Cars Versus Bicycles: Where's the Justice?

A recent survey in Portland determined that there are four types of cyclists:

1. Those who are strong and fearless on the road, representing less than 1 percent of the population.

2. Those who are enthused and confident on the road, representing 7 percent of the population.

3. Those who are interested in cycling more but are concerned, representing 60 percent of the population.

4. Cyclists who will not ride on the road under any circumstance because of fear, representing 33 percent of the population.

The total number of cyclists who ride daily, even in a city like Portland, is dwarfed by the number of trips taken by car each day. And out on the roads, and in the eyes of the police, the majority rules.

For me, this is a major concern. If drivers don't have to fear punishment when an accident occurs, what incentive is there to remain vigilant of cyclists on the road? And if cycling is to continue to grow in numbers, people can't be scared to ride the roads because of fear of an accident.

More: Do You Need Bike Insurance?

Fortunately, several states have adopted new laws to try to right many of the legal missteps.

Vulnerable User Laws, or VULs, enhance the penalties when a person is convicted of an offense that causes physical death as a result of using a public road. These laws provide better protection to pedestrians, cyclists, highway workers and skateboarders, and a sentence requires those convicted to complete traffic-safety courses, serve 200 hours of community service, and pay a fine of up to $12,500 with a possible suspension of driving privileges for up to one year.

While it's a step in the right direction, Duggan says there's more that can be done.

"We need a societal change, similar to what's occurred in Copenhagen and Portland," Duggan says. "Bicycles need to become a legitimate part of the transportation system and cities need to create conducive infrastructure to make this happen. This will involve lots of education and awareness of both cyclists and motor vehicle drivers."

More: How to Prevent Bike-on-Bike Accidents

But even more progressive states like Oregon and Washington that have VUL laws have struggled to provide the kind of education regarding cyclists' legal rights to the use of public roads that can present change.

"Up until seven or eight years ago, this changed when Washington revised its driver education laws and mandated that driver education programs include a chapter and video pertaining to cyclists' legal rights," Duggan said. "The driver education test also includes questions regarding cyclists' legal rights. Theoretically, as we increase the education and awareness of car drivers, car drivers will start looking for bicycles before making turns, and the number of car-versus-bike incidents should decrease."

Whether it's society's behavior towards cyclists or a lack of awareness, something needs to change. I for one am not going to stop riding my bike, and if more people can start to feel more protected on the roadways, maybe the numbers will start to even out. Maybe we'll all start to pull our bicycles out of the garage a little more often instead of our cars, and the roads can be a place to enjoy cycling instead of fearing it.

More: 10 Things I Learned From Being Hit by a Car

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