Mark Simpson on the tarmac war between cyclists and drivers
Like many drivers, I hate cyclists. They’re in your way. They’re too slow. They’re too erratic. They’re too self-righteous. They get away with murder.
But when I’m on my pushbike, I hate drivers. They’re up your arse. They’re too fast. They’re too aggressive. They’re too impatient. They’re murderers.
So you could say I have a balanced view.
As a cyclist I envy the way that drivers are dry and warm and protected by a metal box, picking their noses. I hate the way they can overtake me without having to break an honest sweat – polluting the environment instead.
As a driver, I envy the freedom and fresh-air healthiness of cyclists, the way they filter up to the front of the traffic queue, and don’t have to pay anything, or take any tests to ride their pushbike in their Day-Glo underwear on Her Majesty’s highway.
And of course, in today’s urban/suburban traffic it’s quite likely that you’ll find yourself at a red light facing the lycra buttocks you took so much trouble to overtake and make taste your exhaust two minutes ago.
When you consider how much running a car costs – and at such moments you really do – this can be a bit humiliating.
Little surprise then that a recent survey of UK drivers found that three quarters of them think that cyclists should have to get a licence before they are allowed on the road alongside cars.
While nearly half (42%) thought that cyclists should only be allowed to use the pavement. This however is currently a fineable offence – though one that seems hardly enforced. When I’m a pedestrian, I hate cars and cyclists.
The survey also found that half of drivers agreed with the statement: ‘Cyclists should all have their saddles confiscated’. Okay, I made that one up.
To be fair to drivers, there are a lot more cyclists around these days, on roads that are a lot more choked – and ‘calmed’, that is, narrowed – than before. It’s increasingly difficult to safely overtake cyclists in urban areas. There are more cycle lanes, but often they’re not used because of poor layout or maintenance.
Sometimes drivers must feel as if cyclists are being used by traffic management planners as 21st Century versions of the guys with red flags that had to walk in front of the first motorcars.
Also, it needs to be admitted that a significant proportion of bi-pedallists don’t seem to think the Highway Code applies to them. And because a license isn’t required to ride a bike, and because a pushbike doesn’t have a registration plate, that’s kind of true.
Yes, cyclists may be fined £30 for jumping a red light – but only if there’s an actual bobby stood on the other side of the lights with time on their hands. Frankly, you’ve more chance of meeting a unicorn than a uniform. Or seeing a cyclist giving hand signals.
Some years ago, in a fit of madness I bought a moped. But I quickly got rid of it when I discovered that it was much slower around town than using my pushbike. Because it was wider and heavier than my bike I couldn’t get to the front of the queue so easily. And because it had a registration I couldn’t always take the ‘shortest route’….
Drivers today have also noticed that cyclists today have become a lot more assertive. 52% of drivers have had an ‘altercation’ with cyclists – and 35% said they had been on the receiving end of ‘road rage’ abuse from the pedal-power people.
Who nowadays often have helmet-cams: ‘YOU’RE ON CAMERA, MATE!!’.
We’ve all seen those shaming YouTube clips of drivers behaving badly, overtaking much too close – the Highway Code stipulates ‘a car’s width’ – and then getting shirty or outright violent because the cyclist shouted at them. Usually in Essex: ‘WHY WERE YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD THEN, YOU F***CKIN C***HNT?!’
A surprising number of drivers seem to be unaware that cyclists are advised to cycle away from the gutter and, according to Transport for London: ‘If the road is too narrow for vehicles to pass you safely, it may be better to ride in the middle of the lane to prevent dangerous overtaking’.
Yes, sometimes there does appear to be a kind of mobile class war going on: the white collar cyclist with almost a passive-aggressive Judge Dredd/Judy complex, chasing after loutish van drivers and goading them into saying or doing something stupid or just criminal on camera.
But generally these clips serve a useful purpose: they allow drivers to see the road from the cyclists’ wobbly, exposed POV. In 2014, 113 cyclists died on our roads. According to a survey conducted last year, cyclists experience a ‘very scary’ incident on average once a week.
And the pedal warrior footage also remind drivers that although they may be riding round in powerful soundproofed, climate-controlled armour with seat-belts and airbags – while the cyclist is just a crumple zone wearing a plastic hat – that there are still potential consequences for their behaviour.
That said, road safety is ultimately the responsibility of all road users. Cyclists and drivers, the vertebrates and invertebrates of the highway, have more in common than just the road they share.
They always think they’re in the right.