It’s not me, it’s you

Psychological projection is when humans defend their own wrong or unjust actions or thoughts by attributing those actions or thoughts to others, typically those that are most affected by the wrongs, or who would most be harmed if those projections were real.

Projection can be intentional, or unintentional, and when unintentional, can be genuine, which is to say the projector may actually believe in his or her own reality. When apprised of the nonfactual nature of that reality, a sincere person will terminate the projection, while an insincere or otherwise externally motivated individual then converts the projection to intentional.

Examples of projection abound. In the world of politics, a candidate that did not serve in the military (or did not serve honorably) can project that inadequacy (assuming that prior military service in a candidate is beneficial to that particular political race) onto a candidate that did serve by crafting a narrative that portrays that service as not honorable or inconsequential. See also, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

In your world closer to home, that coworker who is convinced you hate him for no reason that you can divine probably actually has an intense dislike for you, and is projecting his distaste for you onto you, making the social conflict your fault, conveniently absolving the coworker of any responsibility to solve the problem.

And that is where we come down to road sharing.


Anyone that reads enough about road sharing will quickly realize that ‘car culture’ (here defined as the set of cultural standards and expectations brought about by motor vehicle-centric development and policymaking) is really all about projection.

Owning and operating a car is costly? Take away money from transit to make my drive easier.

Can’t find an easy place to park? Flatten more blocks for surface lots for my convenience.

Unsafe to walk in your neighborhood? Drive your kids around the block to their friend’s house.

Nowhere, for me, is the essence of projection by the Committed Driver more evident than in the treatment of cyclists on the road.

Speeding, rolling stop signs and gunning on yellow are accepted driver behaviors? It’s the cyclists that flout the law.

4700 pedestrians a year killed by drivers? Cyclists are the real menace on the roads.

Furious about congestion and being stuck in traffic every single day? I can’t stand being stuck behind a cyclist for even one second.

And that brings us to this story. It would seem a South Dakota state lawmaker proposed a bill that would require a cyclist to pull off the side of the road and dismount his or her bike every time a vehicle overtook from behind, in cases where there is a ‘limited or no shoulder.’

So this means that every time I am riding a road without a dedicated lane or super generous shoulder, which happens with regular frequency, and I hear a motor vehicle approaching from behind, I have to pull off the road, dismount and wait for the vehicle to pass. As you can extrapolate, that would mean in many cases, I will never be able to get back on my bike, this law effectively closing off my access to roadways with even light traffic.

And as a matter of policymaking, this would de facto prioritize motor vehicle traffic over non-motorized traffic. We already know this is the case culturally on the road, however (and this is why we call it ‘culture’ and not ‘law’) the legal framework for riding a bicycle is generally good everywhere in the country, it is the enforcement and culture that make riding a bike feel like so much civil disobedience. In general, roads are open to all users, and as conveyances, bicycles are generally afforded all rights and responsibilities of motor vehicles. Drivers must exercise due care when encountering cyclists, and speed limits are exactly that, upper limits and not minima or guidelines.

These are hard truths for many drivers to hear, yet they are truths nonetheless.

So that gets us back to projection. The legislator behind this proposed law actually said the following:

“All I’m asking is that if you’re riding your bicycle on a narrow road and up comes an 18-foot hay hauler or some other service truck … pull over, get off the bike and let them pull around you.”

That’s alls he’s asking. If you are on a bike and a faster vehicle comes up behind you, know your place and get out of the way. Because it doesn’t matter why you are on the bike, only that you are on the bike. Because we know that drivers only use the road for commerce, and never basic transportation or leisure.


[The legislator] said he didn’t aim to penalize anyone with the bill, he just wanted to see cyclists and drivers safely share the road.

“It’s an education thing and a courtesy thing,” [the legislator] said. “I’m not looking to get people thrown in jail or fined or anything like that.”

So this legislator’s idea of ‘safely sharing the road’ is the cyclist getting the goddamn hell out of the way. And though he does not want to see cyclists thrown in jail, he is championing a law that would see them jailed for 30 days over each offense.

Cyclists in your way? They are uneducated, discourteous and with no common sense. It’s projection, folks. In the cyclist-driver dynamic, it is drivers that are typically ignorant of the law, rude and make bad decisions.

Education, courtesy and common sense are all actually words this legislator used to describe what cyclists don’t have on the roads of South Dakota.

Fortunately, this bill was killed in committee.


Additional references:

Psychological projection:

Story on the original proposed bill:

Many an anti-cycling commenters love to point out the law requiring cyclists (and truck drivers and bluehair RV drivers) to pull over when some requisite number of vehicles line up behind them in order to let the line of faster vehicles pass. That is not actually the law. The laws of this type generally state that a slower vehicle operator must pull over and allow trailing traffic to pass IF faster traffic cannot pass safely AND the requisite number of trailing vehicles is achieved AND there is a safe place to turn out (that is why these are called ‘turn out’ laws).

So in other words, I am not required to permit trailing traffic to dictate when I pull over, but rather when safety dictates I can pull over. This proposed law would override all that.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21656, an example of a ‘turn out’ law:

Photo credit: bikesandwich Flickr via Compfight cc.

About Ben Folsom

Ben Folsom is a founding member of the Bike Commuter Cabal, a worldwide group of transport cyclists dedicated to protecting the rights of all road users and to encouraging people everywhere to ride more. Ben and his bikes live with his family in Alexandria, Virginia.