Victim Blaming, Or, Another Day Another Auto-Bike Accident

For the second time in three days, a car hit a bicyclist in Salt Lake County. But unlike Friday’s DUI-related accident, the one Sunday left a man dead.

What strikes me about both of these accidents is the apparent need to find easy explanations for the problem. Friday, it was the intoxicated driver. Sunday, it apparently was the cyclist’s fault:

The cyclist, who was not on the shoulder of the roadway, but in a travel lane, died at the scene. Hoyal said the man was not wearing a helmet or reflective vest and there were no lights on the bicycle.

In most places, riding in a travel lane on a bike is legal. And while there’s plenty of culpability to go around here, this essentially amounts to victim blaming. If this were a rape of a woman on a dark trail at night, after all, people — including but not limited to myself and many feminists — would still be outraged if police tried to blame the victim instead of the rapist. These circumstances are different, but the rhetorical construct surrounding them is similar. The point is that the dead cyclist is being held responsible for a driver’s lack of vigilance.

It’s also curious that after both accidents police apparently declined to mention anything about the respective roads’ conduciveness for multiple modes of transportation. And indeed, poor street design does appear to be a culprit in both cases:

A bicyclist was killed near the marker in the center of this picture.

This road isn’t as wide as the one involved in Friday’s accident, but it’s still pretty imposing. Particularly noteworthy are the lack of sidewalks on one side of the street, and, according to KSL, the 50 mph speed limit. Those elements don’t make for a good biking environment.

This street was clearly not designed for anything but cars.

This street does have a shoulder. I would have used that for bike riding if I ever was unfortunate enough to find myself on this street, but the cyclist who died did not. The KSL article did not mention why the man would have been out in the street, though, again, cars are never entitled to hit bikes. Period.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that bicyclists die when they venture out onto such poorly designed streets.

In any case, the point here is larger than these specific accidents. It’s that we have a lot of poorly designed streets and, most importantly, recent media coverage indicates that we’re not even discussing a major underlying problem behind deadly accidents. In that light, there’s no reason to believe that these sorts of incidents won’t become more and more regular. It also raises a question: how many more people have to get hit before we’re willing to look for more creative, and effective, solutions to this problem.

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4 Comments

Filed under biking, commuting, driving

4 responses to “Victim Blaming, Or, Another Day Another Auto-Bike Accident

  1. Dane

    I’ve been on my share of roads poorly designed for cyclists. It’s an awful feeling hearing cars and semi-trucks approaching on those kinds of roads. I personally feel there is some shared blame between the road designers and the biker from what info I was given by the media. If I remember right it was 2ish in the morning. I take painstaking effort to have front and rear lights on my bike just for my night ride home from J Dawgs (about 3/4 mile). Blaming a victim is bad mojo in my opinion, but that is the step I take for a relatively safe ride home. I also am never in the travel lane unless I am forced to be, and I would never take my chances in a travel lane with cars going 50 mph at 2:30 am.
    Moral of the story for me is to always be super defensive as a bicyclist, almost to a fault. I look at every motorist as if they’re out to kill me… they get very nasty looks from me. 🙂

    • Yeah, I would be interested in more details regarding the bicyclist. And I agree that defensive riding is essential. But hopefully in the future better behavior will be combined with better streets.

  2. Pingback: Streets, Roads and Stroads | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Pingback: Another Day, Another Bike Accident | (pro(vo)cation)

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