Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When Bicyclists Drive

Although I don't own a car anymore,  the Scientist does, and I borrow it about once a week or so to do big grocery runs/ errands. I also go out to job sites in the suburbs about once a week by zipcar.
Recently the Scientist and I went up to Maine for the day and it made me think about how bicycling in traffic has influenced how I drive.
Now the Scientist is a great driver-  very careful, not aggressive,  but I found myself a nervous wreck, to the point that I was disturbing his driving.
Part of it is that as a biker you are always on your guard for drivers coming into your path without warning,  so I have this ingrained sense of hyper vigilance, that people might swerve into our lane without signalling.  I'm always watching the wheels to anticipate someone's turning.
I find I have a strong physical reaction to being in someone's blind spot.  As a cyclist, I try to avoid at all costs being in the blind spot of a moving car.  The consequences of being turned or veered into are just so extreme when you're on a bike that I've found I'm paranoid and extremely anxious being in a blind spot, even when I'm in a car.

Not only do I have the experience of constantly feeling like people don't see me when I'm driving,  but because of the bike/ transportation websites I'm reading these days, I'm always getting vicarious reinforcement of the dangers of a bike/ car collision.

I think that when I drive now, I'm a lot more non confrontational.  Not that I was ever aggressive, but now, if I see someone driving erratically,  or if in order to pass someone I'll have to dart in and out of traffic,  I find now that I'll just slow down,  give them a lot of space,  let them get ahead of me so that I don't have to worry about them,  stay in the slow lane a couple more minutes to allow a generous passing interval.  Also I find errand running errands in the car really draining,  more so than I used to,  much more so than when I run errands on the bike.

Some of my behavior is probably good-  I'm very good about checking to my right before making a right turn in case a bike has come up behind me,  and it probably is better to go slower and stay out of blind spots.   However, the Scientist thinks that my hyperconsciousness is possibly a problem.  Not only does it make me a total Nervous Nellie (which is obnoxious and distracting) when he's driving, but he's worried that I might actually get in a wreck from overreaction to a perceived threat. For example, I worry that someone is veering into my lane and slam on the brakes when someone's tailgating and get rear ended.  

I try to keep reminding myself that our new car is designed with all kinds of safety features, and that helps a bit,  but seriously,  I'm wondering if I'm going to need to do some kind of cognitive behavior therapy to relieve this anxiety.
I hope someone's out there, because I'd love to hear other cyclists thoughts.


  1. We each used to own a 4WD when we lived out in the mountains of Northern New England. Living there, there was no other choice. Since moving to Boston, we now only one one of those vehicles (technically mine, but the Co-Habitant is the one to typically drive it). I am not and never will be one of those cyclists who thinks that cars are "bad" and that people must be shamed out of owning them. Both cars and bicycles have their purpose. We travel out of town a lot, to areas that cannot be reached by public transport, and we also need hauling capacity. Therefore, we will always own a vehicle to use for those purposes.

    Having said that, I almost never drive - simply because I hate driving, especially in the city. I will do anything not to drive in Boston, and cycling has been the nicest alternative I have found (because I am also not fond of the T).

    Interestingly, cycling has made me a calmer, less neurotic driver, because it has helped me gain a more visceral understanding of road maneuvers. Don't know whether that makes sense, but that's honestly what it feels like!

  2. I agree with this. When I learned to drive ( at age 30) I was riding along a road on cape cod that I had biked a long there was a long curve inthe road that led to a parking lot and cars could come at all sorts of angles at you. Normally I would have freaked the freak out inthe car, but becasue I had been doing that ride by bike a lot then, I knew exactly what to look out for and was able to remain calm.

    Now I notice I go slower. I tend to always be aware that I might have to slow down for a cyclist at any moment. My husband tends to drive fast and it drives me crazy b/c I'm looking at the edges of the road for slow moving bikes etc. He is a good driver but nibble and fast and kind of the kind of driver that freaks me out b/c they are so sure of their ablilty to move in an out of small spaces at a fast pace.