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We Need To Talk About Driver Privilege

We Need To Talk About Driver Privilege
Photo by Flickr user Rory Finneren

Houston has seen at least three vehicle-bicycle accidents in the past few months, including two fatalities. The city is making small strides towards improving cycling infrastructure, but driver awareness of bike-related traffic laws remains low compared to other cities. And driver aggression remains high.

This is nothing new. In a 2009 cover story called Ghost Riders, the Press wrote about Houston's plague of cyclist deaths, and the lack of accountability faced by drivers who kill them.

While in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest last month, I watched a driver try to turn right at an intersection where pedestrians had a right-of-way crosswalk signal. The driver, annoyed that the pedestrians were taking too long, lurched forward aggressively and honked at the walkers. The incident highlighted for me the problem of Driver Ego, where even seemingly nice, normal people turn into complete assholes in the comfort of their two-ton steel cages.

"Privilege" is a word used frequently in sociopolitical circles to discuss disparities in certain groups of people. In a nutshell,

Privilege is about how society accommodates you. It's about advantages you have that you think are normal. It's about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal.

Roughly 50 cyclists, 400 pedestrians and 500 motorcyclists are killed every year on Texas roads. Friends... I think it's time we had a talk about driver privilege.

Driver privilege is the fact that, though roadways have accommodated bicycles and other forms of transportation, such as horseback riders, pedestrians and drawn carts and carriages, for hundreds of years before cars were invented, vehicles now have the de facto right of way on any roadway.

Driver privilege is people still feel "safe" texting while behind the wheel of a 4,000lb vehicle capable of reaching triple digit speeds.

Driver privilege is the expectation that a person's ego and identity will be exhibited by the make, model, age and cost of car they drive.

Driver privilege is people feeling comfortable endangering their lives and others by speeding, despite the fact that speeding doesn't really make a difference in arrival time.

Driver privilege is Rick Perry vetoing a state safe-passing law that passed the Texas House and Senate with 95 percent support.

Driver privilege is the City of Houston approving a safe passing ordinance, but not enforcing it in any way.

Driver privilege is Houston Police Chief Charles McClellan not getting a citation after hitting and injuring a pedestrian who had the right of way in a crosswalk.

Driver privilege is antisocial driver behavior being so common it has its own name.

Driver privilege is drivers in fatality hit-and-run accidents getting probation for their crimes, even though leaving the scene of an accident is a felony.

Driver privilege is DAs not charging motorists because juries full of motorists sympathize with them.

Driver privilege is click-it-or-ticket PSAs to protect the life of drivers and passengers, but no PSAs to protect the lives and rights of cyclists.

Driver privilege is hearing people say, after a bike-vehicle accident, "cyclists need to be more careful" instead of hearing "drivers need to be more careful."

This is driver privilege:

We Need To Talk About Driver Privilege

I'm sure there are more. Kristin at the Scintillator blog has a good list too. Feel free to add your own in the comments.


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