Time to change the “frame” of the debate.
I was at the SWFBUD “Bicycle Bash” in Tampa in November 2012 and had a lot of people stop by my booth and discuss how we can improve our lots from a legal standpoint. Our problem as serious cyclists who want the laws in our favor enforced is that the motoring public cannot differentiate between us, who are using the road exactly as motorists are, and children. We share in common with children, the same machines and the same activity-to wit- “riding” our bicycles. Unfortunately it is not the same. There are laws which put us on equal legal footing or motor vehicles and protect our adult cycling activity.
It would appear we need to “reframe” the discussion. George Lakeoff, the brilliant behavioral linguist, shows that debates are be won by the side which “frames” the language of the debate. Think “embryonic stem” cells (scientifically superfluous) and “tax relief”(where’s the pain?). In my jury trials, very often the winner is the one whose words/phrases frame the facts and makes the most heads nod or gives the most memorable phrases. Reframing applies to any public image. Think of the groups who’ve changed their entire labels- “negroes a “African Americans,” homosexuals-“gay,” atheists -“Brights.” This is similar to the marketing concept of “re-branding.” We cyclists need to do the same. It’s time to change “the frame.” It’s time for us as cyclists to claim or rights by re-framing what we do.
Florida statutes do not help us. We bicycles or human-powered vehicles do many things under Florida Statutes Chapter 316, the traffic statutes. A quick review has us: 1. “driving” 316.1995(1); 2. “Riding”: 316.151(1)(b) and (c), 316.2065(2), (3)(b), (3)(c),(3)(d), (3)(e),(4); 3. “propelling”: 316.130(15), 316.2065(1), 316.2065(9); and 4. “operating”: 316 .072(1), 316.091(4), 316.2065(5)(a), (5)(b), (6). A review of the popular literature for cyclists (Bicycling, Outside, Cycling World), almost uniformly presents the cyclist as a “rider” of his vehicle. Not good.
You may think, Steele, wait, what’s wrong with saying I’m “riding”? Is this bad? My reply is: “Who else ‘rides’ their vehicle?” Well, kids, children do. They ride their scooters, ride their Big Wheels, ride their skateboards, ride their tricycles, ride their training wheel bikes…Riding is what kids do. Furthermore, “you know how kids are.” A kid is “unpredictable, irresponsible, risk-taking, foolish, they are just crazy kids” And kids don’t have any rights, they don’t vote, they are non-citizens, their parents are responsible for them, and they are just “a bother on the roads.” The motoring public believes: “We are cars, the parents of those kids have taught them ‘look out for cars’ right? Well, get out of our way.”
So what does the general motoring public think adult cyclists do on their human powered vehicles costing several hundreds, even thousands? Why “they ride those too.” Say,they are doing the same thing as those kids on those bicycles! Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to make a huge cognitive leap to understand how this is perceived: all bicycles are kids, they should look out for cars. When your typical motorists, who hasn’t driven a bicycle since they were fourteen, sees a 45-year-old, cyclists, the cyclist is viewed the same as those “ unpredictable, irresponsible, risk-taking, foolish, crazy kids riding on the road.” It’s the same with the law enforcement officers I speak with: “What the heck are they doing on a bicycle in traffic? They need to watch out for cars. They’re crazy.” This idea carries over to the adult cyclist whether it’s a cancer researcher or a veterinarian, distinguished retired navel commander, Navy fighter pilot, photographer, entrepreneur, or trial lawyer. They are all “riding their vehicles, so they have to “look out for cars.” Right?
The challenge we have is to differentiate ourselves from the unpredictable, irresponsible, risk-taking, dammed-foolish,, crazy kids” and get the same rights of other vehicles. How? It would appear the way to do that is reframe what we do. We are not kids, so we do not “ride” vehicles on the road; We “drive” our vehicles on the road. Just one word substituted: Drive.
We must recognize our rights are tied up in reframing using the word “driving.” Cars drive, truck drive, motor vehicles drive. A driver of a vehicle is entitled to right of way, passed with a safe clearance. A driver of a vehicle must be given the road rights other drivers have. And you don’t hit a driver of a vehicle without some serious, consequence. So, too, should it be for human powered vehicles. We need to start calling what we do drive. We drive our vehicles too. We drive and we have the same rights as other drivers. You don’t hit us without some serious consequences. We are not kids: We……….drive. When we start referring to ourselves as “drivers” of our vehicles, we establish that we “drivers” get the same rights as other vehicles. By “reframing” this discussion it appears we may take control of the debate and make the public aware of our real legal status, get our rights and stop getting hit. What do you think?