Motorist/Cyclists conflicts

Motorists/Cyclists conflicts

Let me preface this article by saying as a licensed  truck/car/motorcycle/cyclist/pedestrian road user, my general  observation is that there is an increasing level of cyclist awareness amongst motorists. Whether this is due to the fact that there are increasing numbers of cyclists hence acknowledgement of their presence cannot be ignored, or simply growing levels of courtesy amongst drivers, I can’t determine.

Unfortunately this is not generally acknowledged in the media, who, when short of a story, run a beat up on the apparent conflict between motorists and cyclists.  Typical was the recent news article about Shane Warne’s ‘conflict’ with a cyclist which produced the usual rash of anti cyclist rants.

The rants, when distilled down always seem to come back to the same topic ‘cyclists should be licensed so that they pay for the road space they use and can be identified and reported when they break traffic laws’.

This intrigues me because every day I see motorists break the law, speeding, talking on mobile whilst driving, running red lights, inconsiderably blocking intersections – the list goes on.  I wonder how many of these are reported by other motorists. Very few I suspect. Three examples I witnessed recently when driving (but did not report)

1: B double driver turning into Tydeman Road in North Fremantle, one hand sharing the wheel and gear change lever, the other holding his mobile to his ear.

2: Black SUV full of kids being driven to school, drives straight through stop sign onto the Stirling Highway, driver one hand on wheel, other holding mobile to ear.

3: Black Land Rover Discovery on single lane freeway on ramp from Cedric Street drives on to the left hand dirt verge to undertake then cut across in front  of a Suzuki 4WD

If we are not prepared to report offending motorists, why would we bother with cyclists.

In general WA motorists are impatient, and many have poor knowledge of current traffic regulations or simply ignore them.  It is not unusual to see drivers effectively using their vehicles as weapons to enforce what they perceive to be their right of way, ask any motorcyclist.  Cyclists also break traffic laws, but primarily for our own safety.  As a cyclist, had I strictly adhered to the traffic laws,  I would have been hospitalised on a number of occasions.

Current estimates by the Police are that nearly 10% of drivers are unlicensed or have had their licences suspended. It would be more effective to remove unlicensed drivers from the road before creating another level of unenforceable administrative bureaucracy to licence cyclists.

However issuing licences to cyclists is not such a bad idea.

It has been well established that by riding a bicycle the rider develops  an excellent understanding of traffic flows and road surfaces, which are invaluable precursors to driving a car.

Suppose a cycling test was introduced which could be taken by anyone 12 years or older.  On passing the test, the rider is issued with a driving licence endorsed for cycling.  The licence would give the rider automatic third party insurance.

At age 16 those already holding a cycle endorsed licence would automatically be entitled to a learner driver’s permit.  Those not already holding a licence would have to apply for their learners permit in the current manner.

Treating cycle training as an essential part of driver training has the following benefits

  1. The ‘status’ of  cyclists is improved
  2. New drivers are better prepared for driving a car
  3. Healthy activity is encouraged
  4. Traffic congestion around schools potentially falls

However, I believe the ‘cyclists should be licensed’ argument is actually a furphy used to cover some deeper irritation.

So what are these ‘irritations’?  My guess includes the following

Travelling for free – there is a perception that as road users, cyclists should be made to pay for use of the road.  This tends to ignore the fact that most cyclists are using a bicycle in preference to their car which is sitting at home in the drive.  By cycling they are effectively reducing the number of cars on the road thereby making life less congested for other car drivers, but as cars incur costs even when parked in your drive, they are still paying.

Bypassing traffic congestion – there you are in your expensive car stuck in a traffic jam, and there is the cyclist again, just riding past .  I’ve actually witnessed drivers deliberately positioning their vehicles to prevent particularly motorcycles, from filtering through the traffic.

V8 syndrome – owning a V8 is rarely subtle.  It is usual to see the car adorned with a range of decorative trimmings whose prime aim is to draw attention to your pride and joy.  Somehow you feel this entitles you to more car space and priority than those small foreign cars; cyclists just make your blood boil.

Visibility – unlike the relative anonymity of driving a car, cyclists are very personally visible, their body shape, approximate age, sex, choice of riding gear is clear, as is their relative vulnerability.  To a driver, cocooned by their cars various risk reducing devices, this visible vulnerability requires them to exercise particular caution, which is resented.

Privilege – it is apparent that many car drivers regard a driver’s licence as a ‘right’ rather than a ‘privilege’.  People act aggressively whenever they believe their ‘rights’ are being infringed, and this is particularly true of car drivers.

There must be others – write to the editor with your favourite ‘irritations’ !

About Peter Bartlett