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A Right to Ride

Riding a bicycle on streets and most highways is a right almost all of us have. Conversely, driving a motor vehicle on those same byways is a privilege that can be removed. This distinction deserves some thought from cyclists and motorists alike.

First of all, let’s get past the obvious “dead right” comments and state that any right can be abused; so caution and intelligence should rule when any right is exercised. We have the right to free speech, but mouth off at the wrong time and see where that gets you!

Driving a motor vehicle requires a license. There are certain requirements that must be met and maintained to continue to have that privilege. Unfortunately, caution and intelligence can be lacking here as well. Consider all the dangerous, distracted drivers!

The repercussions of abusing your right to ride a bicycle on streets and highways are generally not as severe as abusing one’s privilege of operating a motor vehicle and driving dangerously. One can do a great deal more damage with a two-ton loaded weapon moving at any speed than with a relatively lightweight bicycle and rider.

The conversation gets more interesting when you consider the accident in San Francisco when a cyclist was convicted this week for plowing into a pedestrian last year, killing a 71-year-old man who was crossing the street. The cyclist was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, convicted and given community service requirements as a sentence. This is the first case of such a ruling, ever!

Now every cyclist is guilty of blowing through residential stop signs and many will run a red light or two, usually hurting no one. But there are thousands of cases where privileged, reckless motorists have injured, or killed cyclists who were properly exercising their rights. There is some irony that most of these motorists are not prosecuted, or even charged with wrong doing, and the one case of a cyclist causing a death is dealt with using fairly swift justice!

So, should cyclists have a license? Should reckless drivers who hit cyclists be charged and convicted? Is it ok to drive distracted? Who should have privileges and who should have rights? Maybe all we cyclists can do is to remind those motorists who question our use of “their” roadway that we have that right to ride, and remind them that driving on “our” roadway is a privilege for them . . . and they should not abuse it when driving.

Of course, as responsible cyclists, we should slow or stop at stop signs and never run red lights. Always use caution on the roads, be visible and ride as if you are invisible! Yes, it is our right to ride a bicycle almost anywhere . . . and we should consider it a privilege . . . right?