up while passing a cyclist is an indicator that a). You’re freaked out that there is a cyclist on the road or b). You’re pissed that there’s a cyclist on the road. Driving emotionally, either in panic mode or pissed off is actually not safe. Stop freaking out, just maintain your speed and pass.
Sitting on a biker’s butt: Alright you bike stalkers! For those of you who have plenty of room to pass, but you’re too freaked out to pass the cyclist and sit on their butt, NO! Ask yourself, if cyclists scare you, should you really be driving? Here are some things to keep in mind, if a cyclist is drunk, high on PCP or bat-shit crazy, the zone around them that they can possibly end up in your path within a 5 second period that it would take for you to pass them is a maximum of 5 feet. If the cyclist is just tooling along without weaving, no head moving from side to side, it’s a safe bet that they are not drunk, high or bat-shit crazy so it is safe to pass. Please pass. If you’re not confident about your driving skills, maybe you need to really practice. Get a friend on a bike, go to a parking lot and practice passing him. Please don’t be a pansy in traffic. I’ve never been hit from behind, I attribute this to the fact that I yell at motorists to get off my butt. Behind this thought is, if this motorist is too timid to pass me, they probably aren’t paying any attention to cars about to pass them. They pull out to pass me too wide and there could be a chain-reaction that results in them rear-ending me. Just pass!
Fixation: Staring at me will not make me go away. It will result in you running into things you weren’t intending on running into. Do the world a favor and scan the whole street. There are a lot of things going on on the street at any given moment, staring at me is going to leave you completely unprepared to deal with anything else. A trick to use is softening focus. Practice this when you’re listening to someone, look at him like you’re listening when he’s talking, soften your focus and look at everything around you, you’ll be amazed how much you can see. So when you go out in traffic, don’t stare at me, look straight ahead but soften your focus and notice me in your periphery, I’ll probably be giving you a thumbs up for your excellent driving!