We Need To Talk About Driver Privilege

Categories: Cars and Trucks

driverpriv.jpg
Photo by Flickr user Rory Finneren
Houston has seen at least three vehicle-bicycle accidents in the past few months, including two fatalities. The city is making small strides towards improving cycling infrastructure, but driver awareness of bike-related traffic laws remains low compared to other cities. And driver aggression remains high.

This is nothing new. In a 2009 cover story called Ghost Riders, the Press wrote about Houston's plague of cyclist deaths, and the lack of accountability faced by drivers who kill them.

While in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest last month, I watched a driver try to turn right at an intersection where pedestrians had a right-of-way crosswalk signal. The driver, annoyed that the pedestrians were taking too long, lurched forward aggressively and honked at the walkers. The incident highlighted for me the problem of Driver Ego, where even seemingly nice, normal people turn into complete assholes in the comfort of their two-ton steel cages.

"Privilege" is a word used frequently in sociopolitical circles to discuss disparities in certain groups of people. In a nutshell,

Privilege is about how society accommodates you. It's about advantages you have that you think are normal. It's about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal.

Roughly 50 cyclists, 400 pedestrians and 500 motorcyclists are killed every year on Texas roads. Friends... I think it's time we had a talk about driver privilege.

Driver privilege is the fact that, though roadways have accommodated bicycles and other forms of transportation, such as horseback riders, pedestrians and drawn carts and carriages, for hundreds of years before cars were invented, vehicles now have the de facto right of way on any roadway.

Driver privilege is people still feel "safe" texting while behind the wheel of a 4,000lb vehicle capable of reaching triple digit speeds.

Driver privilege is the expectation that a person's ego and identity will be exhibited by the make, model, age and cost of car they drive.

Driver privilege is people feeling comfortable endangering their lives and others by speeding, despite the fact that speeding doesn't really make a difference in arrival time.

Driver privilege is Rick Perry vetoing a state safe-passing law that passed the Texas House and Senate with 95 percent support.

Driver privilege is the City of Houston approving a safe passing ordinance, but not enforcing it in any way.

Driver privilege is Houston Police Chief Charles McClellan not getting a citation after hitting and injuring a pedestrian who had the right of way in a crosswalk.

Driver privilege is antisocial driver behavior being so common it has its own name.

Driver privilege is drivers in fatality hit-and-run accidents getting probation for their crimes, even though leaving the scene of an accident is a felony.

Driver privilege is DAs not charging motorists because juries full of motorists sympathize with them.

Driver privilege is click-it-or-ticket PSAs to protect the life of drivers and passengers, but no PSAs to protect the lives and rights of cyclists.

Driver privilege is hearing people say, after a bike-vehicle accident, "cyclists need to be more careful" instead of hearing "drivers need to be more careful."

This is driver privilege:

I'm sure there are more. Kristin at the Scintillator blog has a good list too. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

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61 comments
spm.0772
spm.0772

I think it is important to get this privilege out of the minds of the sheep that believe what the government tells them.  The definition of a privilege is simple: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.  That said, obtaining a drivers license is by far not a privilege based on the definition alone.  There is nothing special nor is granted to a group of people.  Any schlep can obtain a drivers license unless you are; 1) blind; 2) mentally incapable of taking the most simple test in the United States; 3) passing the simplest driving test known by man; 4) a paraplegic; and 5) if you do not wish to have a drivers license.  Furthermore, this "privilege" and/or test that one has to take is done one time in your life (pretty sure about that) at the ripe age of 16 (or whenever you wish to take the test).  This allows some of the most dangerous drivers on the road, and no, it is not drunks, it is old people.  That's right -- old people that cannot see past the hood of the car and has reflexes close to the binge drinker on a Saturday night after 2 a.m. This privilege that has been imbedded in peoples psych since drivers education in high school is an utter joke to say the least that is intended nothing more to generate revenue for the states.

The drivers license is and has been challenged in court many times based on the constitutionality as all citizens have the right to travel on roads that the tax payer pays for to maintain.  Now anyone that has a smiggin of rational thought can understand that people that have a severe disability cannot drive a 2 ton vehicle.  That said, take a step back look at the government control and realize that there really is no privilege to driving a vehicle, and if you think driving is a privilege, you have one boring lame arse life.   

Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

Try commuting in SF. Cyclists are considered a protected class by idiotic pro-gentrifying city officials.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

The kind of moron that goes out onto a city street late at night and expects drivers to see them is a special kind of moron.  


Even when I was 8 I learned to bike going against drivers on desolate roads.  That way, at least I'd be able to see if a car wasn't paying attention.


I would never trust cars behind me to see me on the road. 

Kt Tlr
Kt Tlr

Drivers absolutely need to be respectful, aware and careful of cyclists. And we need more bike lanes in Houston. But we should also address the fact that many cyclist don't follow traffic laws and blatantly put themselves at risk. I see this constantly in the Heights and Montrose.

GlenW
GlenW

When riding my bike in traffic, my strategy is to act like a car. I make myself as visible as possible. I prefer one-way streets and side streets. Buy street are best avoided, but when using them I act like a car, or motorcycle. This may seem risky, or reckless, but what does the driver often say when he's hit someone on a bike? "I didn't see him" So I make myself conspicuous. When arriving at a busy intersection, I make my way to the front and usually go through the light before it turns green. Yes I broke the law, but everyone saw me do it and will continue seeing me while they swear and pass me.

Mayling Tate
Mayling Tate

How do you expect the majority of these idiots in cars, trucks, and semis to share the road with cyclists and motorcycles when they can barely share the roads with each other?!?

paval
paval topcommenter

Bikes and bikers are a problem. 

They do not offer a buffer zone as cars do but can sometimes achieve speeds that lead to increased risks in unforeseen situations.

They are not very visible and if driven without lights in the mornings or evenings, even more so. 

The reckless drivers of cars sometimes also drive bicycles and most times they drive them the same way they drive cars, but feel that car drivers are reckless. (I regularly train in one of the city's parks and see the behavior of bike riders in the park, where they are reckless towards pedestrians, the weaker ones in this situation)

The proliferation of cell phones has reached bikers (and for that matter pedestrians) and these participants of traffic also get distracted by cell phones ringing, texts beeping or texting while riding a bike (all seen in the real life)

However bikes can be part of the solution. They need to be integrated into a traffic (r)evolution concept that includes cars, car-sharing, public transportation, bikes, pedestrians and a police force to enforce the laws that apply to all participants in traffic, instead of police officers running over pedestrians, directing exiting traffic on the private dime, for firms in downtown or other areas that offer the service of their "own" police officer as a perk to their workers. 

Bike lanes should not be build additionally to the existing roads, but gained out of them. After all the traffic concept should provide more green areas, and not more concrete to provide each participant of traffic its dedicated roads. We need to learn to live together and not each on his/her own world with their own roads. (though a road along the bayous, for instance, that would make it possible for someone to come into work faster than by car or train, would provide a huge incentive for someone to choose bike over car and BAM!! a car less on the road)


Even if a movement like Critical Mass provide attention to the bikers needs, it increases the conflict potential between the different participants and should not be the avenue of choice. The avenue of choice is each and everyone of the bikers to ask themselves:

"How do I act when I am driving my car towards the weaker participants" 


Alethea Drexler
Alethea Drexler

I was almost T-boned by a bicyclist who didn't think he needed to stop at a stop sign. He yelled and flipped me off. This is not a closed course, buddy--you obey traffic signals just like the rest of us. I had the right-of-way.

Alethea Drexler
Alethea Drexler

I always watch for both bicyclists and motorcyclists. This goes both ways, though: If they want to be treated with the respect that cars accord, they need to play by the rules of larger, heavier, and less agile vehicles (and by the rules of law). If they ignore stop signs or weave in and out of traffic, cars can't stop or maneuver quickly enough to miss them, and cyclists are not always as visible to drivers as they think they are, especially if they're moving quickly and into spaces that drivers are not likely to expect them (such as between lanes of traffic, driving on the yellow lines).

nonan01
nonan01

"Accident" is not the correct term. We like to use: collision, crash, assault. Accident tends to infer that nothing could be done to prevent the crash. In traffic situations, motorists are a almost always at fault if for no other reason than speeding or not paying attention in a 4000# death machine.

Great article. Thank you.

Julian Garcia Jr.
Julian Garcia Jr.

All too often I see bike riders passing red lights and riding in between cars. They want us to share the road, I have no problem with that, but they need to obey the same rules as I do.

theonecalledjake
theonecalledjake

Two thoughts.

1. Yes, drivers need to be more mindful of cyclists. Way too many cyclists are needlessly injured/killed every year.


2. A cyclist slowing down traffic (i.e. a cyclist blocking an entire lane in a 30 MPH zone) is the epitome of arrogance.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

This was a good article on institutionalized tragedy, well done, Ms. Shey. I bet a lot of folks will have renewed interest in "privilege" when gas is $4/gallon again.

Adolfo Nava
Adolfo Nava

Just obey the law I do when I ride on the street and I haven't had a close call, I did one time when a cyclist ran a red light and I was driving

Matthew Ashton
Matthew Ashton

The safety of people in number one priority, whether they are walking, biking, or in a vehicle. This concept of “Driver Ego” is a real thing. If you can’t be safe and calm behind the wheel of a vehicle you shouldn’t be driving, no excuses. Sympathize with those around you when “you have the power”. Great article.

Jonathan Woolf
Jonathan Woolf

Wear a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, the special jackets motorcyclists wear and don't ride like you own the road with your 20 pound bike and we would have fewer deaths.... Why doesn't HP write an article on all the motorcyclist deaths? They drive like idiots on the street and freeways and end up with the same result as bicyclist. Obey laws, ride safety, and wear protective gear and we wouldn't be having this conversation. Sure accidents will occur that's why they are called accidents. It's up to both drivers and cyclist to be safe and aware.

Anse
Anse

These stories are usually met with a bunch of drivers pissing and moaning about bicyclists not obeying traffic laws or whatever. But for the life of me, I've never encountered a person on a bike doing anything remotely dangerous, unless constantly looking behind and to each side in abject terror counts as dangerous because they weren't looking straight ahead. It takes so little to accommodate the few bikes we have on our streets. But I'll agree that we need a better infrastructure for bikes. We need wider bike lanes, and our growing greenbelts represent a great opportunity to build a separate "bike highway" system, if you will. They just need to figure out how to connect things up at the 610 and other highway intersections.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

As an avid cyclist I consider it a small miracle when I see a driver actually use their turn signal. The next biggest issue being the allure of the cellphone at cruising speeds, or anytime really; I venture to say it's just as dangerous as driving intoxicated.  On my way to work this morning at the intersection of Memorial and 610 did a head count 9 out of 10 women were actively on their phones texting, while men scored slightly better at 4 out of 10 on their phones. Seriously folks it can wait.

Nate
Nate

Most historians agree that pedal/crank bicycles were invented in the 1860's, with the bike becoming a common mode of transportation in the 1890's, early 1900's.  Hardly "hundreds of years before cars were invented".

Taking to the road in any vehicle in Houston involves risk.  Lots of vehicle/vehicle related fatalities/serious injuries as well.  Taking to the roads on a bicycle or motorcycle involves more risk.  As you cannot control the behaviors/decisions of others, only yourself, what is the most effective way to reduce this risk?

house567
house567

... with empathy, understanding, and compassion...the same way all people would with to be treated.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@nonan01 yep, just like when a cyclist "assualts" my car when they run stop signs and red lights...

house567
house567

....such as speed limits?

unhomed
unhomed

@theonecalledjake Speed limits are upper limits.  Having a car doesn't mean you have the right to go as fast as you want all the time.  


Check your privilege.  

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Jake, we're not blocking traffic, we are traffic.

staceyjohanna
staceyjohanna

A bicycle is considered traffic, not an impediment to traffic in Texas. Arrogance is being ignorant of the law and talking about the bike rider on a 30 mph street being in your way. You are exactly what this article is about.

bayoucitycyclist
bayoucitycyclist

@theonecalledjake It's not arrogance. Cyclists often have narrow options when it comes to wayfinding in this city. Crossing our bayous, freeways, railroad tracks and busy streets often requires riding on the faster-moving roads that were designed for this purpose. If only I could get across Allen Parkway with signal protection WITHOUT riding on fast-moving Waugh Drive. Unfortunately, many drivers don't recognize the awkward and dangerous position this puts cyclists in—they only think about how inconvenient it is to have to slow down for them. 


We need a comprehensive system of dedicated, on-street, protected bicycle lanes, now. When that happens I will happily get out of your way — I won't miss angry motorists breathing down my neck while I'm trying to get to work and back! For now, though, we have a right to the road. Please respect it!

jpineda1982
jpineda1982

@theonecalledjake Where do expect that cyclist to go? The law allows cyclist to use any road not restricted by a sign indicating "no cyclist". A 30 mph road is probably not restricted. In order for the cyclist to be required by law to move over and allow a car to pass them in the same lane, he/she must be a "safe distance" from the curb. We can use Houston safe passage law as a guide to say "safe distance" from the curb is 3 feet. The car then must be able to pass him with three feet clearance and still be in the lane. If the cyclist, the car, and 3 feet of space on either side of the cyclist cannot be accomodated the cyclist has every right to use the entire lane to secure their own safety. http://www.biketexas.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54&Itemid=64

sealock713
sealock713

@theonecalledjake Yes, but then the idea of black people voting was once considered the epitome of arrogance. It's their right. Respect it.

BrittanieShey
BrittanieShey

Are you saying Chelsea Norman's accident was her own fault? You have no idea whether or not, to use your words, she was "driving like an idiot."

stacey718
stacey718

@Anse I totally agree with this article. I am very pro-cyclist. However, I wanted to respond to this comment: "I've never encountered a person on a bike doing anything remotely dangerous....." Because you've ever encountered them, does not mean they don't exist. My children were playing in our yard. There were 5 of them, plus two adults supervising. No tall fences blocking line of sight. No reason a person couldn't see them. An adult cyclist came flying down the sidewalk on our very wide (like 4 lanes wide) side street with almost no traffic. After he slammed into my 2 year old son with hemophilia, causing him to slam his head into the pavement. My husband picked up both bike and rider and tossed them aside to get to our screaming child. The biker had the nerve to make a snide comment to my husband about being excessively rough. I was already sitting in the ER with our older son who also has hemophilia, and had suffered a face injury of his own (think George of the Jungle). So I was joined by husband and younger son for two CT scans. Fortunately, both boys were ok. 


Please understand, as much as I am pro-bike, I am very, very upset when I see bikers NOT following rules of the road. If they want to be given the same respect as autos, then they need to follow the same rules as autos. They need to stop at stop signs, turn properly, and respect right of way. I expect the vast majority do, especially those who use their bake as their primary form of transport. But so many don't and those who don't, cause all kinds of trouble for the rest of you.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Sadly both those accidents occurred where there are well marked segregated bike lanes in place. Clearly the fault lies solely with the drivers, one of which was a hit and run.

BrittanieShey
BrittanieShey

@Nate Horseback riding and horse carts exists hundreds of years before cars did. Reading comprehension is your friend.

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

@Nate "As you cannot control the behaviors/decisions of others, only yourself, what is the most effective way to reduce this risk?"


Education, awareness and policies that promote safety for all.  That's kind of the point of the article.  

nonan01
nonan01

In a case such as a cyclist striking your car, they would be at fault. The big difference is they might leave a dent or broken light. A car tends to seriously injure or kill cyclists, pedestrians and other motorists. If running lights and stop signs are your biggest worry from a cyclist you are lucky.

theonecalledjake
theonecalledjake

"No person shall drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic." -Texas Law


I assume that means bikes too, but I could be wrong.


Check your arrogance.

theonecalledjake
theonecalledjake

Did you really just compare cyclist rights to the civil rights movement? I know that most cyclists are not the stereotypical self-important prick motorists make them out to be...but you sound like you are.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@BrittanieShey Jonathan Woolf was just giving an extreme view of his "side", just like you did in your article....

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@stacey718 @Anse the commentors here do dot want to hear about cyclists that do not follow the rules of the road, because that does not further their agenda, you know, cars are bad, drivers are haters, those types of things....

nate
nate

@BrittanieShey "though roadways have accommodated bicycles and other forms of transportation, such as horseback riders, pedestrians and drawn carts and carriages, for hundreds of years before cars were invented"


And writing is yours. 

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@johnnybench @Nate to be honest, the point of the article was to blindly bash drivers, it was one sided and refused to acknowledge cyclists' responsibility in advancing solutions to these issues....


nonan01
nonan01

True. That is a possibility. But much less of a chance if the motorist is giving a safe distance to react in case something like that happens. This also just as big a possibility with another car.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@nonan01 what is worse, murder or rape? You can't just use that argument , they are both bad...

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@nonan01 I disagree, a bicycle swerving into a lane will cause most drivers to swerve to avoid them, and can cause accidents...

nonan01
nonan01

Also, cyclists aren't usually able to run a car off the road by endangering the motorists life when they hit them.

nonan01
nonan01

Honestly. What is worse: a cyclist breaking a law or a motorist killing-seriously injuring another human being? Are you actually trying to equate these? Also, I have never said that cyclists don't break laws.

Aggressive driving is much more if a problem for all road users.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@nonan01 but yes, lets focus on the cyclist being hurt, not breaking the traffic laws, until this happens on both fronts nothing will change...

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@nonan01 just addressing your narrow mindedness on the topic....

nonan01
nonan01

Your comparisons are so off, you are really reaching now. That statement is ridiculous and not even close to the difference of the severity of of the crimes.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

@nonan01 OK, I see people robbing banks on the news, a small number of them , but they are still doing it, but lets not address that either...

nonan01
nonan01

Wow. Always goes back to complaints of a small amount of cyclists running lights or signs. Cars and other vehicles break more laws on a regular basis than cyclists or pedestrians do just by their numbers. I see speeding, cutting off, tailgating aggression, running lights, incomete stops, running stops etc far more than any cyclists I ride with or see I. The road when riding or driving. Pick another argument please, this one is played out.

theonecalledjake
theonecalledjake

Well, I've never had close calls by a man in a tractor running a stop sign. When that happens, I'll include the entire quote.


Check your arrogance.

queenmydishes
queenmydishes

@theonecalledjake Not wrong, but you completely left off the second part, "A person, driving at less than the normal speed of traffic, shall drive in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway."

This applies to bikes, farm equipment, cars using their emergency flashers, etc.


Check your privilege and reading comprehension

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