The damage done to this vehicle by the pedestrian at left reminds us of the risks motorists face every day. Photo by jasper de boer on Flickr.
This article was posted as an April Fool’s joke.
A new campaign by the region’s leading automobile advocacy group has created controversy in the local motoring enthusiast community.
Seeing a need to mollify critics who say that motorists disregard the law and endanger other road users, the American Automobile Association’s Mid-Atlantic chapter has encouraged its members to sign the Resolution to Drive Responsibly.
Signatories agree not to engage in rude and dangerous behavior while on the road, including speeding, failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, talking on mobile phones, blocking the box, and parking in bike lanes. The resolution states, “I resolve to obey the laws. I resolve not to disregard, injure or kill other road users.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John Townsend explained that the program aims to turn around the negative opinion that many in our region have of motorists. “The goal,” he said, “is to show that motorists are responsible people who behave courteously and try to avoid endangering others.”
These good intentions have created a storm among Washington-area motoring enthusiasts, as online message boards for “motorheads,” as some call themselves, lit up. Writing on one local forum, “IWillNotBeMufflered” wrote, “Everyone knows there is a war on drivers out there. My baby is in danger of being scratched every time I take her down the street.” User “Fast&Furious” added: “That pedestrian is a real threat to me. I do what I’ve gotta do to make sure my vehicle is protected.”
Even other automobile advocacy groups are calling AAA Mid-Atlantic’s tactics into question. Veronica Moss of the Automobile Users Trade Association said that AAA may have ceded too much ground in its advocacy efforts. “I see what they’re trying to do,” she said, “but the reality is that drivers are a small minority under siege on our streets. We are little lambs, and those nonmotorized road users are real wolves out to get us. We shouldn’t just offer ourselves up to them like that. They could do real damage to us.”
This blog disagrees with Ms. Moss’s absolutist perspective. Despite its flaws, AAA’s Resolution to Drive Responsibly embodies values we should all have, whether walking, biking or driving.
However, the motorists have a point. More must be done to make travel by automobile safe and convenient, including construction of dedicated lanes for cars, encouragement initiatives like “drive to work day,” and reform of mobility education for high schoolers to include information about the rights and responsibilities of motorists. Pioneering cities such as Los Angeles and Houston have led the way in these initiatives. Washington should follow their lead.
Our region can do more. We encourage the “bicycular motoring” movement, which teaches motorists to operate their vehicles in a manner consistent with a world dominated by active transportation when there is no dedicated motoring infrastructure available. Even the radical “freeway” concept, which has been described as being like a Capital Crescent Trail for automobile use only, should be considered in our region’s transportation plans.
Even as motorists make strides in making our region safer for high-speed automobile traffic, they must remember that they are still operating in an environment designed for nonmotorized users and must obey the rules. Being courteous is the least they could do to help their cause.