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Why Do People Hate Safety? Or, How I Got Heckled on Friday Night


Published October 26, 2009 at 4:19 p.m.

 Recently, I've been asking myself the question in this post's title. Why do people hate safety? What is so offensive about trying to be safe and not die a bloody, mangled mess? Perhaps I should explain what I'm talking about.

Photo on the right is what happens when you hate safety.

For the past couple months, my girlfriend and I have been volunteering for the Safe Streets Collaborative, a partnership between Local Motion and the Burlington Police Department, as well as other community members and organizations. The point of the collaborative is just like it sounds — to make streets safer for everyone using them. Sounds pretty inoffensive to me. Again, I ask who doesn't like safety.

Our volunteering has taken the form of "intersection intervention," or, as I call it, Bike Light Recon. Basically, that means that we and other bike nerds stand on busy corners at night and flag down cyclists who do not have lights on their bikes. In Burlington, it is required that people have a flashing white light on the front of their bike and at least a reflector in the back. Most people don't know this is a city statute, thus the point of the Bike Light Recon. It's all about Ed-U-Cation.

Also the point of Bike Light Recon: making the streets safer for cars, pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs, old people, people who are infirm, dogs, squirrels, etc. But apparently that is offensive to people. I'll explain.

Here's the gist of Bike Light Recon: two or three volunteers per corner are partnered with one of Burlington's finest. Cops are wearing their police outfits; volunteers are wearing helmets and safety vests. Yes, safety vests. No, they're not high fashion — mine was a little snug, I'll admit —  but they help prevent cars from making pizza out of my innards.

This is not very safe.

When we see a cyclist cruising along without the required lights, the volunteers flag them down, ask if we can talk to them for a sec, tell them about the city laws regarding bike lights and give them a coupon to get a bike light at any of the bike shops in town. Then the cop comes over and puts the fear of Jesus in the offending cyclist by telling him or her that he could give a $50 ticket for the offense, but he won't because he's a nice dude.

In less than three minutes, the cyclist is on her way with a coupon in her pocket and a better understanding of the rules of the road. By and large, the people we flagged at the corner of N. Winooski and Pearl streets were respectful and attentive. Some were chronic inebriates who should really never operate anything with moving parts. Others were "in a hurry," which is code for "I don't give a flying pig shit what you want to talk to me about. I've got a very important appointment to get my drink on at Esox and you're preventing me from accomplishing my mission."

The couple times we've done this, we've gotten heckled. We've been called a bike gang because of our vests (Whatever. Safety first.), and we've had people make fun of our helmets and tell us to "be safe," their voices dripping with sarcasm. Yeah, I am safe, thanks. You never know when you might just fall over on the sidewalk. A helmet could save your life.

Christ, it's not like we're Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or Scientologists. We're not trying to eat their babies or make them renounce their families or whatever. What I don't get is why people feel the need to say anything. One guy said helmets were dumb. Another said we were instituting "martial law" because we were trying to get people to not get hit by cars on their bikes. I'll tell you what, pal, how's about I buy you a plane ticket to, say, Guinea or Libya or Pakistan or another country run by the military and see if you still feel that getting people to use bike lights is tantamount to martial law.

I get that we look silly, but so do men with eyebrow rings, and you don't hear me crapping on them. So what's the deal? Is it the idea that people who don't wear helmets or use lights on their bikes feel threatened by those of us who do, as if our rule-following and desire to be safe is somehow a tacit indictment of their behavior?

It's like why so many people hate vegetarians, because they feel that their shunning of meat is a condemnation of people who do eat meat. Same thing with teetotalers. I can speak to both of those because I neither eat meat nor drink. But frankly, I could not care less if you drink yourself to a liver transplant or end up with arteries clogged with bologna. 

So what are your theories on why people hate safety, apart from the fact that they must have tiny hoo-hoo dillies? Do you hate safety, or people trying to encourage you to be more safe? If so, why? Were you the ones heckling us on Friday night? Do you want me to have to get feral on your ass next time? Just asking.