Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What is it between Cyclists and Motorists?

There has been a bit in both the Local and National Press recently that seems to have fanned the flames of the enmity between cyclists and motorists. So I thought I would add my two penn’orth worth to the discussion, out of sequence with my normal ride related postings.

The Cambridge News recently reported “Cyclist’s near misses caught on camera” which was quickly followed up by the next day’s report: “Drivers hit back after cyclist’s claims”. There have also been reports and discussion on the idea that a law of Death by Dangerous cycling should be enacted. The Guardian for instance reports that “Death by dangerous cycling law would not improve road safety”  although an earlier report in the Guardian did suggest that there would be Government support for such a law.

It was an article in the BBC News Magazine that crystallised some of the arguments for me though – “Is dangerous Cycling a problem”. This latter article had some interesting facts and figures in it. According to the BBC:

Pedestrian Casualties 2001 – 2009

    • Killed by cycles:   18
    • Seriously injured by cycles:  434
    • Killed by cars:  3,495
    • Seriously injured by cars:  46,245

Cycle safety Statistics:

    • In 2008:  bikes made up 1.8% of urban, non-motorway traffic, but were involved in 0.25% of pedestrian deaths and less than 1% of pedestrian injuries
    • In 2008: there were 13,272 collisions recorded between cars and bicycles, resulting in 52 cyclist deaths and 0 car driver or passenger deaths
    • A study of collisions between 2005-2007 indicated that police allocated blame to drivers in 60% of accidents, to the cyclist in 30% and both parties in the remainder.

So why do motorists moan so much at cyclists? Ignoring the issues of whether existing laws should be capable of punishing dangerous behaviour (on or off a bike) and also of how cyclists are perceived to have an ambiguous position in terms of whether they should use the roads or the “shared-use” pavements or dedicated cycle tracks there is still enmity.

My personal view, as a cyclist, car driver and qualified motor-cyclist (although I no longer have a motor-bike) is that such bad feeling comes about when people feel threatened.  Now I have to admit I cycle more than I drive. Last year around 7,500 miles on a bike and 5,000 miles in a car). However I have been a sales person and driven 15,000 plus miles a year. My wife does a bit of cycling, but drives far more and despairs of cyclist behaviour in Cambridge – whenever I try to point out a cyclist’s point of view I get reminded of RLJ-cyclists (RLJ – Red light jumping)

I do not think it is a matter of fairness in the application of the law as suggested by an RAC spokesperson in the BBC article. The level of argument as reported seems to intense and though people get aggressive when there are territorial or fear issues.  Generally I think that most motorists consider they have a higher right to the road. To my mind it is clear to see how cyclists can fear motorists.  You only need to experience that moment when you are cycling along and a car whizzes by at 60mph plus with inches to spare and you realise how the smallest slip and even if you survive your life will change.

So why do car drivers get so worked up? I think that it is either they feel territorially threatened – “bigger has more rights” or insecure. By insecure they don’t like it to be demonstrated that perhaps it would be better not to be so car-centric. That maybe they would get benefit from a bit of cycling.  When I cycle around it surprises when I get to a meeting, perhaps having only cycled a few miles, that I am viewed as a little unusual.  Here in Cambridge a few miles is no slower on a bike than driving and as I don’t wear Lycra for meetings it is pretty clear that you can cycle commute without becoming a “Lycra Lout”.

Whilst Cambridge has a high percentage of cycling commuters I feel that it is dominated by the high student population. There are still way too many “older” non cyclists. I was disappointed to see that the Cambridge City Council pays 52p a mile if someone uses their own car on business.  Apparently South Cambridgeshire District Council used to pay 60p per mile but has dropped this to the Revenue & Customs Rate of 45p per mile. It was very good to see that Cambridge County Council pays 40p per mile. (The old Customs & Revenue rate which I assume will go up to 45p as it now is.)   All the companies I have worked in have paid to the Customs & Revenue limit, never above, yet here we have public bodies – wasting money and encouraging car use.

Where is the leadership we might expect (well done Cambridge County Council).

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