Maybe it’s the low speed, or the likelihood of establishing eye contact, but for some reason a 4-way stop seems to turn even the most truculent drivers into the epitome of grace and courtesy.
"After you, little one, I insist! The day is hot and I am in no rush—please, go ahead!" I imagine them saying, as they emphatically gesture for me to cross in front of them.
When drivers do this, they are nearly always yielding the right of way. This may seem like one of the perks of being a biker. Why not take advantage of their kindness? After all, you’re probably not gonna get hit by a driver yielding to you at a 4-way.
But there is a problem with drivers who yield the right of way. They’re making an exception for you because you’re on a bike. They perceive you to be a special case, and that perception is our burden.
A driver who cedes the right of way does so because at some level he doesn’t consider bikes to be a legitimate part of traffic. We’re just obstacles, not vehicles.
This perception may benefit us when we’re face to face with a driver, but most of the time it works to our disadvantage. What happens when that polite, yielding driver decides that we’re “slowing him down,” and he attempts to pass when there isn’t room?
If a driver hasn’t accepted that cyclists are a legitimate part of traffic, they have no reason to accept our right to occupy the lane.
Luckily, there’s a very simple way to correct this attitude: we must refuse their courtesy.
In case you didn’t know, here are the two rules that control who goes first at an intersection:
- The vehicle that gets to the intersection first has the right of way (and should go first).
- If two vehicles arrive “at approximately the same instant,” the right of way belongs to the operator to the right.
By strictly following these rules at every intersection, we can educate drivers who don’t know that they apply to bikes, and assert our rights as vehicles on the road. We’ll fight their polite condescension with condescension! Call it civil obedience.
The next time you’re waved on by an overly gracious driver who wants to cede their right of way, do not give in. You must look that driver dead in the eye and stand your ground.
Such blatant impoliteness takes practice, and it may be more difficult for those of you raised in certain parts of the Midwest, but keep at it—it’s the only way they’ll ever learn.