Stop the Blame Game

There is a persistent myth that people on bikes are at fault for crashes. It is untrue. The so-called “scofflaw cyclist” is a mirage of anecdotal frustration. In Athens-Clarke County, drivers are found at fault for the majority of crashes involving people on bikes or people walking. The scofflaw as scapegoat obscures the tragic fact that traffic violence is increasing across all modes, particularity for people driving. The myth of the scofflaw cyclist is a barrier to safer, more complete streets.

First, the easy part. In Athens-Clarke County, people on bikes are NOT at fault in most crashes. Data collected by UGA’s Transportation Safety Research & Evaluation Group show that in reported crashes, the police more often find the driver at fault. A few years ago, the intersection of Lumpkin and the Tate Center was the most crash prone in all of Georgia for people riding bikes.  In those crashes, the driver was at fault 93% of the time. More troubling, national estimates say that hit-and-run drivers are responsible for 20% of pedestrian fatalities.

People on bikes are also NOT more likely to break the law. As we heard at the National Bike Summit, surveys of people who drive, walk, and ride bikes indicate people across all modes follow the law 85% of the time.

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Generally, we all follow the law most of the time. But there is a lot of risk in that other 15% of time when we are not following traffic law. “Among people who drive, nearly 100 percent said they exceed the speed limit, text behind the wheel, or break other laws.” Blaming the most vulnerable—people walking and biking—ignores the true dangers inherent in our transportation system as currently designed and engineered.

Physics, common sense, and the increasing number traffic deaths in Georgia make it obvious that speeding, texting, “scofflaw drivers” pose a grave danger to everyone on the road, whether inside a car or out. In 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board released a study that highlights the under-appreciated dangers of speeding. They found that speeding may play as large a role as drunk driving in contributing to crashes (p. 7). And we are all aware of the dangers of distracted driving.

Last year in Georgia, over 1,500 people died on our streets, drivers being the vast majority of victims of this all-too common traffic violence. No one should die in a traffic crash. We can make great strides in reducing the toll of traffic violence. That is why we at BikeAthens have worked so hard on Complete Streets Athens. We must ensure our streets are safer for everyone. This is why we have worked so hard on the Athens in Motion Plan and its Safety, Education, and Encouragement Plan. Blame does not work. Let’s work together toward real solutions. Let’s work together to end traffic violence.

Check the following articles for related readings…

With Great Horsepower Comes Great Responsibility

Cars, bicycles, and the fatal myth of equal reciprocity

When covering crashes, be careful not to blame the victim 

Resist Victim-Blaming: Stand Up for Pedestrian Safety

When Drivers Hit Pedestrians, Where Do We Lay the Moral Blame?

We blame pedestrian for dying even when drivers are at fault