Nick Conrad: The onus should be on motorists to look out for cyclists
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Something about cyclists seems to provoke fury in other road users.
If you doubt this, try a search for the word 'cyclist' on social media. You'll find pages of vitriolic ranting lambasting their 'conceited use of the carriageway.' No surprise then, nothing seems to frustrate callers to my BBC Radio Norfolk phone-in like those on two wheels! I just have to mention 'cyclists' and my switchboard goes into meltdown. Why? They are largely harmless, enjoying a constructive activity, and pose little or no threat to other road users.
Surely we should be supporting cyclists, and challenging this negative attitude? I have a vested interest: I'm a cyclist as well as a motorist. However, it's clear to me that the onus should be on those in cars. After all we are in control of an instrument that, if in collision with a cyclist, could have catastrophic consequences. In comparison all that happens to the bodywork on our car is a mere dent.
But for that very reason I'm also supporting the change is law discussed this week, which reminds cyclists of their responsibility to other road users. Cyclists who kill pedestrians could face charges of 'death by dangerous cycling' under government proposals. The Department for Transport has launched a 12-week consultation looking at whether new offences should be introduced for dangerous cycling.
Within no time at all the callers were attacking 'lawless' cyclists and their attitude on the road. Most of it appeared to be aggressive 'puff,' which makes the roads an unnecessarily hostile place for the cyclist. But what is really behind this hostility? It's not because cyclists are annoying or all bad. No, my theory is that many motorists dislike cyclists because they think they offend the social pecking order of the highway. Cars at the top, then other motorised vehicles, followed by cyclists, then pedestrians with horses at the bottom!
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My view is we all should be looking out for one another, with an emphasis on the most vulnerable. This means car users looking out for cyclists, cyclists being mindful of pedestrians etc. The whole mind-set needs to shift from one of dominance on the road to that of care and protection.
By fostering this change in attitude we promote the highway being a shared space where nobody is 'king of the road.' This is hard to establish as it's in our nature to establish hierarchical system into all aspects of life. Humans have evolved ways of enforcing order into potentially chaotic social arrangements – keeping us safe.
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Cognitive Neuroscientist Tom Stafford argues that deep within the human psyche, is anger at people who break the rules, who take the benefits without contributing to the cost. And cyclists trigger this anger when they use the roads but don't follow the same rules as cars. This well-rehearsed argument crops up time and time again, however we need to bust this myth.
Most cyclists are also motorists who in turn pay 'Car Tax,' Vehicle Excise Duty. Cyclists are playing an important role in a wider game of reducing traffic and pollution. I could go on!
Critics are claiming that there is little need for a chance in law. Official figures for 2016 show that around 450 pedestrians were killed on Britain's roads, but only three cases involved bicycles. By contrast, Cycling UK says 99.4% of deaths on the road in the last ten years involved a motor vehicle. That maybe the case, but any death is a tragedy. We must challenge any selfish protectionist attitude. I want to live in a society where we look out for one another. Nowhere more so than on our roads.