I just got my ticket for going through a red-light. On my bike. I do this regularly because Wellington is full of traffic-light systems that stop traffic for pedestrians only. So, on my bike, when the few pedestrians are crossing, I cross too. So does every other regular cyclist I know.
Why? Well, because for me, its much safer to get a jump on the cars. I can be in the middle of the lane, and not hold anyone up. I don’t get cars cutting me off, tooting because I’m not powered by a 4 litre V8, and I can cope with people randomly opening doors in parked cars. Its better for everyone, indeed, better for the entire world!
None of this made much sense to the policeman. I don’t think he’d been on a bike for … a number of years, and equated my 10kg Giant XTC2 with his massively heavy (300+kg – BMW 1150) police motorcycle. “Its the same, I could do it too”, he said. WTF?
When I suggested that this was a little silly, he self-rightously informed me “The LAW is the LAW”.
Now, he is quite correct. The law says (more or less) that “Cars = Bicycles”. Which is obviously absurd, almost as absurd as his silly comparison. But… lets face it, the law is full of absurd chunks from the past (and if thats not enough, our politicians actively add new silly laws like the electoral finance act).
So… fair cop right? Busted. Sure. According to the law. Which is silly.
So now I have a $150 ticket, because my bike going slowly through a crossing without any issue for any pedestrians is as dangerous as a 2 ton SUV hooning through a red light, according to the police officer.
ok. But if we look at the point of tickets, it is generally to punish and reform behaviour. Its the big stick. Unfortunately, in this case, it will have none of that effect. I only got the ticket because I was foolish enough to be honest with the police officer when he asked my name and address. Im not sure why I did that, I guess I felt I should. Lesson learned.
So, because of this ticket, my behaviour will be modified in the following ways:
1. I will continue to go through red lights if it is safe for everyone, because it is the safest thing for me on a bike. I will be more careful about checking for police officers.
2. I will not tell police officers my name or address in the future, well, I’ll give a false name and address. “Jim Beam, 33 GetStuffed Place”. Cyclists don’t have to carry identification.
So what was the point of the ticket again?
My fundamental point is this: there is an economic rationale behind (almost) every decision. The above modifications in my behaviour are optimal from my point of view. I have no incentive to perform how the Police Officer and the Law says I should. I can easily avoid the fine (by giving a false name), and I can stay safe. Behaviour modification doesn’t happen by using a big stick, its about motivating the person to change, and making them realise it is in their best interests. The Police Officer obviously did not have cyclists best interests at heart, a fact he dismissed by a dour “Wellington is not designed for cyclists”.