Sunday, 13 May 2012

Scooters Are Small, Cars Are Big

May is safety month for scooters and motorcycles in many provinces and states across North America.  Every time I ride my scooter I remember two basic facts: 1/scooters are small, cars are big 2/ there is no metal framing around me to protect me in a crash or if I’m thrown.

It’s not that I dwell on those facts. If I did I would not ride with any confidence. But they are there, at the back of my mind, when I see a car about to cut me off.

Part of the goal of these safety campaigns is to make motorists more aware of the two-wheeled vehicles that share the roads. Scooters are becoming more popular around the world.  If we follow the trend here there’s going to be a lot more acclimatizing needed for cars and scooter to co-exist. Will we ever match the situation in Vietnam where scooters so outnumber cars they can control the flow or the situation in Italy where drivers, who likely rode scooters at one point in their lives, don’t object to sharing a lane? Hard to imagine. Yet.

When I ride I keep hearing the safety instructor who told me I had to “own the road.” I try to ride to demonstrate to cars that I will keep up with the speed of traffic and follow the same rules as them. When I encounter a driver who is aggressive and clearly annoyed to be behind a scooter, “own the road,” sometimes give way to “scooters are small, cars are big,” and I just get out of the way. I never engage in the kind of battle for position that cars often do and I let it go as soon as the rude driver is past me. I also remember a motorcycle safety trainer saying: “never ride a motorcycle (or a scooter, I imagine) angry.” You need your wits about you.

But there are drivers who just annoy me enough that I try to show them “I own the road.” They are the pushy ones who don’t bother waiting for the gap two cars behind me but decide, “Oh, it’s just a scooter I’ll pull out fast in front of it.” This happens again and again and because a scooter has more wiggle room than a car I can usually pull around the vehicle trying to butt in. One time I did this on a busy evening on a major artery in Toronto. There was a gap behind me; the driver had no excuse. So I went past him. He yelled out his window,” Why?” and I had a feeling he wouldn’t let it go. Sure enough, after he got into the flow of traffic, he made a point of getting past me and slowing down in front of me.  I just ignored him, matching his speed. My safety is more important than playing games.  It was a clear summer evening, but he squirted washer onto his windshield, which, of course, flew over the car and onto me. I guess if we’d been on a beach and I’d ticked him off he would have kicked sand in my face.  I had glasses on; none of the fluid went in my eyes. So I could laugh off the incident. But I was relieved he was just a jerk and not one of those urban psychos.

I don’t mean to pretend that all scooter riders are saints and drivers in North America are out to get them. I encounter lots of courteous drivers. And I’m sorry to say I witness a lot of scooter riders doing stupid things. I saw one simply ride up on the sidewalk to pass a gnarled bit of traffic. And when I was I the left-turn lane a week ago, I expected the scooter rider in front of me to turn as well. Instead, when the light turned green, he sped up and pulled in front of the car moving through the intersection. Scooters may be small and accelerate fast, but if riders pull tricks like that it doesn’t help motorists understand us any better.

Add to that the electric bikes and the mopeds moving along near the curb because the riders can’t match the speed limit and it’s no wonder that drivers are totally confused.  

Motorized two-wheeled vehicles sense in our cities. They save on gas and valuable parking land. We’ve rethought our streets for cyclists with special lanes; maybe it’s time to rethink the roads for a greater mix of vehicles.
Here's an interesting link from Der Speigel that supports the idea that more scooters will be on roads least in Europe....and hopefully in North America. In this case they are talking about introducing an e-scooter.

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