Female Cyclists More At Risk?

19:20 Fri 18 Apr 2008
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I just read this article about women cyclists at risk in London, having come across it on a friend’s LiveJournal. The basic gist is that women are more likely to be accident victims because they’re less assertive on the road, and in particular because they don’t run reds and are thus more likely to be in the blind spot of large trucks about to turn at an intersection.

The risk here doesn’t appear to be due to driver behavior changing based on cyclist gender—unlike the results of this study, which suggests that motorists give less space to cyclists they think are male and helmeted. For the London article, it’s apparently cyclist behavior that adds to cyclist risk.

Of course, by this I mean cyclist behavior in the face of clearly unsafe driver behavior—I strongly suspect that the motorists are at fault in the majority of these cases. Even if the law wouldn’t/doesn’t find them to be so.

I will eventually write a post (or several) on the moral principle behind this, which is basically that power brings responsibility (just like Peter’s Uncle Ben said). If you’re in the car, you have more power than the cyclist, hence more responsibility. If you’re driving a honking large truck, you need to take a lot more care regarding the smaller denizens of the road. Note: you still have more power than the cyclist on the road even if you’re an exploited and overworked truck driver and they’re a high-powered environmentally-conscious lawyer, regardless of the social dynamics and power relations involved.

Unfortunately, of course, people act in the exact opposite way, namely that more power means less responsibility/accountability, and that it provides license to act with impunity.

In any case, I’ve become a far more assertive cyclist since I began driving, and I do think that being assertive on the road is important—cyclists should take entire lanes if that’s necessary, and not try to hug the curb, even if this annoys drivers. I guess the right way to think about this is that drivers who are annoyed with you are drivers who have definitely noticed you, and that makes you safer.

In passing, it does make me angry that cultural norms suppressing women’s assertiveness appear to make women more vulnerable when cycling—I also wonder if the opposite is true for driving, and that those same norms make women safer drivers while prompting men (especially young men) to be much more dangerous to themselves and others. This is not an argument that it cancels out and everything is fine, it’s an observation about the need to examine cultural ideas about behavior and gender generally.

Thinking about these things, prompted by that article and discussion around it, finally reminded me to join The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

2 Responses to “Female Cyclists More At Risk?”

  1. Niall Says:

    Taking up a lane in Ireland would be more dangerous rather than less dangerous. People would honk, flash you, and perform dangerous overtaking manouevres.

  2. kevintel Says:

    @Niall: I agree. Roads are narrower here, and to be honest, it’s obstruction to prevent traffic passing in such as situation.

    I don’t think ‘cultural norms’ is the whole answer for road behaviour. Hormones and personal predisposition make up for a lot. My own (admittedly still short-term) experiences behind the wheel and on a bicycle tell me that there is also a degree of understanding road psychology; while still a learner driver, I found buying a bigger car made my life easier, since people were less aggressive towards me when in a bigger, more expensive car. That’s not ‘cultural norms’ at work but assumptions based on appearances.

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