We both break the law from time to time. But it's not even close to a one-to-one exchange.
There’s a lot of finger-pointing and whatabout'ism in cyclist-driver discourse. “Those darn cyclists don’t obey traffic laws!” “Yeah? Well neither do drivers!” And so forth.
The truth is that, yes, we both break the law from time to time. However, it’s not a one-to-one exchange—not even close. Quite simply, breaking a law on your bike is not the same as breaking that same law in your car, in the same way that one (1) Japanese yen is not worth the same as one (1) U.S. dollar. Yet in many jurisdictions (such as New York City, where I live) summonses and fines are issued as though they were.
By way of facilitating future discourse and hastening the inevitable conclusion that cycling is more ethical than driving, here is a handy chart for converting the common cyclist violations (or perceived violations) into their motor vehicle equivalents. Please refer to this prior to engaging in your next bikes-versus-cars debate.
Cycling Violation: Rolling a Stop Sign
Driving Equivalent: “Stopping” at a Stop Sign
Let’s get real: drivers never really come to a complete stop. The truth is cyclists typically roll stop signs at the same speed most motorists consider to be “stopping.” Meanwhile, a cyclist rolling a stop sign can typically bring a bike to a stop with two fingers on the brake lever in a matter of inches.
Cycling Violation: Rolling a Red Light
Driving Equivalent: Inching Forward at a Red Light
Actually, I’m being charitable to the drivers here. Cautiously rolling a red light on your bike when the coast is clear in order to conserve momentum and get a head start on the drivers bearing down on you from behind really isn’t a big deal. Inching, on the other hand, feels menacing to anyone else who’s not in a car. Still, I’ll allow it.
Cycling Violation: Cycling with Headphones
Driving Equivalent: Driving with the Windows Closed
Once again, I’m being charitable to the drivers. Thanks to sound-insulated cabins (not to mention engine noise, climate control, etc.), a driver listening to no music whatsoever still hears less than a cyclist wearing earbud headphones. Cars are basically giant sensory deprivation tanks, and in order to replicate that cyclists would have to ride around with end tables wrapped in bubble wrap on their heads.
Cycling Violation: Riding on the Sidewalk
Driving Equivalent: Parking with Your Bumper Hanging Over the Sidewalk
Should you ride your bike on the sidewalk? No. Is doing so an act of terrorism? Hardly. Usually it’s about as annoying as having to share the sidewalk with those double-wide strollers—or walk around the ass-end of someone’s car because they didn’t stop until their tires hit the curb. By the way, drivers drive on the sidewalk all the time to get in and out of parking lots and driveways. It’s about a thousand times more dangerous than riding a bike on the sidewalk yet totally legal, go figure.
Cycling Violation: Salmoning
Driving Equivalent: Backing Into a Parking Space
“Salmoning” is when a cyclist rides against traffic. Drivers do this all the time—backing down the block, passing in the oncoming lane—and while it doesn’t have a cutesy name to rally against, it’s way more dangerous. The nearest driving equivalent to salmoning on a bike is the perfectly legal act of throwing it into reverse for a few feet and parallel parking. Sure, it happens millions of times a day, but drivers still manage to do it in such a way as to take cyclists completely by surprise.
Cycling Violation: Riding Two Abreast
Driving Equivalent: Driving Half a Car
Few things irritate drivers more than having to nudge the wheel slightly in order to pass a pair of cyclists. I mean come on—two cyclists? Side by side?!? How rude!!! They’re almost taking up as much lateral space as half a Hyundai!
Cycling Violation: Riding Without a Helmet
Driving Equivalent: Driving Without a Life Jacket
Chances are that next time you get in your car you’re not going to follow Waze into Lake Champlain. But you might. Shouldn’t you wear a life jacket at all times just in case? Let’s start shaming life jacket-less drivers to make sure they do.
Cycling Violation: Not Having License and Registration to Operate a Bicycle
Driving Equivalent: Not Having a Heavy Equipment Operator’s License
It’s a common gripe among the anti-bike cranks: “Cyclists should be licensed and insured!” Bullshit. Your learner’s permit is called a “birth certificate” and your road test is called “balancing on two wheels.” Do you believe in unnecessary documentation? Go get a pilot’s license before driving your Kia, then we can talk.
Cycling Violation: Not Using Proper Hand Signals
Driving Equivalent: Not Using Proper Hand Signals
This is a rare situation in which the two violations are indeed equivalent—because nobody knows what the hell those signals mean anyway.