Following is a popular chapter from my first book, "Letters to a Driving Nation: Exploring the Conflict between Drivers and Cyclists."
I was cycling with Flat-Boy in Golden Ears Park, not far from home. The road through the park comprises a single lane in each direction, has a speed limit of 60 km/h, and is mostly marked with a double solid line. We were on a section of the road with a long, steep descent that curved left on a blind corner. Flat-Boy was just ahead of me, and we were riding our triathlon bikes in a staggered formation near the middle of the lane, accelerating fast and approaching the speed limit. Over the sound of the wind roaring in my ears, I heard you coming up from behind and stole a quick glance over my shoulder. “CAR BACK!” I shouted as your motorhome closed on us.
At this point, things started to go downhill (pun intended). You decided that, rather than slow down and wait until it was safe to pass, you’d give it a shot. You pulled out – crossing that double-solid line – and sped up. It wasn’t until you were abreast of us we realized you were also towing a boat. I could tell from Flat-Boy’s body language we were thinking the same thing: Oh shit!
That blind corner ahead came a lot sooner than you’d estimated – not surprising since we were all going over 60 km/h. Not wanting to be on the wrong side of the road on a blind corner, you cut back over, missing Flat-Boy’s front wheel with the rear of your boat by about a metre. You clearly had no idea where the back end of your boat trailer was, or maybe you panicked, or maybe you just didn’t care. As you disappeared down the hill, Flat-Boy and I shared some curses about you, your parentage, etc. then continued with our ride. Just another exciting day of cycling in Maple Ridge.
Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at our turn-around point – the entrance to the park’s campground. Lo and behold, there you were, in the line waiting to register for a campsite. I couldn’t resist the opportunity, so I circled your motorhome once to make sure I had your attention, then pulled up to your window.
“You know, you almost took out my buddy back there. That was a double solid yellow line – you know that means you can’t pass, right?”
“You guys were in the middle of the lane,” you replied, “I had to pass you.”
Okay, you’re making this way too easy for me. “Seriously, you HAD to pass us? Why?” I glanced over at the woman in the passenger seat. “Was she holding a gun to your head? How come you HAD to pass us?”
You struggled for a few seconds, trying to come up with a convincing reply. Flat-Boy pulled up beside me, playing Good Cyclist to my Bad Cyclist. “You almost killed me back there,” he said in a quiet voice. “You know I have a wife and two kids?”
“How else was I supposed to pass you?” Your voice was getting weaker.
“It’s a double-solid line! Don’t you know what that means? It means the same thing today as it did when you took your driver’s test. It means it’s not safe to pass!” This is getting fun.
You struggled for words. “Umm, I’m… I’m allowed to pass on a double solid line, if…if there’s cyclists in the way.”
“Bullshit,” I replied.
“Seriously?” Flat-Boy added. We could both see your eyes moving up and to the left as you struggled to come up with a reply.
“Well, what was I supposed to do?” was all you could manage, embarrassed at getting dressed down in front of your wife.
Well, since you asked. “You wait until it’s safe to pass. If it’s not safe, you don’t pass. It’s that simple. Got it?”
Then came the surprise. “I, but, I….okay, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”
My mouth nearly hit the pavement. A driver who admits he’s wrong? Wow, that’s a first!
“Thank you,” was all each of us could muster as we cycled off.
* * *
Experienced cyclists know that a driver overtaking a cyclist is likely to undergo a "temporary cognitive dysfunction." This is a polite way of saying that some drivers temporarily become – there’s no other way of saying this – stupid.
I’ve witnessed this behaviour hundreds of times, and now I’ve come up with a good analogy to explain it. Now keep in mind, I’m just an engineer, so this analogy might not have a solid basis in neuroscience, but it describes what happens in this type of situation.
When the driver’s visual cortex (the part of the brain that processes images from the eyes) is presented with the image of a cyclist in the way, a little switch in their brain opens. This open circuit causes all the higher-level brain functions to turn off, leaving only autonomic functions and one (and only one) thought:
“Must pass. Must pass. Must pass. Must pass. Must pass.”
With the driver’s brain now focused on the act of passing, the ability to reason is gone. It doesn’t matter if there is oncoming traffic and there is no chance of getting safely past the cyclist. It doesn’t matter if the driver is approaching a blind corner or coming up to the crest of a hill and can’t tell what might be coming in the opposite direction. It doesn’t matter if there is one cyclist or a line of several dozen riding single file. It doesn’t matter if the cyclist is traveling at (or above) the speed limit and there is no legal reason for the driver to pass. It doesn’t matter if the driver is planning on turning right just up ahead. It doesn’t matter if there’s a red light up ahead and traffic has come to a complete stop. It doesn’t matter if the cyclist has their arm sticking straight out, signaling a left turn. Nothing matters – the switch has flipped. The driver is overcome with an all-encompassing desire to pass, pass, pass, and to hell with the consequences. I. MUST. PASS. No amount of reasoning will stop the driver from passing.
The foot goes down on the gas pedal, and the driver experiences a rush of superiority as they overtake that cyclist who is interfering with their (perceived) right to drive any way they damn well please. Now here’s where it gets even more interesting (for the cyclist).
As the driver passes and the cyclist disappears from the driver’s peripheral vision, that open switch in the brain now closes, and the driver’s higher-level brain functions return. The driver looks in the rearview mirror and doesn’t see the cyclist, and then moves back over to the right. The problem is that the cyclist is still there, in the driver’s blind spot. Scenarios like this happen all the time to cyclists (trust me).
When I learned how to drive, I was taught that when passing another vehicle, I shouldn’t move back into my original lane until I can see that vehicle’s front end in my rear view mirror. I don’t know why so many drivers refuse to follow this basic rule when passing cyclists, knowing that the outcome can be terrible. Maybe they do it because they under-estimate the cyclist’s speed. Maybe they’ve decided they don’t need to ‘respect’ cyclists. Maybe when they get behind the wheel, they become a sociopath and no longer care what happens to others.
You need to acknowledge that – as a driver – when you encounter a cyclist, you might not think clearly, which may cause you to rationalize a course of action that can have terrible consequences.
 Another cycling buddy of mine. We used to call him ‘Fat-Boy’, but then he lost a lot of weight, started cycling and picked up a habit of running over sharp objects.
 In British Columbia, a double solid line indicates that a driver “must remain to the right of it at all times”. In simple terms, no passing. At any time. Not for any reason. Period.
 Looking up and to the left indicates the brain is accessing its creative side. In the context of an argument, it usually means you’re making shit up.