Minority Opinions

Not everyone can be mainstream, after all.

Yielding the Wrong of Way

with 4 comments

After several years of cycling as a primary mode of transportation, you’d think I would be used to the behavior of people who share the road with me.  For the most part, it has helped to act like motor vehicles don’t see me unless I’m solidly in their lane.  Perhaps that’s why it’s so surprising when someone waves me through despite my legal obligation to stop and wait.

At four-way stops, this behavior frequently makes sense. It can be hard to say, sometimes, who really got to an intersection first, and my desire to not get run over makes me err on the side of letting the car through unless I’m certain it’s my turn.  There are even times when I’m fairly certain that the car stopped before I did, and would get through the intersection faster than I could, that I accept such an offer simply for the sake of avoiding a standoff.

More tricky, though, are the times when only I have a stop sign, so the car has no need to stop at all.  This might only happen with cars that want to turn onto the road I’m waiting on, but are they so insecure in their driving that they want the entire road to be clear?  Are they so unsure of my behavior that they think I might jump out just as they start a turn?  Or are they just being excessively polite to brighten my day?

Yes, excessively; the dark side here is that it’s not always as helpful as it seems.  When you decided to wave someone through, did you check that all of the other relevant lanes were clear?  This particular point isn’t just for interaction with cyclists, either; I’ve seen people try to wave a left-turning car through one or two backed-up lanes of traffic when the third lane is still open and flowing.

When you decided to wave a cyclist through, did you check for eye contact?  When I’m looking in your direction, your hands aren’t the first things I see.  Lights and wheels are more reliable indicators that a vehicle is about to move, so I check there first; only when someone seems to be waiting, or seems to be moving when they should have seen me, do I look at the driver.  Even then, solar glare or tinted windows can make you impossible to see.

When you slowed down because I was ready to move, did you check your mirrors?  Sometimes I aim for the space right behind a car, particularly on busy roads.  Unfortunately, cautious drivers aren’t always certain that they’ll be clear before I get to them, and occasionally slow down enough to eliminate the gap I needed, or at least reduce it to levels I’m uncomfortable shooting through.

On the other hand, the world is generally a better place when people are being polite by default.  Getting waved through is certainly a nice counterpoint to the occasional honking and yelling by drivers who shouldn’t even be allowed on the road.


Written by eswald

14 Mar 2011 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Cycling

4 Responses

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  1. I think most drivers actually have a lot of respect for cyclists and consider them to literally be priority traffic. It doesn’t always seem that way, of course, since the minority of assholes are louder.

    If a driver is waving you through but you can’t accept the offer because of some traffic situation they’re not aware of, maybe just point to it? I’m a cyclist too and I actually haven’t seen this as a problem.

    Daniel Reeves

    16 Mar 2011 at 1:43 pm

    • The real problem could be my personal hang-ups over correctness and global efficiency. Then again, why they should manifest in this particular way, when I have no trouble with other slightly illegal or inefficient maneuvers, may never be fully explainable.

      And yes, it is nice that the vast majority of drivers are respectful. The idea of being priority traffic hadn’t occurred to me, but it makes sense; it’s even legally the case in the Netherlands. That will probably help me feel better about being waved through at less appropriate times; thanks.


      17 Mar 2011 at 12:54 pm

      • Yeah, it hadn’t occurred to me either till your post got me to reflect on it.

        Here’s a provocative topic: Apparently there’s some crazy group on the internet that wants to convince you that it’s safer to bike without a helmet. I realized there’s an interesting way in which they have a point: Helmets make biking seem dangerous which means fewer people do it. And the best way to make biking safer is to have more bikes on the roads, so cars expect bikes all the time. So it’s conceivable that removing the social norm of helmet use could lead to greater safety overall. Not that I’m volunteering to ditch my helmet. (But speaking of the Netherlands, cyclists mostly don’t wear helmets there.)

        Daniel Reeves

        17 Mar 2011 at 1:06 pm

      • I doubt that simply removing the social norm would work, in this country; it needs to be accompanied by something else that increases the actual number of cyclists. I can see the reasoning, though; enacting helmet laws has led to significant decreases in bike use, and therefore decreases in cyclist safety. Unfortunately, asserting the inverse feels like a logical fallacy.


        18 Mar 2011 at 10:01 am

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