Monday, 20 September 2010

The law is an ass

This post is again a direct response to a post by Dave Moulton.

Dave makes a valid point that the law is the law, and that it shouldn't be for ordinary people to choose whether or not they obey any given law, or not. After all, what would civilisation as we know it be like if everybody picked and chose which laws to obey, and which laws to break?

And yet...

During the early 1900's a movement started in the UK to change the law, as the law was wrong. Supporters of this movement broke many laws, they took direct action, they smashed windows, they started fires and even set off bombs. They sound like proper terrorists, don't they? The type of hooligans you don't want in your neighbourhood.

Who were they and what were they called? They were a bunch of women who simply wanted the right to vote, something that up to that point has always been denied to them. They were the Suffragettes.

Around the same time a little man took on racist injustice in South Africa, again by refusing to obey certain laws. His name was Ghandi, and later in India he led an entire revolution based on civil disobedience.

Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years for having broken laws that deprived him of his freedom.

There are so many different examples where laws that were wrong, or out of date were changed or repealed due to civil disobedience. Wikipedia defines it as "the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government" and it is a very old principle.

Some people consider a cyclist riding a bike simply as a vehicle, and as such no different from any other vehicle. Except that perspective is wrong, and here's why:

In the UK we have something called Toucan crossings. These crossings allow pedestrians and cyclists to safely cross roads. At all other pedestrian crossings in the UK cyclists are supposed to dismount and walk their bikes across. Can you imagine a crossing intended to be shared by cars and pedestrians? Of course not! That would be downright silly! Bicycles are hybrid vehicles, somewhat like pedestrians (and just as vulnerable) and a tiny bit like other vehicles. Infrastructure like toucan crossings acknowledge that bicycles are more like pedestrians.
This similarity is taken further by shared use paths that are reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists.

Other examples show that the powers-that-be may well be starting to shift their opinions, however slowly. In London they are trialling allowing cyclists to cycle both ways on one-way streets. In Copenhagen they are implementing a right-turn-on-red for cyclists. All these are examples of how authorities are increasingly acknowledging that the humble bicycle has been overlooked and that the current laws need amending

Bicycles are vehicles in that they carry/move people and or goods, but they are so unlike other vehicles that they do need to be treated quite differently. It is for this reason that the Dutch built such excellent and separate infrastructure for cycling.

You also cannot equate skipping red lights (when it is safe to do so!) with speeding. Speed kills - end of story. As the UK ads keep telling us: if a car hit a pedestrian at 40 mph, there's an 80% chance the pedestrian will die, but if the car had to hit at 30 mph there's and 80% chance the pedestrian will live. Skipping a red light (when it is safe to do so) is in no way the same as speeding, which is why I'm overwhelmingly in favour of a blanket 20 mph speed limit on all residential roads, as well as a 10 mph reduction in speed limits almost everywhere.

The point I'm making is actually quite simple:

Maintaining the status quo is NOT an option. We KNOW things are wrong, and we need to fight to make it right.
That fight might be a bicycle-related blog that gently can help educate non-cyclists, it may be critical mass rides (sometimes in itself a form of civil disobedience) and it may even include skipping red lights.

My personal opinion remains that roads pre-date cars by millenia, and that traffic lights were invented because motorised transport cannot self-regulate. As such, I don't consider them binding to me.