Perception vs. safety

“When a situation feels dangerous to you, it’s probably more safe than you know; when a situation feels safe, that is precisely when you should feel on guard.”
― Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

There is a social construct to driving and bicycling, much the same way as there is a social construct to walking in a crowd. There are rules which guide our behavior and if everyone follows the rules, no one gets hurt.

Rule number one: Don’t hit what is in front of you.

As humans our eyes are adapted to seeing that which is directly in front of us. Though some of us require corrective lenses to make even this task feasible.

We trust our eyes but can our eyes be trusted?

How the brain processes the images we take in everyday is amazing. That we believe half of what we see is, to me, even more amazing.

I recently discovered “Brain Games” and I want you to pause your reading and watch this clip.

So did you trust your eyes?

Seeing is a task and driving is a task. When we are seeing and driving we are multi-tasking. Throw into the mix other drivers, street signs, stop lights, painted lines on the ground, billboards, lights, radio, cell phone, kids in the back seat, a passenger, and driving just became even more complicated.

We believe that we are safe when we are far from safe behind the wheel.

The CDC reported that in 2012 there were roughly 34K deaths attributed to the automobile. 2.5K of these were teenagers between 16 and 19 years old. Statistics

In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 76,000 were injured in traffic crashes in the United States (Tables 1 and 3). On average, a pedestrian was killed every 2 hours and injured every 7 minutes in traffic crashes. TRAFFIC SAFETY FACTS

One of the things that I found interesting when reading the NHTSA website, was their reassurance that driving is much safer nowadays when compared to past history. When you have an average of 2 people killed or injured every hour is it really that safe?

Not enough emphasis is put on eliminating unnecessary multi-tasking such as talking on the phone. Example

From the data, it is possible to draw the conclusion that it isn’t safe to drive. It isn’t any safer to walk either. The only mode of travel that had under 1K deaths per year was the bicycle.

So if cycling is so much safer than the alternative, why then do we spend so much money on infrastructure that caters to car culture. Especially when it is such a dangerous mode of transportation?

Have you heard of social conformity?

Social conformity is the same construct which gives us gutter bike lanes and tells us it is “safer” to cycle on the shoulder as opposed to the travel lane.

The rules of the road tell you to occupy your lane. Even on a two way only highway.

We would have far fewer cycling deaths if people would stop trusting their eyes and social norms. Instead trust education and the rules that have been laid out for safe road travel.

For example: In Kentucky we have KRS 189.310 which states:

189.310 Vehicles meeting other vehicles and animals.
(1) Two (2) vehicles passing or about to pass each other in opposite directions shall have the right-of-way, and no other vehicle to the rear of those two (2) vehicles shall pass or attempt to pass either of those vehicles.
(2) Vehicles proceeding from opposite directions shall pass each other from the right, each giving to the other one-half (1/2) of the highway as nearly as possible.

Our perception and social construct tells us to ride on the edge of a road. To be as far out of the way of motorists as possible. This puts us out of the line of sight and creates a safety hazard. It “feels” safe but in reality it isn’t safe at all.

Examples of unsafe cycling and a message from the CDC. 

What does safe cycling look like?

What is your lane position visually communicating?
What is your lane position visually communicating?

We need to clarify already existing laws to direct motorists to change lanes to pass.

We need transportation infrastructure that isn’t based on car culture. (pedestrians, public transit, and cycling as priority over automobiles)

We need NHTSA and the FHWA to have dedicated bicycle commuters as members of their board of directors.

We need all cyclists, motorists, city planners, transportation committees, and law enforcement to be educated in Cycling Savvy.

“Human attention, in the best of circumstances, is a fluid but fragile entity. Beyond a certain threshold, the more that is asked of it, the less well it performs. When this happens in a psychological experiment, it is interesting. When it happens in traffic, it can be fatal.”
― Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do


The Guy from Cycle Chic

It is truly sad that we now have to become cycling pioneers to get our society back to the way it once was.

I’ve just finished editing the film you find below. A young filmmaker friend of mine, Violeta Brana-Lafourcade went to Copenhagen recently to interview for this blog, the famous Mikael Colville-Andersen.

Mikael is a film maker by background whose life, chance has turned in a different direction.

The uploading of a photo of his several years ago onto Flicker, a mysterious snap of a long skirted biker in high heels (she was waiting for the lights to change) catapulted him into a a new life.

The wild response prompted the creation of the blog, Copenhagen Cycle Chic, dedicated to the discovery that not only are bikes beautiful, but they present those who ride them as very beautiful as well.

Whilst the word, Chic, suggests fashion, even the fashion industry, catwalks, etc. Mikael’s observed cycle world is peopled by riders who wear their own clothes, who are not posing, who are…

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