NY Times Ethicist on Rule-Breaking Cyclists- Mtbr.com
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    NY Times Ethicist on Rule-Breaking Cyclists


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    That so-called ethicist is a twit. Rationalizing illegal behavior and then calling it ethical since it "only affects me" is self-serving tripe. I forget who said it first but " Ethics are how we behave when no one is watching". I'm not gonna be a hypocrite and say I don't break the law, ('cause I do) but I won't rationalize it, I'll admit it (except to the police ). I'll also say that I make the attempt to obey the traffic laws when I ride since most of the traffic laws that I know, tend to favor my safety.
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    I thought the author made some very good points. My favorite quote from the article: "Laws work best when they are voluntarily heeded by people who regard them as reasonable".We all rationalize our actions at some level. Bikes aren't cars, and they're not pedestrians. I do know in my 22 mile, mostly rural commute, my safety is my number one priority and concern because I'm the one who will pay the price of a mistake, no matter who's mistake it is, and no matter whether a law was broken or not.
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    I find nothing wrong with bicyclists treating stop signs and red lights as yield signs. Junior 1210, is this "self-serving" behavior compromising the peace, safety, or security of others? Not trying to pick a fight, I would just like a better understanding of your POV.

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    Bike Snob NYC

    good commentary

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnlh View Post
    I find nothing wrong with bicyclists treating stop signs and red lights as yield signs. Junior 1210, is this "self-serving" behavior compromising the peace, safety, or security of others? Not trying to pick a fight, I would just like a better understanding of your POV.
    It's not self-serving about other people, it's only about what you do. The same as how I don't care if you want to smoke weed, but I choose not to. Weather I care about it or not, it is against the law, and unless the law is discriminatory (like the old Jim Crow Laws) or just plain wrong (like Prohibition), breaking the law by definition is unethical. I'll admit some traffic laws might be old and outdated, and could use a rethink, but that isn't a decision I (or you) should be making as we pedal to or from work.

    I spent the best part of 19 years as a long haul (or "over the road") truck driver, and have had to endure endless lectures on traffic safety from D.O.T. and police officers on the why and where-for of traffic laws in specific and in general. I'll be the first to admit that some of those rules weren't well thought out and were motivated more by politics than the public good but, I'm still required to obey the laws I don't agree with just as much as the ones I do agree with. When on those occasions when I choose to not obey the law, I owned up to it when/if I got caught. There were far too many times I or others made mistakes when everybody in the situation were obeying the rules and still accidents happened, so when you choose not to follow those rules even if you are being careful, if others aren't you expose yourself to serious danger.

    All I'm saying is that if you or others decide to not follow the law, that is your choice. Good or bad, careful or not, when you do, breaking the law is still breaking the law, and that is unethical except when fighting an unjust or discriminatory law. When that writer tries to rationalize his behavior claiming he's not hurting anybody else, he's just weaseling out of his responsibility of owning his own conduct. The BikeSnob also made a great point in that while the writer thinks he's using his own judgement wisely, so does everybody else, and as we all know that is just not the case.

    - End of rant

    I know that sounds a bit judgmental and I'm not as priggish as my rant seems (I hope), but all too often others have used similar arguments to excuse truly bad behavior. I don't care what he does, I just want him to own his own doings like the adult he's supposed to be.
    Last edited by junior1210; 08-06-2012 at 04:00 PM.
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    ...unethical except when fighting an unjust or discriminatory law...
    the author is adding "unreasonable" to that mix. I'll admit that there's a lot more gray area in that method. but the guy has points. essentially, the way he rides his bike to work is a form of civil disobedience against the traffic laws that he deems unreasonable to apply to bicycles.

    I would argue that he IS owning those things. he's owning them by saying he does it because he thinks the laws as they stand where he lives are unreasonable to apply to bicycles. he points out that other places have more reasonable laws.

    it's obviously not the way you think, but who are you to say that your way of considering the issue is the only right one? as far as the way I ride, I tend to agree with you. I'd rather obey the law. stopping at empty intersections is only a minor annoyance. as long as the light changes for me. If the light does not change because it's triggered by a sensor not sensitive enough to pick up a bicycle, then I get irritated. thankfully, even more states have laws that permit a cyclist to treat that sort of situation as a stop sign. I wish all of them did, though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NateHawk View Post
    It's obviously not the way you think, but who are you to say that your way of considering the issue is the only right one?
    You well may be right, and after rereading my last post it looks way more preachy than I meant to sound, but I don't have the words to better say what I mean. It seemed to me that his civil disobedience was more about his own convenience than any protest about traffic rules that were poorly applied. Others may take something different from the article (and obviously did!), and thankfully we discus it like adults.


    O.K. cue the flamers and trolls in 3.....2......1.....now.
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    If you define

    Ethics as "the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group <medical ethics>"

    The actions of the drivers as well as the pedestrians are ethical as are cyclists according to the author.

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    It doesn't always affect just you

    I understand the ethicist's point. Plus I routinely do the whole Idaho stop thing. But if you screw up and get hit it 's not just you. You've put yourself in a position where someone who's doing everything right can be responsible for your injury or death.

    If the ethicist gets hit he's going to cause the suffering of some driver. Do you honestly think any thinking, feeling motorist can walk away from injuring or killing a cyclist like nothing happened? Even if the cyclist was running a red. So much for harming just yourself.

    Then there's the harm to the reputation of cyclists everywhere.

    I live near DC and the number of fixed gear morons here is large. For the most part they are pretty unskilled cyclists and insist on adjusting their iPod, checking their texts, and other various activities (including in one case walking a dog) while on a fixie. Needless to say the lack of skill and brakes makes for some great road manners. This behavior reflects poorly on all cyclists since the non-riding population tends to lump us all in the same bucket. It's terrible.

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    Pretty standard way of thinking.

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    If I were to ever write one of these articles I would start out by attacking the legal right-turn signal.

    It is in drivers' ed books, and is included in all sorts of safe cycling literature. It is taught to everyone, is remembered by no one, and is confusing to almost everyone. By all appearances it was designed for people who have only 1 arm, and who are 5' wide.

    But it's the law, and it's completely ridiculous, and there is a much better option available.

    So attack that first, and then ease into the idaho stops or whatever.

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    Quote Originally Posted by newfangled View Post
    If I were to ever write one of these articles I would start out by attacking the legal right-turn signal.

    It is in drivers' ed books, and is included in all sorts of safe cycling literature. It is taught to everyone, is remembered by no one, and is confusing to almost everyone. By all appearances it was designed for people who have only 1 arm, and who are 5' wide.

    But it's the law, and it's completely ridiculous, and there is a much better option available.

    So attack that first, and then ease into the idaho stops or whatever.
    In Alberta it is legal to signal a right turn by pointing the right arm and hand to the right....it is also legal to signal a right turn by bending the left arm up.....

    That is because if you are in a car it is hard to see you pointing right with the right arm....

    I can remember taking grain to an elevator in an old 1 ton truck....it only had a single rear tail light....you had to arm signal if a cop got behind you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by newfangled View Post
    If I were to ever write one of these articles I would start out by attacking the legal right-turn signal.

    It is in drivers' ed books, and is included in all sorts of safe cycling literature. It is taught to everyone, is remembered by no one, and is confusing to almost everyone. By all appearances it was designed for people who have only 1 arm, and who are 5' wide.

    But it's the law, and it's completely ridiculous, and there is a much better option available.

    So attack that first, and then ease into the idaho stops or whatever.
    As I understand, that specifically is for motorists who can only stick one arm out the window if their signals aren't working.

    As I understand it, it definitely is more practical for a cyclist to signal a right turn with their right arm. and I've never heard of a cyclist being cited for doing so. You're signaling, and that signal is a lot more intuitive than the goofy left-handed right turn signal, as you say. I signal this way.

    I understand the ethicist's point. Plus I routinely do the whole Idaho stop thing. But if you screw up and get hit it 's not just you. You've put yourself in a position where someone who's doing everything right can be responsible for your injury or death.

    If the ethicist gets hit he's going to cause the suffering of some driver. Do you honestly think any thinking, feeling motorist can walk away from injuring or killing a cyclist like nothing happened? Even if the cyclist was running a red. So much for harming just yourself.

    Then there's the harm to the reputation of cyclists everywhere.

    I live near DC and the number of fixed gear morons here is large. For the most part they are pretty unskilled cyclists and insist on adjusting their iPod, checking their texts, and other various activities (including in one case walking a dog) while on a fixie. Needless to say the lack of skill and brakes makes for some great road manners. This behavior reflects poorly on all cyclists since the non-riding population tends to lump us all in the same bucket. It's terrible.
    while the Idaho rule makes sense from a general practical standpoint, putting another layer of decision-making (is the intersection safe to roll through or does this one require a full stop?) on people who as a rule demonstrate every day that they are incapable of making good decisions is probably not the best solution.

    just yesterday, I was in traffic on a busy road through town at lunchtime. I was behind something somewhat large, and since I drive a small car, my visibility around it was limited. that vehicle hit its brakes in the middle of traffic and so I had to follow suit. no skidding stops or anything, but I was focused on slowing down. all of a sudden, a salmon rider emerged from alongside that vehicle. I have no idea how they were squeezed into the lane, as that vehicle ahead did not pull over (there was no space to do so), there is no shoulder, and there is a hard curb on that road. the sense of that maneuver baffles me, but he went by so quick that I didn't have time to honk or yell at him for being an idiot. if you legally ride on that road, you by default take the lane, no matter what your position within it because the lanes are narrow with hard curbs. it's why I avoid that road as much as possible, opting to use less traveled (and wider) parallel streets. everyone that day "violated" the state's 3 foot law inadvertently because some moron couldn't make a logical decision.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nbwallace View Post
    I understand the ethicist's point. Plus I routinely do the whole Idaho stop thing. But if you screw up and get hit it 's not just you. You've put yourself in a position where someone who's doing everything right can be responsible for your injury or death.

    If the ethicist gets hit he's going to cause the suffering of some driver. Do you honestly think any thinking, feeling motorist can walk away from injuring or killing a cyclist like nothing happened? Even if the cyclist was running a red. So much for harming just yourself.
    This is one of the things I was thinking about, since when I was still driving professionally, that was one of my biggest nightmares. It isn't widely talked about but there are a good few people who think a valid form of suicide is walking in front of a truck or bus. I know the author wasn't trying to kill himself, and not suggesting that anyone else should either, but that wouldn't matter to the driver who makes a person dead purposely or not. This happened to one of my co-drivers about 9 years ago in Oklahoma and he never really got over it.

    This is an extreme example but it is a real concern for both sides, I can't see how risking putting that kind of guilt on someone as a "protest" ethical.
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  16. #16
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    OBOYoboyoboyoboyoboy....! This very subject, on another website, resulted in an argument so fierce I forced them to BAN me! I took 1210's stance (my belief, as well), and was told by two others in the discussion that I was a naive fool, because "laws and traffic codes are different things" and "any law or code that's unenforced no longer exists." Some people just live on some kinda odd world........

    Adults make value judgments all the time; some are better than others. IMO, anyone who makes even 51% of their decisions with the philosophy of "no blood, no foul" NEEDS to bleed a bit.

    Naw, 1210, not priggish. Your definition of ethics was spot on.
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    I read the article. Meh. Everyone breaks traffic laws, at least occasionally. Everyone justifies it, if only to themselves. That there isnít widespread carnage on the roads is only due to the fact that, at any particular instance in time, if one person is breaking the law, usually everyone else around is either following it or bending it in a culturally acceptable fashion ( ie theyíre being predictable).
    My opinion is that most laws should be obeyed, mostly because people are not very good at judging whether or not they are doing something stupid which will impact on someone else, and also because, for the most part, it really doesnít hurt to follow them. Iím also of the opinion that we (cyclists, drivers, pedestrians) have to realize that following the law is only a very poor starting point for getting through traffic safely. There should be more emphasis in general in staying alert, staying calm, communicating (communication can be a very subtle art) and cooperating.
    Cheers, Dave

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