The recent spate of traffic accidents among our triathlon group continued last Friday night when a motorist suddenly pulled a U-Turn and smacked another of the athletes in training for Ironman Wisconsin. That was Incident Three in a series of bike accidents in a span of two weeks.
With the race just four weeks away, most were expecting one final week of hard training before the taper began. But a week ago last Wednesday a crazed driver of a mini-van gunned her engine to get past a group of seven riders lined up single file to make a left turn. She took out the first three with her bumper, causing two to have serious enough injuries to be treated for concussions and major road rash. Their bikes were trashed. “It would have been a lot worse for the guy behind me,” said one of the riders hit by the vehicle. “But when he came flying over me I used my gymnastics training and flipped him over me. That kept him from hitting the ground right away.”
You heard that right. People were flying through the air because some woman determined that she might have to spend 10 seconds waiting for a group of legally positioned and signaling riders to make a left turn.
As a result of her grievous attack, she was ticketed for six or seven infractions including leaving the scene of an accident. Yes, she actually tried to drive off after hitting the cyclists. Others in the group recorded her license plate and she was apprehended by police minutes later.
Then on the Sunday following such a newsworthy wreck, another driver turned in front of a cyclist in our group, causing her to swerve and skid out. She picked up some nice road rash and a crack near the rear cassette in her carbon fiber frame. The driver of the Hummer H3 admitted, “I didn’t even see you.” Then she asked, “Why do we have to exchange insurance information? I didn’t even hit you.” That’s a case of rampant ignorance.
Then last Friday night a driver made a sudden U-turn right in the middle of the road after passing a cyclist. That move struck a rider and sent them skidding across the pavement.
The aftermath of all that carnage meant that several of these riders showed up on borrowed bikes to ride the “loop” of the Ironman Wisconsin course this past weekend.
The rider struck by the impatient woman was still sore a week later and his road rash was oozing enough to stick his skin to his shorts. He made it one time around “the loop” and thought better of continuing.
The bike my girlfriend borrowed to get in a couple loops of training on the course turned out to be too long for her to ride with any efficiency. She rode a loop and “the stick” back into town.
With just a few weeks left before Ironman, these riders were dealing with the aftermath of having been struck or driven to the ground by careless or aggressive drivers.
Most made the decision to save themselves for another day. Once the insurance checks come through and replacement bikes can be secured, there’s a week or two of longer riding and then it will be time to taper and continue getting used to a new bike setup.
As for the driver who struck no less than three bikes with her vehicle? “That woman will be looking at replacing more than $20,000 worth of bikes,” one of the riders stated. “And if I can’t get healthy enough to participate in the Ironman, she’s getting a bill for the race fees, the hotel and other expenses as well.”
All of these accidents were the result of different types of motorist infractions. There was aggression and impatience on the part of the woman who struck down three cyclists trying to make a legal and simple left turn on the roadway. She crossed a double yellow line in an attempt to fly past them.
There was inattention on the part of the woman who turned absentmindedly in front of a cyclist legally riding on her side of the road.
And there was an inadvisable decision to make a sudden U-Turn in the middle of a normal roadway that caused yet another accident with a cyclist.
“I’m scared,” said one of our female club riders on hearing the stories of three accidents in under two weeks.
“Well,” someone joked. “You can’t be a member of the club until you’ve dumped your bike one way or another.”
“I’ve fallen over in my yard,” she offered.
“That counts,” someone replied.
Rules of the Road
At this rate, we’ll certainly take what we can get when it comes to cycling safety. All those motorists on the road who do not care who they hurt certainly don’t want to mind the Rules of the Road.
In fact there almost feels like there’s a mission to drive cyclists off the road altogether. The crazed driver of a Ford Econoline that buzzed our group of four riders a month back was not just careless, he was insanely preoccupied with throwing fear into all of us. His van came within inches of four different cyclists riding in a legal single file line.
We chased him down and got his plate. For several weeks we’ve held it but never made a police report.
The officer that talked to my girlfriend admitted a bit of a disturbing fact from the perspective of the law. “Sometimes if they don’t hit you there’s nothing we can do.”
I thought about those words for days. I thought about the fact that so many issues of the world work like that. I thought about the sick little strain of aggression running through America’s history. I thought about how many times people have formed an ugly group mentality to persecute others. I thought about how comfortable people are with using brute force to take what they think they own.
The selfish desire to dominate runs like a bright red vein through America’s history.
Our supposedly proud tradition of claiming the land for white settlers resulted in genocide of native Americans. The nation tricked and cajoled and called in the military to steal and terrorize and dispossess lands that covetous white settlers wanted to occupy.
And when that wasn’t enough control and ownership, the nation brought in slaves and brutalized people some more, claiming them as property while setting up an economic system almost entirely dependent on the enslavement of others. Some happy history that is. It took a Civil War to cause a market adjustment to that perversion of justice.
Even after thousands of lives were given to end slavery, Jim Crow laws kept the tradition of racism going, with thousands more people banned from full citizenship and cruelly ostracized or killed. And to make matters worse, the Christian religion was often invoked to justify the entire operation.
Tribalism still exists
The same ugly tribalism crops up on many fronts. From hating every new wave of immigrants that arrived on our shores throughout our history, to treating women as property and inferiors, America has an ignoble tradition of pushing people out of the way to maintain a selfish and fearful status quo.
It’s a Manifest Destination mentality, and America spreads it around the globe as well.
Look at America’s most recent actions in the Middle East, where the war of choice in Iraq led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians followed by torture of hundreds more. All this was complimented by the death of thousands of American soldiers and maiming of tens of thousands more. It was all based on a violent merge between a violent ideology and an incident that was ignored by those ostensibly charged to protect us. So to compensate, America violently drove right over a country that had nothing to do with the event on 9/11 just to prove that we truly owned the road.
That’s how we roll. America has and likely always will be a nation of Manifest Destination because our notion of American exceptionalism is based on a farcical combination of selfishness, violence and greed.
And please, spare us the timeworn lectures on the high-minded motivations of America getting into World War II to save the world. We got into that war to save our own asses from the road hog actions of the Germans and Japanese who were doing the one unacceptable thing possible on the worldwide stages: Acting like Americans. Yes, the lives given in that effort were indeed noble acts. And FDR was the man for the job, but certainly no saint. Hell, even Winston Churchill got dumped as Prime Minister by the Brits once the job was complete. Even great empires turn into ungrateful, selfish beasts once the threat is gone.
Self hatred and patriotism
The parallels of deep psychological reasons why we hated the Germans and Japanese are so plain they go beyond the obvious. Expansionism? Please, that’s American history in a nutshell. Fascism and cramming ideology down the throats of others? That’s the entire game plan of the West and the Christian assumptions that go with it. Genocide? We’d already done that here at home by slaughtering Indians by the tens of millions.
So, it is a well-known political phenomenon that people fight hardest against the things they most hate about themselves. Sometimes it is deep-seated urges that people want to deny. Other times it is recognizing the selfishness and greed in others that we most despise in ourselves. And enough with playing innocent about all this. Even some cyclists admit they find other cyclists on the roads annoying.
But there is hope in the dark side of all humanity. Look at the example of St. Paul, the man who persecuted Christians before he converted to the ultimate evangelist.
Or, if you’re not the religious type you can consider that Darth Vader actually reconciled with his own son at some point in that Star Wars Quadrilogy. It’s a true statement that there’s a little Death Star warrior in all of us. It can be difficult to find one’s way back to a more positive force in the universe.
Made worse by domestic policy
What makes it worse here in America is that all of society has now been pitted against each other by an economic siege that has essentially foisted on the nation by the richest Americans who care only to gain even more wealth for themselves. It is left for most of the rest of society to draw their own battle lines and fight it out..either for what’s left, or to regain equity in the nation’s real value.
And as a result of this deep-seated struggle for normalcy and ownership, people do indeed feel it’s their job to protect their share of the roads somehow.
That’s why the war between the white lines between motorists and cyclists seems so present and real. These confrontations between angry drivers… and equally angry cyclists is a textbook example of America’s habit of Manifest Destination. We’ll kill anyone to get where we’re determined to go.
As a result, this is a massive test case on how and why the laws really apply on our roads.
Pissed off drivers apparently see all cyclists as lawbreakers. We hear them yell at us to get off the road! and, ride on the sidewalk!
But the law frequently states that riding on the sidewalks (and even some trails) is neither legal or advisable.
Let’s be clear: Ignorant cyclists ride two and three abreast and hog the road. Meanwhile, ignorant motorists aren’t willing to abide by the three-foot law in passing cyclists or to separate hazards and wait for a legitimate opportunity to pass.
So the rules of engagement aren’t even clear. There’s just anger and response because general ignorance rules. This chasm of misunderstanding is widening the divide between cyclists and motorists. Some drivers respond by cutting that chasm on their own, driving too close to cyclists as some kind of warning. It is a deadly game of chicken.
The result of all this ignorant behavior is accidents like those documented above. These have real costs in money, emotion and time to the victims of such negligence or violence. Until you’ve seen a person mangled by a bike accident and witnessed the scars and broken limbs and weeping road rash resulting from driver carelessness or aggression it remains remote to the senses. Motorists either are not thinking about the consequences of such damage to another human being, or worse, they actually relish the idea of harming those they dislike, or simply don’t care.
And yes, there are many instances in which cyclists are “at fault.” People make mistakes on the road or ride in ignorant fashion. That’s where legal action comes in.
As a result, lawyers have entered the fray to pursue compensation for cyclists injured in such accidents. The firm of Zniemer&Zniemer in Chicago posts this information on their website: “Injuries suffered from a bicycle accident can be severe and life-threatening. Injuries may include severed limbs, broken vertebrae, or a fractured skull, in addition to broken collarbones and elbow joint damage, just to name a few.”
Bullies on the information highway
How truly ironic it is that motorists in 3,000 lb. vehicles claim they are being persecuted and harassed by a person on a 20 lb. bike? Those who complain about having to Share the Road are the ones yelling insults out the window of their cars. And when confronted for their bad behavior, they whine about paying taxes for the roads, as if cyclists do not pay taxes of any sort. What, none of us who ride bikes also own cars? That’s absurd. The stupidity of that argument defies all logic.
But that doesn’t stop the haters from embarking on all sorts of angry rants.
As Exhibit A, there are blogs such as the subtly named I Hate Bicyclists. There’s also a Facebook page titled God I Hate Cyclists Using the Road that has more than 2000 likes. Here’s a quote from that one, not coincidentally based in Britain, a nation where attitudes of empire and imperialism also have a sordid history. “Sorry all you road kill lovers out there, we missed the 1400 mark and have now passed 1500. Any thoughts on what we give lover (or hater) number 2000?”
That’s right: They’re giving out faux prizes (or real road kill) for the act of hating on cyclists. What an enlightened mentality.
Motivation for the haters
So you see it really is the product of a mindset of dominance and violence of one “tribe” of people toward another. Granted there are elements of prick cyclists making it worse for everyone. Yet the mere fact of existing as an entity on the roads is motivation for the haters to move forward with an agenda of aggression toward cyclists. These actions are protected by laws governing free speech, but at some point the hate does convene into action. And who is then responsible?
It’s rampant and real, and reflects a violent strain of society that pops up in other ways as well. We see it in gun nuts demanding Open Carry so they can threaten anyone they like on the streets. We see it in the brand of narcissistic evangelical Christianity that can’t handle a challenge from anywhere without screaming that rational inquiry is a form of persecution. We see it in people who claim their personal and religious liberty is being impinged by the idea of a pair of same-sex adults getting married.
In sum, it’s the instinct to radical elements of insecurity and fear as a means to claim the middle of the road. And while driver education courses teach people to “separate hazards” those lessons are forgotten in favor a giant came “chicken” in which the object is to see who backs down first.