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Is It O.K. to Kill Cyclists?

This topic contains 113 replies, has 25 voices, and was last updated by  jonawebb 1 mo, 3 weeks.

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Ahlir

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Nov 10 2013 at 8:37am #

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/is-it-ok-to-kill-cyclists.html

An article in today’s New York Times, posted by a San Francisco resident (nominally a cyclist but claims to have retreated to riding on a stationary in the basement ).

The article makes good points.


Vannevar

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Nov 10 2013 at 9:11am #

I had an email from a friend on this NYTimes article, comparing the approved killing of cyclists to the approved killing via stand-your-ground laws and I thought, wow – that’s a conflation of two hot-button issues.

Then I thought, hey – guess what? Let’s really get into some cross-framework rhetoric.

No offense to anybody.


Drewbacca

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Nov 11 2013 at 3:47am #

The last line about hiding in his basement kind of ticked me off… but yeah, good points therein.

Also, I learned that every time I click the same link, NYT counts that against me for my monthly limit. WTF?

Anywho, I’m really just commenting so that this thread has as many posts as the link has been shared in other threads. I guess everyone wants to share the link but no one really wants to talk about it? ::shrugs:: *bump*


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 11 2013 at 7:24am #

Once upon a time, it was “All the news that’s fit to print.”

35 years ago, it started to migrate to “All the news that fits the print.”

Now it’s becoming “All the news that drives the paywall.”

All snark aside, I do see this story as good, in that it focuses the attention specifically on what has become THE issue creating the logjam that, once broken, will allow cyclists to reclaim the streets.


jonawebb

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Nov 11 2013 at 8:42am #

I don’t think the story is unfair or whatever it is that Stu thinks at all. I think it’s honest and fair. As the article points out, the reason drivers get away with killing cyclists is that juries won’t convict. They identify with the driver. That sounds about right to me, and I think it’s a problem that’s likely to persist so long as adult cycling is so rare.


byogman

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Nov 11 2013 at 8:47am #

It’s very important to have highlighted how totally unaccountable drivers are in practice when they bully hurt, maim, or even kill cyclists. So kudos to the writer there.

Otherwise, eh. The proposed grand bargain ain’t happening. Drivers get annoyed and jackasses among them act the way they do because we’re comparatively slow, nothing more. Every ounce of aggressive driving I’ve seen was in a scenario where I was obeying the law, but where I was going at it uphill and aparently too slowly to suit someone’s level of impatience and entitlement.

We deserve protection now, full stop.


edmonds59

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Nov 11 2013 at 10:01am #

I liked the article, and share the response toward retreating to the basement.
But, I say this from time to time, I think it’s important for cyclists not to feel singled out – i.e. motor vehicles are out there killing any and everyone.
This weekend, all over the news, 2 beloved high school football players killed in a horrific automobile “accident”, and 2 others injured. Video of crying family and friends, much sadness and wringing of hands. And we all move on. Absolutely no discussion of treating driving like the deadly activity it is, no increase in the rigor of driver training, no raising of the bar to obtain a drivers license. Just the cost of doing business. Mass societal insanity.
Hello bull, welcome to our fucking china shop.


Marko82

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Nov 11 2013 at 10:49am #

@edmonds, good point.

I try to remember that most of the terrible driving I encounter is not directed at me as a cyclist, but just bad driving period. There are the occasional d-bags that are targeting us intentionally, but I think they make up a tiny percentage of the bad drivers.

As for the two teens that were killed: I feel real bad about this for sure, but I wonder if holding a big memorial service at the football stadium sends the right message. Maybe an honest effort to have mandatory drivers training in their name would be a better way to go.


Mick

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Nov 11 2013 at 12:47pm #

Wow.
The author of the article seems very articulate and is familiar with the principles of writing a balanced article.

BUT it isn’t clear that he has ridden on the streets as an adult more than one (1) time. In any case, it IS clear he stopped riding after the first time he discovered there is technique to crossing rail and street car tracks.

(I just checked – the Bike commuting 101 guide DOES mention tracks, albeit briefly.)

I dislike someone mentioning that cyclists often faunt the law and not mentioning that drivers rarely follow, say, speed laws.


HiddenVariable

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Nov 11 2013 at 4:05pm #

bike snob had a decidedly less nice take on this article than everyone here so far.

Anybody who is “freaked out” by cycling–in San Francisco no less–should probably not be writing about it.

i tend to agree. while the article is ostensibly in favor of many of the same things i am, its main arguments are made with an ignorance of the problem, and it grants too many concessions.


edmonds59

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Nov 11 2013 at 4:14pm #

Bike Snob hits it out of the park.


Mick

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Nov 11 2013 at 4:25pm #

+1 Bike Snob!!!

I’ll do whatever the hell I need to do in order to get a head start on these homicidal mutherfuckers, and that includes running the light if I deem it safer to do so;


jonawebb

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Nov 11 2013 at 4:35pm #

I’ve been reading the studies referenced in the article (for some reason I can’t post a link to them — even when I post and then edit to add the link) and the situation, while bad, is not completely dire. Ex. the Arizona study reported on 25 accidents where the cyclist died; in all cases but one where the driver was most at fault, they received some sort of punishment. Yes, in about half those cases the punishment was a traffic ticket for something like illegally crossing a lane, but that would help the cyclist’s family receive damages in a civil suit or from the insurance company.
OTOH, as the article observes, if you’re not drunk and don’t flee, you almost certainly will not face criminal charges for killing a cyclist (or a pedestrian, for that matter). You may well be found at fault, though.


byogman

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Nov 11 2013 at 4:37pm #

Was a fun read… his stuff tends to be. The least fun part, but basically the point he builds toward and then just riffs on till the end is this


We deserve respect for being human, and it ends there. Yet we’re supposed to be good little boy scouts and girl scouts–even when it’s more dangerous for us to do so–to prove we’re deserving of not being killed? That’s just stupid and insulting.

So basically what I said “We deserve protection now, full stop.” + I think a rather appropriate characterization of the author’s proposed grand bargain.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 11 2013 at 4:52pm #

I make distinctions among:
a) proceeding through a red light or stop sign without looking or changing speeds
b) proceeding through a red light or stop sign without changing speeds but ensuring that there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction
c) proceeding through a red light or stop sign after slowing down considerably, verifying that there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction
d) coming to a complete stop, making sure there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction, then proceeding through red light or stop sign
e) coming to a complete stop, at least one foot planted on the ground for several seconds at a red light, then after verifying there is no traffic to interfere, in any direction, proceeding through it

The law does not allow for any of these. People who complain about cyclists “running red lights and stop signs” make no distinction.

I do not do (a). I do (b), (c), (d) and (e), depending on situation.


Mick

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Nov 11 2013 at 5:06pm #

jonawebb wrote:OTOH, as the article observes, if you’re not drunk and don’t flee, you almost certainly will not face criminal charges for killing a cyclist (or a pedestrian, for that matter).

Being sober should not be license to drive like a drunkard.


UnrealMachine

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Nov 11 2013 at 7:01pm #

jonawebb wrote:I’ve been reading the studies referenced in the article (for some reason I can’t post a link to them — even when I post and then edit to add the link) and the situation, while bad, is not completely dire. Ex. the Arizona study reported on 25 accidents where the cyclist died; in all cases but one where the driver was most at fault, they received some sort of punishment. Yes, in about half those cases the punishment was a traffic ticket for something like illegally crossing a lane, but that would help the cyclist’s family receive damages in a civil suit or from the insurance company.
OTOH, as the article observes, if you’re not drunk and don’t flee, you almost certainly will not face criminal charges for killing a cyclist (or a pedestrian, for that matter). You may well be found at fault, though.

What were the five harshest penalties (criminal & civil) given to the motorists found at fault in that report?


jonawebb

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Nov 11 2013 at 8:28pm #

The filter is really cracking down on anything that looks remotely like a URL. Annoying.
Try this: the report is at
azbikelaw dot org slash report slash 2009CyclistFatals dot pdf
The worst criminal charges were negligent homicide or manslaughter.
BTW, a limitation of the Arizona report is that it starts from the accident report. Since the cyclist was killed, unless there were other witnesses, there’s no one to contradict the driver’s version. So there were probably more cases where the motorist was at fault than reported.


jonawebb

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Nov 12 2013 at 10:22am #

I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t think it’s quite right to claim that it’s OK to kill cyclists. Cyclists aren’t being protected, but, really, no one is. If a motorist kills another motorist, or a pedestrian, and doesn’t flee, isn’t drunk, and wasn’t driving recklessly, he’s likely to get off with no more than a ticket.
The problems with this for cyclists are: 1) Pedestrians aren’t usually sharing the road with motorists; 2) Other motorists are protected by their cars; 3) Cyclists experience harassing behavior more than pedestrians.
So we don’t want to ask for the same protection people get for being human (as BSNYC says); that’s not enough. We want extra protection, because we’re uniquely vulnerable, and are being harassed. And we deserve it, because cycling benefits the community in so many ways — better use of existing infrastructure, health benefits, and so on.


byogman

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Nov 12 2013 at 10:52am #

I disagree, what I think we need as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, is for motor vehicle related death or injury to be treated with the seriousness with which it would have been treated were it caused without a motor vehicle.

Not that we’ll get that either. Our infrastructure and culture need to change in major ways before driving is thought of as a choice. While it’s not considered a choice nobody will really want to own up to the tragic consequences. But it’s at least an argument I think we could get a little more traction on, than to advance the idea that we’re special.


Marko82

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Nov 12 2013 at 11:06am #

byogman wrote:motor vehicle related death or injury to be treated with the seriousness with which it would have been treated were it caused without a motor vehicle

Yes! How many people would be satisfied if I shot a gun in their direction but I aimed the bullet 4 feet from their head? Isnt that what the SUV driver is doing with their two ton bullet?


jonawebb

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Nov 12 2013 at 11:14am #

First of all, seriously? We are so very far away from motorists who kill someone being treated as criminals — I would be amazed if we ever get there. People depend on their automobiles. Our cities and suburbs are laid out in ways that rely on them. It would take decades if not centuries for this to change. Are you willing to wait that long?
Second, we are already asking for, and receiving, special treatment, and it is benefiting us. The four foot rule, for example, No rule requires motorists to give other motorists, or pedestrians, four feet when passing. It’s not necessary for the reasons I just said. We’d like a law that makes harassing a cyclist a crime, for the same reason. Are you now opposed to these special privileges?


Mick

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Nov 12 2013 at 11:20am #

jonawebb wrote:We are so very far away from motorists who kill someone being treated as criminals — I would be amazed if we ever get there.

I’m guessing that we’ll have robocars in a few years.

Depending on whether or not they allow manual over-rides for things like speed limits, auto fatalities might drop to the hundreds per year or maybe even dozens.

I don’t believe robocars would be acceptable if they were dangerous. I mean really dangerous – like 5% of the current danger of car driving or something- DANGEROUS.


jonawebb

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Nov 12 2013 at 11:24am #

@Mick, so you’re willing to give up the four foot rule because we’ll have robocars soon?


byogman

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Nov 12 2013 at 11:43am #

Change happens incrementally and not quickly. Even robo cars will start small and incrementally become a larger part of the vehicle miles picture. I’m not opposed to special laws benefitting us so much as that I see a low limit to how far the argument can be advanced and a far lower limit in terms of how seriously it will all be taken when expressed on those terms.

Conversely, a dead person is a dead person and a strong argument no matter your sympathies. And no that reckoning won’t happen quickly in spite of the cold and terrifying logic of it, a century of auto-centric infrastructure and planning won’t go away in years or even decades. But I’m hoping the robo-car will be our ally again here and speed the process somewhat. I.E. it’s a choice to “drive” when you can leave it to the more cautious robo-car.


Ahlir

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Nov 12 2013 at 12:00pm #

If robo-cars, why not robo-bikes?

Anyway, there’s already cars that supposedly park themselves.
Robo stuff will likely first show up more on highways (already there are systems that tell you to stay in the lane or not get too close to the guy in front), where the driving is simpler. I don’t see robo-cars doing too good on crowded city streets.

Besides, we already have efficient robo-cars that carry people in groups of up to maybe 40 at a time (well, with a human minder on board). I can see reducing the group sizes for some situations but it’s hard to image that carrying just one person at a time in a robo-car would be all that efficient. If nothing else, think of how crowded our streets would end up. No fun.


UnrealMachine

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Nov 12 2013 at 12:15pm #

jonawebb wrote:The filter is really cracking down on anything that looks remotely like a URL. Annoying.
Try this: the report is at
azbikelaw dot org slash report slash 2009CyclistFatals dot pdf
The worst criminal charges were negligent homicide or manslaughter.
BTW, a limitation of the Arizona report is that it starts from the accident report. Since the cyclist was killed, unless there were other witnesses, there’s no one to contradict the driver’s version. So there were probably more cases where the motorist was at fault than reported.

I’ll check that out when I get a moment, thanks. BTW, here is a more recent example of “AZ justice”: http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/story/23364601/2013/09/06/linsk-sentencing


byogman

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Nov 12 2013 at 12:33pm #

Robo-car will be safer on the highway than in city streets just like any driver would be, there’s just less going on. So automatic control is starting there. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get to city driving.

We’re already there in terms of the tech existing and performing well in demonstrations. It’s just driving the cost down and tackling more small fraction of a fraction of a percent stuff that is necessary for this to happen. That, and acceptance, and a legal framework. Not small, but by no means unimaginable.

Now what would it mean negatively? Probably mainly getting starved out of intersections by more aggressive manual drivers, and encountering some changed road condition from the last time it was mapped and not knowing how to handle and shutting down until something with better sensors and/or a human can come by and map out what’s really going on, so that could be the cause of some interesting delays if it cascades. Perhaps something more serious on rare occasion, it’s hard to say what not being inside the problem.

But no aggression, hyper-awareness… these things are worth a lot. And how crowded would our streets be? What you have the opportunity for with robo-car is basically ubiquitous and CHEAP taxi service. So it could wind up out competing public transit (at least until that goes robo) and that would be more vehicles. However, the vehicles could, unlike the current dominant varieties, be sized to a single occupant, or if sized for more occupants, could run in patterns that actually put butts in seats. And service frequency would obviously be far greater where people cluster, so with a planned change to express type service between public transit hubs you could get a fairly nice hub/spoke pattern.

Also, you get to double down on high density goodness since you need fewer robo-cars than regular, they can be smaller, and since they can drive themselves back out of walking range when there isn’t someone else to pick up.

Why not robo-bikes? Balance? Most people not on bikes want climate control?


Mick

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Nov 12 2013 at 12:43pm #

jonawebb wrote:@Mick, so you’re willing to give up the four foot rule because we’ll have robocars soon?

? ? ?

Not sure where this is coming from.

I’m just saying that robcars seem more imminent than punitive measures for murderous drivers.


Steven

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Nov 13 2013 at 8:38am #

Automated vehicles could make things worse too. They’ll be able to handle the easy parts like freeways long before they handle the hard parts. Avoiding other cars is fairly easy, since they’re big and boxy and metal, but it’s harder to recognize pedestrians or bikes.

But if it mostly works, and it means drivers can pay attention to something else instead, many drivers will do just that. Think of all that new leisure time, without the annoyance of occasional glances at the road. It’s surely worth the price of an occasional ticket for killing somebody, right?

Even if better technology is slowly coming, once most people have robocars that can only reliably see other cars, there will be a lot of pressure to adapt more roads to the new cars by prohibiting anything the robocars can’t handle. For safety, of course.


jonawebb

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Nov 13 2013 at 9:53am #

You know, as Yogi Berra said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Robocars could make things better, or worse, or they could take a lot longer to happen than we think. Let’s concentrate on what’s achievable in the present. I would say it’s unlikely we’re going to get the idea that motorists killing other people is criminal through people’s heads any time soon. So, as an alternative, let’s focus on things that protect us, like the four foot rule, a law making harassing cyclists illegal, better enforcement of existing laws, better infrastructure, and so on.


HiddenVariable

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Nov 13 2013 at 10:56am #

@Steven: automated vehicles are already considerably better at the tasks you mention than you might imagine. and there is no way they get rolled out without mastering those tasks, orders of magnitude better than humans do.


planigan

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Nov 13 2013 at 11:33am #

Steven wrote:Automated vehicles could make things worse too. They’ll be able to handle the easy parts like freeways long before they handle the hard parts. Avoiding other cars is fairly easy, since they’re big and boxy and metal, but it’s harder to recognize pedestrians or bikes.

Just wanted to point out that there is a lot of work in the autonomous driving community that focuses specifically on pedestrian and bicycle detection. Volvo, for example, recently announced it as an upcoming safety feature with automatic braking.

Check out the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOn4729TcJ0


Mick

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Nov 13 2013 at 11:48am #

I still believe:
Robocars will never be allowed unless they are far more safe than human drivers.

There might be certain situations that are still hazardous and those might involve non-car transportation. But I’m guessing an acceptable robobocar would still be less hazardous then the safest of drivers (which is still pretty hazardous.)


Steven

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Nov 13 2013 at 12:07pm #

Glad to hear of the progress being made. If it eventually shows up in all vehicles with automated driving, and works as well in practice as it does in that ad, it would be really good. (If it’s only available with certain high-end car brands, not so good.)


byogman

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Nov 13 2013 at 12:43pm #

(If it’s only available with certain high-end car brands, not so good.)

I think like any vehicle tech it will start in the newer vehicles and lux brands and gradually mostly trickle down and take a long, long time to work through the majority of the vehicle fleet.

So there’ll be a long tail, but I still wouldn’t underestimate the potential for short term impact. Drivers of newer vehicle and newer sport/lux vehicles especially (not Volvos, but other vehicles in those segments) seem to do a disproportionate amount of asshole-ish driving. I think it relates to feeling of entitlement.


StuInMcCandless

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Nov 13 2013 at 12:49pm #

I would not worry about robocars. I would worry about licenses and renewals of licenses for humans. That’s a right-here-right-now that we can do something about, if we had the will to do so.


jonawebb

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Nov 13 2013 at 1:04pm #

@Stu — also: actually checking to see if people driving cars are licensed, and not drunk, would be nice.


edmonds59

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Nov 13 2013 at 5:15pm #

If robotic automobiles are programmed not to hit pedestrians or cyclists, just imagine the first miscreant pedestrians and/or cyclists who figure that out, and oh the fun/trouble they will cause.
I imagine that “willfully obstructing an automated vehicle” will soon become a punishable offense. And every moment of every one of our lives will be on video.


jonawebb

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Nov 13 2013 at 6:52pm #

One thing I like about American companies is how they never introduce new technology that might hurt people just to make a buck.

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