Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Doctor in cuffs: What's the lesson?

Guest essay from Serge Issakov of La Jolla, California. Posted originally to the CABO Forum and republished here with his permission.

The attitude and ignorance of Dr. Christopher Thompson is all too familiar for most bicyclists, exemplified by the fact that he admitted to police at the scene that he slammed on his brakes "to teach them a lesson". Now who is receiving the lesson? And what is the lesson?

This reminds me of the time I was riding while pulling Anya on the trailercycle down La Jolla Blvd and stopped in the middle of the lane at a red light which soon turned green at which time we proceeded. While still in the intersection we were passed by a honking raging maniac shaking his fist at us. It was a good opportunity to teach Anya how to ignore and dismiss such occasional and very rare nuts (that was 3 years ago and none since), but the next car following him turned out to be San Diego police. The officer and I exchanged knowing glances and he turned on his lights and pulled over the guy in front of the Su Casa Mexican restaurant. We slowed to watch. Before we left I overheard the man, in a Jekyll/Hyde change in demeanor, claiming he was just trying to teach me a lesson because I was putting my child in so much danger, and the officer explaining that we were doing nothing wrong.

That said, and it's nice to see this ahole in handcuffs, but I don't feel the rejoicing many other cyclists have expressed about this and agree with one of the victims here who said, "It's sad for both sides, I lost a lot of my time and my life, and he's losing a lot of his." There is much to be sad about here, including what the other victim said, "Our hope is that this brings to light how vulnerable cyclists are out there". That's not my hope, and it's sad to me to hear that that is his hope.

Everyone is already all too aware of how vulnerable cyclists are, this doctor included, I'm sure. Cyclist vulnerability is what ironically justifies this kind of rage, for it based on the belief that riding in the road is so inherently dangerous that it is irresponsible and wrong behavior. That's the lesson these guys (and, yes, it's usually men) think we need to learn: "you're so vulnerable it's insane to be bicycling out there... here, let me show you why". Luckily, the lesson plan is usually ultimately harmless: honking, gunning of engine, shaking of fist, screaming, a close pass. This situation, where motorist behavior actually physically harmed the cyclists, is very rare.

My hope is that this brings to light that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of vehicles (CVC 21200). I hope prudent cyclists who know and follow the rules and safe practices ignore, rather than engage with, the rare ignorant motorists who try to teach us lessons about our vulnerability.


  1. http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/why-does-driving-bring-out-the-worst-in-people/

  2. "all too familiar"?? I've never seen as murderously dangerous driver behavior in real life.

    I think we do ourselves a disservice when we act as if this behavior is common (at least in relatively bike-aware areas and probably most places). Yes, it happens, but the overwhelming majority of drivers are not homicidal maniacs. At worst they are thoughtless or don't know how to drive around bikes -- bad, to be sure, but not intentionally murderous. It doesn't do cycling advocacy any good to brand all drivers as murderers.

  3. People act on perceived norms. Anyone who reads newspaper comment sections on articles about cycling couple easily perceive that hating/abusing cyclists is normative, socially-acceptable behavior.

    This guy's actions don't fit into any normative behavior category, though his attitude probably does. It's hard to know if he felt justified due to a normative affect (like all his neighbors bitching about the cyclists) or if he has a serious anger-management problem unrelated to his behavior toward cyclists. But he's clearly a rare sociopath and definitely not an example of typical harassment behavior.

    Following Serge's points, I think the cycling community would be well-served to look at the ways we contribute to damaging belief systems.

    A study done by FDOT a few years ago revealed that motorists do justify harassment with the belief that cycling on the road is dangerous. This has nothing to do with concern for our safety, it is simply a justification for selfishness. But it's an easy excuse that cycling advocates keep handing to them by going on about our vulnerability and complaining about how dangerous "the roads" are.

  4. ..."Everyone is already all too aware of how vulnerable cyclists are, this doctor included, I'm sure."...sorry pal but i call bullshit very loud & clear...
    ...i'd suggest you are hopelessly naive...

    ...as you saw w/ your own incident, a driver will pay lip service regarding their "awareness" of the cyclist's situation as an excuse to justify their intentionally aggressive (read: dangerous & intimidating) driving only in trying to mollify law enforcement when they're caught...

    ...as regards "the rare ignorant motorists...", you're gonna tell me some young high school kid who's driving & texting w/ music blaring is "aware of how vulnerable cyclists are" ???...you're gonna tell me the soccer mom w/ a car/ van/suv full of kids & who's got a phone conversation going on is "aware of how vulnerable cyclists are" ???...you're gonna tell me the chicano gardening crew in their tool laden pickup truck at the end of a long hard day is ">aware of how vulnerable cyclists are" ???...
    ...i'd suggest you're batshit crazy...

    ... "What's the lesson?"...the lesson is obvious in this case for one of the few times i can recall...the kind of egregious behavior displayed by the 'good' doctor cannot be justified or condoned despite the poor road habits & behavior of great numbers of cyclists...

    ...& finally as regards: "one of the victims here who said, "It's sad for both sides, I lost a lot of my time and my life, and he's losing a lot of his.""...yep...as does any egregious law offender who's caught...

    ...i was quite happy knowing the doctor wasn't about to slide through the cracks due to having a good "mouthpiece" & while we might logically agree on certain points, overall your commentary raised my ire, mr issakov...
    ...& richard, i apologize for my vitriol & bad language but i felt what i had to say, needs be said w/ the passion i felt...

  5. bikesgonewild: You don't think that drivers are aware of how vulnerable cyclists are? So, you think that drivers feel that cycling is safer than it really is.

    But if that was true, why would they give "cyclists are inherently unsafe/vulnerable" as a justification for their behavior?

    I think you'd agree that cyclists generally think cycling is safer then drivers do. Serge's point was that if we, as cyclists, encourage drivers to view us as vulnerable and inherently unsafe, we are making ourself second-class citizens of the road and undercutting our own safety.

    The dangers of cycling are already over-estimated by drivers, making them resent us for (as they see it) bringing our vulnerable, self-endangering, unsafe, clunky selves into their high-speed roadway. We need to discourage this view of cycling so that we can encourage a safer sharing of the asphalt.

  6. I, too, think that most drivers - including the cell phone toting idiots - are perfectly aware that cyclists are vulnerable.
    That's a huge part of why they get so mad. Why are we making them BE CAREFUL, for crying out loud???
    I'd love to see a statistical analysis of anti-cycling comments to see how often the "they're risking their lives and should get out of our way for their own good" -- or "if it's car vs. bike, the car is gonna win, so move over!" is part of the argument.
    What they tend to *fail* to realize is that they're advocating might makes right and, welp, fascism. They fail to realize that they should be responsible for the destruction they wreak.

  7. I think back to the guy who shot the cyclist because the cyclist was endangering himself and his child.

    @Sioux - When I see the "might make right" argument, I think back to my friend Tom (in Urbana!) who let me borrow his trucks when I needed to drive. Tom owned a big dump truck and a tow truck.

    If might makes right and the biggest vehicle wins, there's no excuse for anybody with anything less than a diesel tractor. Thankfully, Mad Max is not the rule.

  8. ...sorry all but i'll always maintain that we as cyclist's are constantly aware of motorists because they are generally coming up on us from behind & are generally moving faster but we are never in their thoughts until they are confronted by our presence...at that point they might consider us but i see it as an unequal "presence of mind///awareness" relationship...

    ...as a cyclist, think of how much time or energy you utilize being aware of the cars & other vehicles around you...

    ...if you drive, think of how little time you spend thinking of cyclists but for when you encounter them...

    ...now factor in the "general population" of non-cyclists...