Why do drivers & cyclists just not get on?
The ‘war of the roads’ between drivers and cyclists has been rumbling on for years and as cycling increases in popularity as a means of transport, it seems that the hostility between the two sides has also increased. But do both sides have a valid argument? I both cycle and drive and think that better education is needed on both sides as well as better infrastructure.
Both of the ‘arguments’ below are based on a mixture of personal experiences and conversations I’ve had with other drivers and cyclists.
Argument from a driver
I have been driving for about 15 years now. I spent several years driving for a living when I worked in field sales which meant driving significant distances to get to appointments with clients. Being late was never a good thing. Any kind of hold up that could delay me could cost me a sale. Slow drivers, tractors and cyclists were a nightmare.
Even now, when I drive, these three road users can cause a headache. The thing about (some) cyclists is that they take up too much road. They don’t use the cycle lanes and paths when there is one available like they a meant to. If and when they do use the cycle lanes on the road, they overtake each other, or swerve round drains and potholes into the traffic lane. They don’t obey the rules of the road like drivers have to. Not stopping at red lights or pedestrian crossings or signalling their intentions when turning.
When I stop at traffic lights they pull up in front of me or sit in the middle of the lane so I can’t pull away quickly. I have to wait for them to find the right gear or clip their feet into their pedals. I then have to sit behind them driving at about 15mph until I can overtake them. Or they squeeze up the inside of the queuing cars, just to get to the front of the lights and hold everyone up. Sometimes I wonder if they are even aware that I am driving behind them, stuck until I can overtake. Sometimes I’ll just squeeze passed them and the cars coming the other way and if I am quick I can get in front of them before the next set of lights. If they cycle together they ride in pairs having a chat. They should be riding in single file so I can get round them. I pay road tax and cyclists don’t so I should have more rights to drive on the road.
Argument from a cyclist
I cycle for 3 reasons. As a mode of transport to work or other locations, because I enjoy the head space and freedom it gives me when I am riding and well, just because I want to. When I cycle, I think it is important to make sure other road users are aware of my presence. It keeps me safe and doesn’t put them at risk of seeing me too late. So when I pull up to traffic lights or junctions I tend to sit in the middle of the lane directly in front or behind the queuing cars as though I am one. It means that the car in front can seem me in their rear view mirror (assuming they use it) and the can behind can see me in front of them. This also gives me room for the 5 seconds it takes me to put my feet on the pedals and pull away. Once I am in motion, I move to the side of the road so that cars can pass me.
I generally don’t use cycle paths on the pavement as a rule. These are often a painted bicycle symbol on the pavement and are shared with pedestrians with no separate lanes. This means there is often not enough room to cycle passed. Especially if their are pushchairs or parents walking with you children, and unlike cyclists, pedestrians are well within their rights to walk more than two abreast one the pavement. I will use cycle lanes on the road if there is one, although these can cause problems as well. The cycle lanes near to where I live are probably in a worse state than the main roads. They are often strewn with debris, broken glass and stones flicked up from cars or where there has been an accident and everything is swept to the road side or gutter where the cycle lane has been painted. Some drivers believe that cyclists must use cycle paths when available. However, The Highway Code Rules for cyclists say;
63. Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). Keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.
I would class myself as experienced enough to cycle on a road and if drivers are aware of my presence and are prepared to be patient and overtake when it is safe to do so, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Hitting a drain cover or pothole on a bicycle could not only cause damage to the bike but could cause me to be thrown from the bike. Therefore, whilst I ride with a total awareness of what is around me, I cannot always predict the smoothness of the road surface. Sometimes I may have to swerve to avoid an accident. If you are aware of me, you will have given me sufficient space when behind and when overtaking me for this not to be an issue.
I cycle on the road. I am not so naive or stupid as to think that I am the only one using it or that I have sole right of way. But the same has to be said for drivers. You are driving up behind me and before overtaking you can see that the traffic ahead is slowing down or coming to a stop. Do you really need to overtake me and pull in sharply before you have to stop? Or overtake me to take the left turning that is 50 meters ahead of me? I am sure the answer is probably no. There may be an occasion that you misjudge how much distance you have………!
So what now?
So, drivers blame cyclists and cyclists blame drivers for the ‘war of the roads’.
Firstly lets start with the ‘road tax’ argument or misconception! Road Tax has not existed in this country since the 1930’s. When a driver pays online or at the post office for a little paper disc in the window (this rule has since changed as of 1st Oct 2014), they are actually paying for is Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). This is a tax based on the car they drive and the emissions it produces as opposed to the roads the car is driven on. Therefore when the argument from drivers is “you shouldn’t be on the road because you don’t pay road tax” it is really an empty argument as neither do they. Even if this wasn’t the case, most cyclists also own and drive a motor vehicle of some description which they also pay for.
Sadly whilst the roads and infrastructure across the UK (and that’s not just London) are as badly setup for bikes and cyclists as they currently are, we (cyclists) are always going to be bottom of the transport food-chain. A lot more needs to be done!
But in the same respect, as a cyclist I think the we have to take a degree of responsibility for our actions too. I find it unbelievably frustrating to be sat at a red light and have another cyclist ride up the inside of me and the cars in front of me, only to watch as they continue riding through the red light and off down the road. Or those that don’t signal their intentions when turning or overtaking. If you are riding on the road your positioning and visibility to other road users is so important. There is no point in sitting in a drivers blind spot or riding with no lights because it is still “sort of light” or you’re wearing a white t-shirt, then wondering why you aren’t seen. As I wrote in an earlier post, Commuting by bike – the friendly way, our safety as cyclists MUST start with us!
You will never get both sides to agree on who is in the right and suddenly start saying ‘no please, after you’! But maybe if you remember that the people in the cars or on the bikes next to you are also just trying to get somewhere and are not simply on the road to piss you off, you might think a bit more about your actions. I don’t have all the answers. Maybe part of the problem is that there are more people on the roads, trying to get to where they are going faster! Or maybe as I said at the start, there should be better education on both sides of the road.
Ride and drive safe!