We all break the law

Most of us break the law when getting from point a to point b. This is not an anecdotal opinion. In the paper Scofflaw bicycling: Illegal but rational” University of Colorado Denver professor Wesley Marshall surveyed 18,000 road users and nearly all of them broke the law.

The US system of labor, education/childcare and transportation is designed for everyone to be at work and school at relatively the same time. This leads to congestion, which leads to dangerous maneuvers, maneuvers that typically lead to breaking the law. The reasons that people break the law to get to get where they are going differs depending on modality.  

According to Marshall people who drive and walk on the road break the law to save time. People who cycle on the road break the law to remain safe.

In the article “Why do driver’s hate cyclists” in Planetizen, Portland State University professor Tara Goddard study was cited. Goddard stated that of non-cyclists 67% believed that car drivers follow the rules of the road, while only 34% of them believed that bicyclists follow the rules of the road. For people who cycle sometimes, 59% believed that car drivers follow the rules of the road and 45% of them believed bicyclists followed the rules of the road.

None of these numbers are factually true. We all break the rules of the road.

To break it down by modality:

95.87% of bicyclists break the law.
97.90% of pedestrians break the law.
99.97% of car drivers break the law.

The law should coincide with norms. In the case of transportation it is clear that the law does not conform with the norms. If everyone must break the laws to get to where they are going do we change the laws or do we change the infrastructure to make the laws reasonable?

We clearly need laws to keep people safe, but if the laws exist just to blame individuals and to absolve the institution of responsibility of keeping people safe then they aren’t laws, but excuses.

Study after study has been done to find out who is the “bad guy” on the road. Are the drivers of cars the bad guys or is it the cyclists? The answer is there are no bad guys on the road, well at at least there are no people who are worse than other people.

The problems are infrastructure, education/childcare and labor.  

The streets are unsafe, because the infrastructure is made only to support cars, but it doesn’t just stop with infrastructure. The streets are also unsafe, because of labor. In a world where we can deposit a $10,000 check at 2 a.m. from our beds why do we all need to be at work at 9:00 a.m.? Why do we still have a 40 hour work week? Why is rush hour still a thing? Why do women have to drive an extra hour everyday to take their 6-week-olds to childcare or their 6-year-olds to kindergarten?

Nearly everyone on the road breaks the law and nearly everyone does it out of necessity, but that does not translate into we’re all scofflaws because we don’t care. We do all scoff the laws, but we do it because we do care. For cyclists they care about not being hurt and for car drivers they care about not being late to work.

The responsibility for safe streets can not continue to be placed on individuals. It can’t be about individuals’ feelings. It can’t be about individuals’ opinions. The responsibility for safe streets need to come from our institutions and those institutions need to take holistic and universal approaches. Approaches that take the configuration of the roads into account as well as the reasons we all use the roads into account, because the solutions to stopping crashes have to be determined by more than false anecdotal evidence.

Teka-Lark Lo is a journalist, bicycle advocate and the publisher of “VELO my name is: Cycle Tracks” a literary print publication that publishes philosophical stories about the journey people take on their bicycles. She is based in the Metropolitan New York area.

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