It’s unNorfolk to be impolite - so let’s not make that mistake
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Opinion: It's time we were a bit more Norfolk when it came to politeness on the road, says cyclist Neil Collins.
The strangest thing happened to me the other day. I was cycling on my regular route into work and came up to a line of cars sitting outside a village school at drop-off time. That wasn't the strange bit. Indeed, the line of cars parked higgledy-piggledy outside schools at pick-up and drop-off time is the norm these days. In the Netherlands, more than half of trips to school are by bike. It is the norm for kids to be able to cycle unaccompanied to school from as young as eight years old. In the UK the level of cycling to school is less than 3% and you'd be looked at aghast if you let your child cycle alone. What a sorry state of affairs.
But I digress; back to my story of strangeness. As I approached this row of cars on the other side of the road I saw a car coming the other way. Polite cyclist that I am, I stopped to let it through even though, by the Highway Code, I had the right of way. A car behind me also stopped. The strange thing was that the driver said thank you. Not to me, but to the car behind. I was a cyclist – so not worth acknowledging. Not worth thanking.
It struck me at the time that this was very 'unNorfolk'. After all, are we not the politest of counties? Aren't we the county that welcomes visitors to our Broads, beaches and B&Bs? We say 'Good Morning' to the passer-by whether we know them or not. We welcome old men long since looking at boyhood in the rearview mirror with 'Alright Boy?'. We sing On The Ball City, the tamest of all football chants, and nervously hope no-one takes offence. Why then, in this politest of counties, would someone not even acknowledge my cycling existence in this way?
Although the rudeness of this particular case is pretty unusual, most cyclists in our county will recognise the feeling. That feeling that drivers have seen you but don't treat you as another road user. Rather they view you as an obstacle to get around or a bit of road furniture that simply needs to be seen, not respected and certainly not thanked for being courteous.
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It is also a small step from not viewing cyclists as road users to not seeing them at all. 'Sorry mate - I didn't see you'. That comforting phrase offered to cyclists sitting in a pool of pain and broken bike bits by the driver that has just pulled out in front of them and sent them flying across the road. I'm sure the driver in this case, had I had the opportunity to challenge them, would have said exactly the same thing.
So why don't we all raise our game here? Let's all be a bit more Norfolk, a bit more polite. If you're driving and a bike pulls in to let you by, say thanks. A wave through the back window. A toot of the horn. A flash of the hazard lights. That's the Norfolk way and how we stop our roads turning in to what has become common in places like Essex and London where bad manners are expected, car drivers are more stressed and cyclists are second-class citizens on the road.
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Cyclists too – you need to play your part. Say thanks to the driver who has patiently waited behind you to find a safe place to pass. The one that holds back and then comes past giving you ample room rather than squeezing through and getting dangerously close. A simple thumbs-up or a raised hand is all it takes.
So while Norfolk slowly catches up with our continental cousins with the safety and level of cycling, let's use the advantages we do have and be a bit more Norfolk when it comes to other road users.