Asking drivers to share the road with bicyclists creates a growing sense of resentment, often associated with the act of giving something up for another’s gain. Feelings of not owing the other party anything accompany thoughts of extorting something from the benefiting group in return.
It’s human nature to want one’s fair share. No one likes to get less than someone else, even if the difference between what they’ve received is negligible. Yet, very few people will complain about getting more than their fair share, which is what drivers have enjoyed for many years. The idea of experiencing deprivation, or getting short changed, is what fuels jealousy and resentment.
In response to the feeling of losing something to others, some drivers look for ways to penalize cyclists for having gained something, which these drivers believe they don’t deserve. This belief stems from the idea of roads existing solely for cars.
Due to the prevalence of motor vehicles on roads over the last 75 years, our culture has associated roads with driving. Several generations have been raised with this concept, so it has become difficult to associate roads with any other type of vehicle. Changes result in drivers feeling that their territory is being invaded by outsiders who have no right to be there.
Once this feeling of having lost something to an invading group sets in, drivers invent all sorts of methods for making cyclists “pay” for using the roads, which they see as belonging to cars. The word “pay” is used in a loose sense because it can refer to either monetary penalties or punishments in terms of rights and responsibilities.
To that end, the idea of charging cyclists fees to use the roads is a recurrent theme. Such a demand is borne of ignorance about how roads are paid for. And, lack of transparency concerning how tax dollars are spent contributes to the confusion.
Drivers look at the fees associated with owning a car, from gas taxes to tolls to license and registration fees, to substantiate their claim that they “pay” to use the roads. Although some of the money collected in association with owning and operating a car pays to maintain roads, some of it is used for other things, and general taxes, which are paid by all, are the primary source of funding for building and maintaining roads. It’s difficult to get people to see this when the cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle is so high — especially compared to the cost of owning and operating a bicycle.
Is it no wonder, then, when comparing the costs associated with operating a motor vehicle, with those of operating a bicycle, that drivers look for ways to even the score? Make no mistake. This is not about parity; it’s about raising the cost of operating a bicycle as a penalty for using the roads.
Another way of making cyclists pay is by making them easier to identify with licensing and bicycle registration. Demanding these things creates the impression of accountability, since one’s identity must be known to hold one accountable for one’s actions.
As drivers travel along this train of thought, they increase the penalties for invaders by extending punishments beyond fines, and by revocation of anonymity through licensing. They seek to attach a cyclist’s actions to something more tangible, something which drivers value more than anything else — a motor vehicle driver’s license.
At first, this may seem far fetched, as the logical among us would see no relationship between riding a bicycle and a motor vehicle driver’s license. Still, the lack of connection between these two things does not stop a motor vehicle-centric society from tying one form of vehicle operation to another.
In the absence of a bicycle license, and from an inability to tie monetary penalties — such as higher insurance premiums — to poor operation of a bicycle, some cities have opted to give demerit points on cyclists’ driving licenses for infractions committed while on their bicycles.
In this vein, two Montreal-area cyclists are headed to Quebec Superior Court after having been given demerit points on their driving licenses for failing to stop at stop signs when riding their bicycles. Prior to receiving the demerit points, the cyclists had admitted to running the stop signs and had paid a fine. In Quebec, a driver can lose his or her driver’s license by reaching the maximum number of demerits allowed. The maximum number of demerit points required to lose a license varies from 8 – 15, depending on the driver’s age.
Although the cyclists are being represented by a human rights lawyer, whose argument is that “the rules about demerit points simply do not apply to cyclists or pedestrians or pilots or anybody like that; they apply to motor vehicle drivers,” the licensing regulatory agency, Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, maintains that “the demerit point dispositions of the Highway Safety Act have been in place and applied to cyclists for many years.”
A spokesperson went on to say that “the SAAQ opens files on people who do not have a driver’s licence but who commit infractions with a bicycle.” So, clearly, in certain localities, cyclist behavior has been tied to their driving record for years. What’s strange about this is that so little has been made public about it up until now.
Montreal has a bike share program (BIXI bike-share), which makes it a bicycle friendly city. So it’s strange to see that these two cyclists have had their driving record affected by their cycling activities while the cyclists participating in the bike share program appear to have been spared from such penalties. This gives the impression of arbitrary enforcement, which is consistent with the excessively punitive aspect of law enforcement often applied to cyclists.
While there’s nothing wrong with fining cyclists for traffic infractions, there is something wrong with giving them demerits on their motor vehicle driver’s license for something they did not do when they were driving. Such unfair treatment reminds us why it’s important for cyclists to fight back against discriminatory laws. Connecting cyclists’ riding records with their driving records is patently wrong because one vehicle operator is being penalized twice for the same infraction. And further, riding and driving are two different activities, and should be treated as such. Let’s hope that the Montreal cyclists win their case and put an end to yet one more discriminatory act against cyclists.