A new study of driver attitudes toward cyclists shows that a driver’s attitudes towards bike riders influences their ability to perceive them. In other words, those who don’t like or care about cyclists simply don’t see them, even when looking at them. The study also found, quite obviously, that the social dominance of vehicles means they have a increased degree of mortality compared to alternative transportation like biking or walking.
Roadways are highly congested (and thus contested), publicly funded space, and both space and funding are a finite and limited resource. This results in the perception and reality of roadway competition as a zero-sum game between roadway users (Aldred, 2012). It may be that this “realistic” competition is a stand-in for social competition; that is, the roadway is a battle ground for social domination, rather than just access to physical space.
Drivers of cars have a clear advantage, they are in a 2-ton metal box, they can think and believe what they want without fear of being harmed and they can move about in almost complete privacy.
While the physical bodywork of a car essentially anonymizes drivers, bicyclists are visible in their variety of shapes, sizes, ages, gender, and “racialized bodies” (Urry, 2007, p.48). Drivers have shown bias in yielding behavior by the race, apparent disabled status, or age of a crossing pedestrian (see TreeHugger: Don’t cross the street while black, according to new study); while drivers in higher status cars were less likely to yield to a pedestrian. (See TreeHugger: Study reveals the obvious: The rich are different from you and me, especially behind the wheel) When interacting with bicyclists, drivers used greater passing distance when the bicyclist was unhelmeted or appeared female.
Definitely a great read with lots of great info and an important reminder to stay vigilant when out riding. Forcing drivers to see you by taking the lane, wearing loud clothing, etc… might get you coal rolled or called an asshole, it might also keep you alive. We’ve got paper thin lycra, they have an SUV.