by Josh Zisson
July 9, 2013
Published at Bike Safe Boston
Drivers are stuck in cages all day, so it should be no surprise that they sometimes act like animals. The good news is, animals can be trained. Being exposed to more riders on the road is one way that drivers can become accustomed to bikes as a part of traffic.
However, there’s one training method that I think a lot of bikers overlook: positive reinforcement.
By acknowledging when a driver does something good, we take a step towards cementing that good behavior into their normal driving habits. Think of it as tossing them a treat.
Of course, some might say that bikers don’t owe any debt of gratitude to drivers for not driving like maniacs or hitting us with their cars. Why thank them for a behavior that they ought to be practicing anyway?
Because when you wave to acknowledge a driver who let you merge, or put a hand out to thank them for pulling their door back in when they saw you coming, you’re doing more than just being nice. You’re forming a personal connection. That little bit of friendly communication can transcend the usual interactions on the road and remind a driver of our shared humanity. You’re no longer just an anonymous obstacle in traffic—you’re a person.
This little glimpse of humanity is our secret weapon, and we should all take full advantage of it.
That’s why I throw up a hand for a “thank you wave” nearly every time I pull in front of a car, whether they meant to let me in or not. If I’m rolling through an intersection and a driver on my right is waiting to pull out, I’ll lift a couple fingers from my handlebar for a mini-gesture of thanks as I go by. Thanks for not plowing into me!
A wave in traffic is the universal sign for appreciation, and even this tiny acknowledgement is enough to make me a human. Thus, every ride becomes an opportunity to teach drivers that you’re there.
So don’t ride as though you’re surrounded by strangers—connect with drivers on the road, and make them feel your humanity. Who knows? It just may help them remember to check for bikers the next time they consider making a last minute right turn, sans blinker. After all, it’s never too late for a little conditioning—er, driver’s ed.
Josh Zisson graduated from Suffolk Law School and was admitted to practice law in Massachusetts in 2009. He worked for a few firms before starting his own practice specializing in bike law. He blogs at Bike Safe Boston.
• The Friendly Cyclist #600 Courtesy (YouTube video)