A Motorist’s Meals-on-Wheels

Driving danger heightens as “swervers” flood Worcester streets

Max Elias, Scarlet Staff

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Driving in Worcester has never been enjoyable—or safe for that matter—even when the only thing to contend with is other cars. But now a rising population of teenagers has been dangerously cutting in and out of traffic on their bicycles, often banding together in packs. These teens add an extra layer of unpredictability to the average driver’s day; not only is it impossible to know when a bicyclist will pop out of nowhere, but it is never assured that the driver will react in time.

Even if they do, a startling brake can disrupt traffic behind the driver and will at best slow everything down; drivers will rear-end each other in their efforts to avoid doing something worse. Teens are not just impeding traffic, but they are injecting intricate stunts into their roadside endangerment, apparently trying to impress each other. These groups are made up of anywhere from 5 to 20 people.

Clearly this is an issue, but is it being dealt with well? The Worcester Police Department has received enough complaints that a special task force specifically dealing with errant cyclists has been formed. They try to confiscate bicycles from offenders when possible. The challenge is to identify these offenders before they end up hurt, and to do that the police have been scouring social media for signs—posts, pictures, etc.—that point to the bicyclists. They have not yet escalated to arresting these teenagers, but acknowledge the possible necessity.

They are educating people—particularly youth—about the dangers of this practice and are planning to patrol the streets themselves looking to curtail them. They will also be on bicycles, but will be more easily visible to motorists, and conduct themselves in a safer fashion on the road. Over the past week, a dozen bikes have been confiscated.

The trend of bicyclists disrupting traffic, or “swerving”, has emerged in places other than Worcester as well. New Jersey and Pennsylvania police departments have also had trouble with teenagers swerving through traffic. Police are reluctant to detain offenders until they absolutely must. Generally this is a good thing, because police forces are much maligned when they preemptively act to prevent such offenses.

Though in this case, the potential harm caused is greater than the negative press generated by overreactions,not only to the drivers and general flow of traffic, but to the perpetrators themselves. They trust that other drivers, despite being totally unaware of their presence, will be able to avoid harming them when they do this, and that’s unrealistic.

This seems to be progressing from a local fad to a larger-scale phenomenon, meaning the peer pressure or social immersion aspects of swerving will likely increase the rate of its occurrence. Given that, it is time to take more decisive action to deter potential swervers. The swiftest way to do so is to arrest more violators; the bicycle patrols must be more frequent for this.