The average woman today weighs approximately what an average man weighed in the 1960s. Women have grown in girth, but not height. The average man today weighs about what a typical professional football player weighed in the 1960s. So far, the heaviest human was a US man who weighed 975 lbs. Walking speeds vary, but the average is about 4 miles per hour.
A “normal” sized car weighs 4,079 pounds. The average vehicle is more than 15 feet long and 5 ½ feet wide. The tare weight of a city bus is around 33,000 pounds. Vehicles have both design and legal limits on how fast they can travel, but they can easily exceed human-powered movement.
People are big. Vehicles are bigger. Humans may be aspiring to weigh as much as vehicles, but they still have a long way to go. Besides, no baby has been born with wheels and motor, yet. Despite the size disparity, machines and people often share the same space. Traffic laws and speed limits are calibrated to the size and capabilities of motorized vehicles. Speed times size equals impact. You don’t have to be a physicist to figure out who wins and loses in vehicle versus pedestrian or bike collision. In the United States in 2016, there were 37,461 deaths from motor vehicle accidents (MVA). Is averaging over 100 deaths a day acceptable? Crashes not only cost human lives, but according to the National Safety Council also include injuries (an estimated 4.6 million people) and financial costs (approximately $430 billion).
Virginia imposes a $50 fine on a driver who opens a vehicle door without checking to ensure that it is safe (“dooring”). The traffic violation does not impose points against a driver’s record. Many cyclists have been startled or doored by oblivious drivers. Distraction begets destruction or injury. A $50 fine doesn’t even pay for an urgent care visit to stitch lacerations (not that the fine actually goes to the victim).
A Washington Post columnist called cyclists “bullies” and seemed to suggest that violence was a good response against bicycles: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.” From a driver’s perspective, a fine hurts, but not like injuries, recovery and rehab. Even the costs of replacing and repairing bike, gear and clothing exceeds a driver’s fine, let alone ER visit (~$25,600) , ambulance ride (~$450), and follow-up costs for subsequent hospitalization, surgery and therapy.
A bully uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker or smaller. Who is the predator and who is prey? We cherish our mechanized existences for convenience and speed, but a driver’s moment of inattention can become a cyclist’s near-death episode.
In making a decision to bike or drive, I try to balance ensuring I’m around to watch my grandkids grow up and trying not to pollute the world they live in. When I fear for my life on a bicycle, it’s hard to “be the change I want to see in the world.”
© Joan S Grey, 18 MAY 2018
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