The road is not all the rage

Recently I’ve seen quite a few videos of angry exchanges between motorists and cyclists. I don’t imagine that this is because there are now more such arguments than before, but because more cyclists now carry video cameras. I’m not going to link to them because I don’t actually think they’re a good thing. I’ll explain that in a bit.

The pattern is usually something like this:-

The driver unthinkingly makes a dangerous manoeuvre putting the cyclist at risk, or yells abuse at a cyclist for being on the road and holding them up for a few seconds.

Feeling upset about being either unfairly maligned or put at unnecessary risk, the cyclist catches the car at the next junction and explains their complaint. In the videos I’ve seen they’ve been pretty calm about doing so considering the adrenaline rush involved. Perhaps those who lose their cool don’t post the videos.

The driver is generally not apologetic or willing to listen. Sometimes the argument escalates into a ridiculous spectacle.

Often these problems stem from misconceptions about road positioning or how the highway code recommends passing cyclists safely. I’m not saying that the cyclists are never in the wrong, but those who break the law by jumping red lights or riding inconsiderately on the pavement don’t tend to post videos of themselves doing so.

Whatever the right or wrongs of different cases, I don’t think posting videos like this helps people to share the road. I can see the sense in carrying a camera to collect evidence in case of an incident, although the police response to these is still quite variable. But just posting the worst cases online gives the impression that drivers and cyclists are “at war”, creating a “them and us” feeling that only makes things worse. You can see this in the polarised comments on the videos. Though, to be fair, comments on news articles and YouTube videos are not noted for their calm, tolerant tone.

The reality which never makes it to YouTube videos and newspaper headlines is that most drivers and cyclists are polite and considerate to each other. In the last year I chased down a woman who had failed to see me at a mini roundabout, forcing me to emergency stop to avoid a crash. She was apologetic. I can’t honestly say if my experience is representative, as these incidents are thankfully rare. However, but you could be forgiven for thinking that the roads are a battlefield from the dramatic videos online.

What I don’t want is for people to think that cycling is dangerous or full of conflict when the reality is that, on average, cyclists live longer than non-cyclists, take fewer sick days and arrive at work in a better mood.

There’s a risk that this unfairly-negative publicity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the basis of a few viral videos, cyclists might feel that drivers don’t care for their safety and either get paranoid and militant or stop cycling entirely. To improve safety we need more cyclists on the roads, so drivers should expect to see bikes at every junction. Countries with more journeys made by bike have fewer injuries and deaths [PDF] per mile travelled.

Similarly, it seems that drivers watching these videos, far from gaining any sympathy for vulnerable road users, may come away with the impression of cyclists at their worst – angry, arrogant people with no concern for how they inconvenience others. That’s not going to encourage them to overtake carefully.

Whenever we communicate with people, it helps if we understand the other person’s point of view and feelings on the matter even… no, especially if we happen to think they’re seriously misguided.

The fact is that cyclists are legally allowed on any road apart from a motorway, to ride without a helmet and are advised in some situations to “take the lane”, riding well out from the kerb. These rules aren’t much use if drivers aren’t aware of them and, for some reason, no one thought to tell them. Education would probably be better done by police or organisations with some authority than in a heated roadside argument.

A fellow cyclist once suggested that if you’re in any doubt about what people yelling at you are saying, assume they must be friendly and respond with a big wave and smile.

EDIT: If you’re a careful driver who’d like to learn how to be safe around cyclists, you should probably read this excellent article from the CTC or watch this short video.

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