Interesting Read On the Ethics of Breaking Traffic Laws



In a recent article in outsideonline, Eben Weiss makes some points about why he chooses to violate traffic laws while riding a bicycle. He argues that personal safety whilst riding is more important that technically following the law. I would think that most people would agree with Weiss that when faced with violating a traffic law or getting injured or killed, everyone would choose safety.

Weiss concludes that "If you want cyclists to follow the law, you've got to make it possible for them to do so without dying."  "As it is, many streets are still inhospitable if not downright hostile to cyclists, so its crazy to expect us to follow the rules just for the sake of appearances.  After all, nobody's going to put on their best clothes to go to a shit-show."

Weiss's observtions are backed up by some scientific data.  In a 2010 study by Jason Meggs from UC Berkely School of Public Health, Meggs concluded traffic safety and other policy goals are best served by relaxing stopping rules for people who ride bicycles and women cyclists in London are three times more likely to get killed by a truk because the women are less likely to disobey red lights. 

Weiss makes the following pragmatic arguments for safety over law abiding.

"The simple fact is that in a car-centric environment there are many circumstances in which breaking the law on a bike is not only justified but necessary to ensure your survival. This is why I follow a framework far more sensible than any municipal traffic code."


"Consider traffic lights. Bike-haters are fond of saying cyclists only treat red signals as suggestions. Frankly, I wouldn’t even go that far. When I’m on my bike, I regard traffic lights the same way a dog regards an alarm clock: it doesn’t mean shit to me personally, though I am quite invested in the behavior it inspires in those around me."

"The only relevant information I glean from a traffic light is how drivers are going to react to it. For example, I know that when the light turns green, three or four more drivers are going to speed through the intersection in a failed attempt to beat the red, and I also know that everyone behind me is going to start honking and doing their best to overtake and potentially right-hook me. This is why, at certain intersections, if there’s a safe moment for me to slip through the red and get a head start before the dam bursts, you’re damn right I’m going to go for it."


"Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Typical entitled cyclist, thinks he’s above the law because he’s smarter than everyone else.” Um, yeah, no shit. Cyclists have been forced into the gutter by drivers for the past hundred years, so of course anyone who’s riding bikes in this country for any amount of time has been forced to devise his or her own framework in order to survive and thrive. If it makes you feel any better, rest assured it’s not so much a sense of intellectual elitism as it is a survivalist one. Cyclists simply know more about how the streets work than drivers do in the same way that subway rats are more attuned to the workings of the transit system than the typical straphanger."

Read the full article here.

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