Admittedly, that's an idea that seems pretty far-fetched. Anyone who's ever worked in personal injury law knows that there are a lot of accidents between automobiles and bicycles, and most often the cyclists get the worst of it. But when you ask why it happens, the answers don't usually involve angry people. Rather, you tend to get lots of facts and figures about what percentage of drivers don't see the cyclists they hit, the danger of biking towards the flow of traffic, and why it's so important to use reflectors at night. But are those stats ignoring the role that human emotion can play in accidents?
After all, it would be incredibly hard to argue against the notion that many drivers out there absolutely hate cyclists who use the road. Respected news outlets like Chicago Magazine, Slate, and the BBChas written stories detailing the rage, disgust, and annoyance many drivers feel towards cyclists, and there are even entire Twitter feeds and Wordpress pages devoted to how horrible cyclists are.
What if this rage spills out of the driver while they're on the road,and a cyclist does something "annoying"?
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, angry drivers accounted for 12,610 injuries and over 200 deaths from 1990 to 1996, and those numbers went up by about 7 percent every year. If even some of those bicyclist-hating drivers are suffering from actual road rage and experience an inciting incident, it seems perfectly plausible that they might take their aggression out on a helpless cyclist in a moment of fury.And even if the act isn't as malicious as that, drivers experiencing anger (whether toward cyclists or others on the road) are far more likely to drive in ways that aren't safe, such as:
• Speeding. Most of us speed at least a little bit from time to time, but angry drivers go faster and do it more habitually. They're also more likely to be frustrated by slower-moving cyclists.
• Frequently switching lanes.In an effort to get to where they're going faster and avoid others on the road who aren't behaving up to their standards, these drivers often switch lanes and weave in and out of traffic – things that put cyclists in greater danger.
• Cutting off others. Cutting off another car likely won't lead to much worse than a fender bender unless both vehicles are moving very fast, but if a motorist misjudges when cutting off a cyclist, they can cause serious injuries.
• Tailgating. This is very similar to the above problem. Angry drivers tend to drive close to other vehicles to display their unhappiness and encourage them to move faster. This is bad enough with cars, but tailgating a bike may lead to real damage and injuries.
• Turning on red. Most drivers know the feeling of frustration when you're just a few cars away from being able to turn right,but the people ahead of you won't go. Now imagine a cyclist who can weave past you – and those other cars – and make the turn. For some, that's infuriating.
There are a number of theories circulating about the reason why drivers despise cyclists so much. Some say that people in automobiles are afraid of hurting bikers and channel this as anger. Others argue that motorists are essentially offended by the fact that cyclists have a different set of rules to follow than everyone else on the road. A few even suggest that drivers are jealous of people on bikes because they're arguably happier and healthier.
Ultimately, though, none of that may matter. If the ultimate goal is to decrease the number of accidents, New York might have the right idea. Although the city is still full of animosity between drivers and cyclists, they've continued to add separate bike lanes to their streets. The results? Partially because there's less interacting between drivers and cyclists, bike accidents have decreased. And because there's more of a barrier between cars and the sidewalk, pedestrian-car accidents have gone down too. It's hard to hate – or hit – something that's no longer impacting you.
Steven E. Slootsky is a 1985 graduate of Nova Law School, which means he's been a practicing Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer for more than 2 decades. He founded the Law Offices of Slootsky, Perez & Braxton in 1991. The Fort Lauderdale-based accident attorney is a member of the Florida Bar, as well as the Federal Bar for the Southern District for the U.S. District Court. During his career as a personal injury lawyer/auto accident compensation attorney, Steven has served as the co-chair of the Workers'Compensation section for Broward County, Florida. He is also a Bronze member of the Florida Workers Advocates, a former member of the board, and serves as an "Eagle" member of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers.