Saturday 9 April 2011

The imperfect art of vehicular cycling

Baker's arms last Saturday. Spot the cyclist? Yes, sandwiched between the bus and the stationary red car. Personally, I would overtake the red car to gain some space, but it is all a bit subjective - positioning where the motorcyclist is driving also holds dangers.

All countries require cyclists to cycle amongst vehicles to a greater or lesser extent. Holland and the Nordic countries may require less vehicular cycling due to cycling facilities, but there are still many roads where cyclists and motor transport mix together.

However, there seems to be something fundamentally different about the attitude surrounding vehicular cycling in these countries and the UK. In the UK, vehicular cycling is used as a method to control the motor traffic around the cyclist. I cannot help but think that it is deeply troubling when the most vulnerable road users are expected - by their actions - to control the actions of the least vulnerable. I think it would be quite jolly if the cyclist could concentrate on their cycling whilst the drivers concentrated on their driving. I would at least expect the courts and law-makers to believe that this should be the case.

Instead, one finds the strange situation where drivers - even ones that are found guilty of careless driving or worse - can mitigate based upon the clothing or helmet usage of the victim. It is certainly an odd precedent. One wonders if it could be extended to car drivers themselves. After all, when I drive, I don't use a car with a roll cage and 5 point harness - yet in the case of an accident, I doubt these deficiencies would be noted against me.

Learning how to safely navigate roads on a cycle is one thing. Expecting people to use these skills to mitigate some drivers' lack of training or sheer impatience is quite another. Whilst we are expecting these techniques to be required for safely cycling on mixed streets, then cycling is not going to appeal to a large number of potential cyclists.

The situation is difficult. Certainly segregation on fast, difficult roads (as long as this segregation actually helps the cyclist instead of simply sideline) can help. But the cyclist still needs to negotiate roads open to all traffic at some stage. Part of the answer is that drivers need to know how to act around cyclists, and to actually take responsibility for controlling a dangerous piece of equipment. This is much easier said than done, but whilst the establishment try to mitigate this responsibility by questioning the victim's attire, or taking the attitude that "accidents happen" (even when the guilty party is proven to have been acting carelessly or worse) then we stand no chance of changing this mindset.

Of course when I didn't cycle I had no idea about a cyclist's needs on the road when I drove. I had no idea what difficulties inconsiderate driving can pose to a cyclist. It wasn't until I started cycling that I understood and could modify my driving behaviour. Maybe giving people found guilty of driving offences the option of going on a bikeability course instead of taking points and a fine might help more drivers understand as well.


  1. I have long thought that a Bikeability qualification should be mandatory to be able to apply for a motor bike licence and a full motor bike licence for a motor car provisional ... and so on.

    Just a 45 minute test was all I needed 44 years ago. But then nearly every motorist was an ex-cyclist. Since then we have made the test more difficult - but the understanding of the average motorist of the needs and dangers of two wheel transport have declined dramatically.

    Good behaviour to cyclists is difficult to teach from inside a car. Experience counts here. And, hopefully, some of those wanting a car licence will also learn the benefits of two wheel transport and retain it as part of their transport mix.

    Instead of cycling being part of the solution, we are seen as part of the problem. How does one start to get ideas such as this and others even better into the political debate?

  2. or Strict Liability?

    if the courts assumed that a less vulnerable vehicle hitting a more vulnerable one was automatically at fault car drivers would me more careful

  3. The liability you are talking about is more a presumption of liability that strict which apportions liability without exception. The presumption of liability is OK for insurance claims - it may make insurance companies more ready to settle claims than try their luck in court, but I am not sure that it would change attitudes. Presumption of liability for criminal proceedings has never been suggested and I can see it fraught with issue (not least the presumption of innocence!)