why motorists hate cyclists

November 8, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Posted in cycling | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

Blimey. There’s a lot of bile being directed at cyclists at the moment. If you’ve a strong stomach, take a look at @cyclehatred’s Twitter feed. There was the editor of that local lifestyle mag, or the Addison Lee chairman. There was Tony Parsons, and Petronella Wyatt, and of course good old Jan Moir. It’s almost trendy. Cyclists aren’t hurting anyone. They’re just going about their (entirely legal) business. They don’t really slow drivers down; a few seconds off a journey, perhaps. So why all the venom?

I’ve got an idea. If you’re a driver, answer this: have you ever got a speeding ticket because you didn’t notice that the limit had changed? Or you didn’t realise you were doing 34 in a 30 zone? Does the satnav ever shout ‘Caution!’ at you?

Why do we need signs like these?

Traffic pattern changedNew Traffic Signals Ahead signChanged Priorities, London, UK

The answer is that most drivers are on autopilot.

The Institute of Advanced Motoring recommends drivers ‘commentate’ on their own driving, to practise hazard perception. This means you look at the road ahead and say, out loud, everything you need to be aware of, from upcoming traffic lights to side roads to parked cars to people trying to cross. It sounds like this. If you’ve never tried it, do. It’s amazing how much there is to be aware of; often you can’t speak quickly enough to get it all in.

Most drivers are blissfully unaware of this, years of habit lulling them into a sense that they know what they are doing. Add to this that for most people, most of the time, journeys are routine: the school run, the shopping trip, the commute. The route and conditions are similar most days. Driving is predictable, and that’s how drivers like it. They like getting in the car and relaxing into doing something familiar.

My dad

This is why drivers hate cyclists: you shatter their daydream and force them to concentrate. I think that, despite the bluster, most drivers are actually frightened of cyclists. Believe me, they understand exactly how vulnerable you are. They’re terrified that you will get hurt, maybe even killed, and it will be their fault. That’s why they want you to ride in the gutter. That’s why they hate you riding two abreast (even though it’s legal). They’re desperate to get round you, even though there’s no room, because they want to put the problem behind them, so they can relax into semi-consciousness again.
Cyclist toils up hill
The irritation at having to pay proper attention while driving for a while is the same irritation drivers feel at being behind a bus (Have to use the brake! Have to change down!), or behind a learner driver (Behaving erratically! Need to stay alert!), or keeping to 20mph around schools (Have to watch speedo! Can’t just follow what everyone else is doing!). And this gets translated into irritation at the person ‘causing’ the problem. If you weren’t there, making them think, they’d be the model of calm.

So is there a solution to this? There isn’t much cyclists can do, apart from staying off the roads. Driver education seems to be the obvious one: improve drivers’ hazard perception, and the unexpected, scary stuff might become less unexpected, and therefore less scary. Understanding cyclists’ behaviour might also help: why you ride two feet out from the gutter, pull out into the middle of the road, overtake up the inside of stationary traffic, and stop ahead of traffic at the lights. Then you’ll be as predictable as the rest of their journey, and they’ll stop hating you. Hopefully.


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  1. Do you know what the survival rate of pedestrians who are hit at 35mph is compared with those hit at 30mph is? Most drivers don’t, they have no real appreciation of just how dangerous their actions are, although thousands of bereaved families find out the hard way every year. Until we get people to understand that driving is dangerous and it is their responsibility to do something about it, they will continue to kill.

    For the record a pedestrian hit at 30mph has a 20% chance of killed and at 35mph a 50% chance of killed. Which is why the urban speed limit should be reduced to 20mph (although there is still a 2% chance that pedestrian who are hit could die).

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree completely. I went on speed awareness training recently (I was one of those who drifted up to 34 in a 30 zone, to my shame) and it woke me right up. I’d like to see driver training of this type in schools, and mandatory driver retraining after a certain number of years holding a licence. The training was terrific; even a bunch of people who really didn’t want to be there were all engaged by it. It’s just a shame that the only people who get it currently are those who’ve already broken the speed limit.

  2. What a great post! Even though I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness (the enemy of auto-pilot), I still never thought of applying it to this. But this makes a ton of sense! Very good points and well written! Thanks!

    • Thank you! And thanks for commenting. I like your connection with mindfulness : I hadn’t thought of that.

  3. The learner driver analogy is sound. Some motorists will go bananas to get past a learner driver, taking all sorts of risks, and just because they fear they might be held up by a few seconds.

    We’ve all experienced similar: cars revving up behind us, screaming past and then pulling in and stopping, and all for a couple of seconds. Are they racing to an emergency? Got a pregnant wife about to give birth?

    If some motorists have a problem with wanting to get somewhere fast there are two very simple solutions: leave earlier, or ride a bicycle.

    • Thanks for your comment! I wonder if the anger motorists feel at being ‘held up’ for a few seconds – which they must know is illogical – is really a rationalisation of their irritation at being made to concentrate on what they’re doing?

  4. Had a similar experience the other day whilst taking the kids to school. Rider ahead was a your “typical” cyclists – just an older chap on his trusty old mountain bike hack following along that lovely route that goes into the gutter and through the doorzone of parked cars! Now I have a minibus due to having a large family (7 kids now :-)) and when I encountered him we had parking on both sides AND a blind corner coming up that leads almost immediately onto a roundabout so I stayed back as there wasn’t room for what I considered a safe overtake.

    As I expected he headed the same way as I wanted at the roundabout so I stayed back, again oncoming traffic meant there wasn’t enough room to give him the space I’d want to. Whilst following him I could see the driver behind just itching to get passed, rear visibility isn’t great in the bus however I have large wing mirrors and could clearly see them inching out to eye up an overtake! The thing is that during the school run/rush hour on this road it’s ALWAYS backed up! Overtaking the cyclists would have got you briefly ahead but chances are that even Mr Pootle would pass you again once you hit the backed up traffic ahead, therefore what’s the point in squeezing past?

    It’s a fact very few drivers seem to grasp, they see cyclists think “oh they are slower then me in my car” and insist on getting passed. I’ve yelled at a few drivers before who have given me sod all space as they overtake me once I find them stationary in a queue a few hundred yards up the road. TFL’s own stats even put the average speed of motorised traffic in London at under 10mph, which is about 2/3 of what I get when I’m taking it easy 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting! That’s pretty familiar. It was this kind of experience that got me thinking about why motorists are so keen to get past cyclists at any cost, even if they just end up stuck at the lights again. Do wonder if it’s just that ‘oh I have to get past here so I don’t have to worry about the cyclist any more’, rather than the slowness that bothers them.

      Good point about motorists not realising cyclists are moving fast, too. Having to brake sharply as someone cuts in in front of you is familiar to most cyclists I reckon.

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