why motorists hate cyclists

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