On yer bike!

Cyclists feeling the wrath of drivers

It’s one of the best ways to get around. Cycling, like walking, is good for both the environment and the individual, and is highly recommended by doctors as an excellent route to a fitter and longer life. But not if you happen to be one of the two cyclists killed on average on British roads every week. Many more are injured, although some of these incidents are of course nothing to do with drivers of cars, vans or lorries. Before the arrival of motor cars and aeroplanes, the bicycle was for most the acme of mechanical transport. Now many motorists in this high-speed world see cycling on our highways as an anachronism, a two-wheeled part of the past. It’s fine – even futuristic – as an Olympic sport, where the British are particularly good at picking up gold medals in the velodrome. But on our already overcrowded roads it’s often considered more than just a nuisance, dangerous and out of place. According to research carried out by the BBC’s Panorama programme, one in three drivers think that cyclists should not be allowed on public roads but be restricted to cycle paths. While this might be achievable on some roads, it would be difficult, if not impossible on others. The research also found that little more than a half of motorists see cyclists as equal partners on the road, while, most concerning of all, one in four drivers admitted deliberately driving too close to cyclists. This flies in the face of the updated Highway Code introduced in January 2022, with the specific aim of better safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Highway Code was first introduced in 1931, when there were just 2.3 million motor vehicles on our roads. Now there are more than 32 million, and that’s just cars. Until the original version of the code arrived, the roads were a drive-if-you-dare, free-for-all, resulting in more than 7,000 motor accident fatalities in 1931 alone. That annual figure has reduced dramatically, despite the ever-increasing numbers of vehicles and roads. The updated version of the code introduced a “Hierarchy of Road Users” that placed pedestrians at the top, as the most vulnerable, followed by cyclists, and then motorists at the bottom. That did not, however, “remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly” on the roads. And for many, therein lies the problem. Cyclists blame motorists for their aggressive and bullying driving, motorists frequently accuse cyclists of riding as if they “own the roads,” and pedestrians too often appear to ignore not just their own, but everyone else’s safety when casually stepping off the pavement into the path of oncoming traffic. And now there are skateboards and E-scooters, dodging from pavement to road and back again, to add to the mix. It’s a recipe for potential mayhem and tragedy. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned courtesy? Perhaps the phrase for all road users to remember when setting off on each journey is – behave responsibly.

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