Friday 28 February 2014

The Truth About Drivers

I'm going to say something that is probably a bit controversial and perhaps not entirely politically correct. However, it is something that I unfortunately believe is true. In the past I have said on a number of occasions that the majority of drivers are good around cyclists. I no longer believe this to be true. I now believe,

The majority of drivers do not know how to drive around cyclists.

That's actually quite statement, but I hope to explain why I feel this way. First, let me share a few videos from this month. Remember this is this month only.




That's a lot isn't it.

What's really worrying is that this is not all of the serious incidents I witness/suffered. There were several stupid overtakes into the face of oncoming traffic that haven't made it to video. There is a close passing bus that will make it to video, when I get a chance. The worst incident of all happened a few nights ago, when three cars, all in succession squeezed past me in the face of oncoming traffic. The first one was (and I have no doubt about this at all) the closest/fastest pass I have ever suffered. 

It was horrific.

I knew as soon as it happened that it was one I would be reporting to the police. Unfortunately though, my rear camera memory card had got corrupted and wasn't recording (happens sometimes on my Contour Roam if I forget to format it every once in a while) and I had forgot to properly charge my Sony AS 30V. 

I didn't have any record of probably the worst pass I had suffered. I was livid.

I've lost count of how many significant incidents I've suffered this month. I'm almost certain it has been my worst single month of cycle commuting ever.

Why was it so bad?

Is it my riding? Am I, as some people suggest, asking for these incidents to happen? Is it the weather? It has been almost constantly wet all month. Is it down to the the dark? Is it because of the recession? Are driving standards dropping?

I won't comment on my riding, that's for you to decide on, but I think all the others are contributory, and I think it is contributing to impatience. When we are impatient, be it because we are a bit pissed off with the weather, the fact we are skint, or the damn continual rain, we take risks. 

We look for gaps that we can squeeze through.
We look for a wee bit extra speed on that slow road.
We are just a wee bit more likely to hit our horn at someone in the way.

We are a little bit more likely to get pissed off that a cyclist dares to get in our way and thus we will get past them at the slightest hint of an opportunity.

And that's the issue. Opportunity.

In the past I've based my observations about the proportion of bad drivers solely on the amount of incidents I have generally. Overall, I interact with hundreds of drivers a day, and the majority of those interactions are fine. So I used to surmise that the majority of drivers are fine. However, the fact is that the majority of my interactions with drivers are....easy. For example, in many interactions there is plenty of space for the driver to overtake, or there's absolutely no opportunity for the driver to overtake. What happens though, when the interaction is hard.

What do I mean?

I mean, what happens when there is a sniff of a gap or there is possibly enough time to get past? It is at moments like these that we can define a driver (or cyclist for that matter) as good or bad. It is difficult for me to show in my videos, but I'm coming to realise that when there is a hint of an opportunity, a large percentage of drivers will take it.

So we can blame it on the weather then?

No. Well, not exactly.

The weather and the other factors are behaviour modifiers. They work towards bringing our driving down to our 'base' level (if we let it). For example, when you aren't stressed or in a rush, you are willing to leave a big buffer. However, when you are stressed it brings you down to your lowest level, the level at which you think your driving is acceptable. If you are a good driver, that level is still pretty good. If your a bad driver.....well, all of the above incidents happen if and when the half chance opportunity arises. So whilst stress leads to more example of bad driving, I don't believe it is the root cause.

The root cause is that a large percentage of drivers just don't have a clue how to drive around cyclists and, due to never having experienced it themselves, are very unlikely to understand why their driving is so bad. They don't understand that that half chance opportunity puts you on your bike in significant danger.

I was nowhere near you.

We need to stop pandering to egos and face facts. Something significant needs to happen, and it needs to happen fast.Otherwise I and others will just become the next statistic.

I honestly feel like I survived this month. I don't want to just survive another month again.


  1. The problem as I see it is that every single driver is a bad driver until proven otherwise. Every single time I hear a car coming up behind me, I'm wondering to myself if he's going to behave, or if I'm going to find a nice soft hedge to throw myself into.

    If the car passes without incident, I can breathe a sigh of relief, but only until the next car comes along, and the next, and the next...

    Therefore, even an entirely event-free bike ride with 100% perfect driving still always for me equals 100% stress. No amount of education of drivers can counteract this - heavy fast moving vehicles are inherently terrifying. So for me a pleasant and enjoyable journey by bike is by definition on a traffic free route - which just don't exist here in Fife.

    1. I used to feel that way, then I started using a mirror. My daily, year round, commute, between lochgelly and buckhaven, passes through the bankhead roundabout(my only real point of 'worry' as it's where I encounter most of the 'ill-educated' ones, described by the op) and take it all in my stride cos I know what's happening behind me......

    2. Wow, I don't think I've ever seen a cyclist on the bankhead roundabout, not even on the helpful shared pavement that suddenly gives up and leads straight onto the A92 'motorway' ... I wonder why :)

      I'd have to pass through there to get to my grandma's house in Kirkcaldy, it'd only be 10 miles, an easy enough distance for most people, and I've spent some time looking for an acceptable alternative route that doesn't mean going 50% extra distance up over the hills, but I don't even attempt it, it's simply magnitudes of order easier to drive. It's just not fair, I shouldn't have to do this for every single route I want to take, just like car drivers don't have to be expert geographers.

      I realise my fear of traffic is slightly irrational, and all the statistics says cycling is perfectly safe. But on the other hand I've cycled in the Netherlands where it was just a non-issue, fear of traffic has been designed out of the system. And you don't have to plan your route like a military expedition. It's like day and night.

  2. There's a road near my house. It's a dual-carriageway with two sets of traffic lights about a mile apart. When the first set of lights changes to green if you gently accelerate up to 30mph (the speed limit) you get to the second set of lights just as they are turning green and you don't need to stop. The timing on the lights hasn't changed for years but still I reckon 99% of drivers will floor it at the first lights and pelt down the road at 40mph+ only to sit in a queue at the next set. It doesn't get them anywhere any quicker but they still do it day after day after day.

    It's constant; the mad rush to get there (wherever there might be). We're all trying to do sixteen things before breakfast and our sixteen things are more important than anybody else's sixteen things so if we have to push them out of our way then it's their own fault. We know that if we left the house five minutes earlier we wouldn't be in such a rush driving down the road, but somebody as important as we are doesn't have a spare five minutes, and we're going to make sure everybody knows it.

    There's genuinely something deeply, darkly wrong with us.

  3. This is probably the most lucid post I've read.

    I jumped in a van as a passenger a while back, and expected to see good driving because I was in a "legitimate vehicle". I saw two events that could have left people dead or seriously injured if a few inches had have disappeared. One of them someone cut us up at 60mph while they were doing 15-20mph, pulling out onto dual carriageway across hatch markings.

    I'm not sure what it is anymore, apart from people feeling indestructible in their tin boxes. Some of the school run parents in their 4x4's are so ridiculously dangerous, apparently one damaged a gate around my parts while reversing around small children and then drove off with the number plate hanging off. Later probably assumed someone had vandalised her car. The irony is most of them drive only about 1000 yards to a mile to get there.

    Humans make rational decisions maybe as individuals, but when you step back it's thoroughly retarded. That's my conclusion.

  4. Your perception of danger changes depending on how much the threat you are personally under. When a driver passes us within 6 inches, they have given us plenty of room. When a HGV passes them with 6 inches, then they are fearful and angry. They have no idea that is how they make us feel. You are correct, the majority of drivers are not good around cyclists, good drivers are in the minority. They are just lucky, lucky they don't hit us, lucky that when they come upon us, there is nothing coming the other way, and so believe they are good drivers, and will carry on behaving like that until the day they knock someone off or crash into another car. One road i cycle down, drivers are always passing me when there is oncoming traffic. The other day, every time i saw an oncoming car i look towards the car behind me. Without fail every one of them suddenly braked and pulled up and decided not of overtake.. It was obvious they were going to and simply because by looking at them I had caught them out taking an unnecessary risk and they suddenly thought better about it. Also, without fail, when i ride this road at night in the pitch black, i never get a car squeezing past because all they can see is oncoming headlights and they can't judge if they will hit the oncoming cars wing mirror. So they overtake in the daylight, despite the danger to me, yet they won't overtake at night in case they lose their wing mirror!!! Basically, yep, that's the reason.

  5. You articulated something I've been thinking about for a while. Most drivers will behave safely around you but *only if it is _convenient_ to do so*. I notice this most starkly on roads with slightly wider lanes - one-and-a-half car widths. Narrower than that and most will just wait, but give them the merest hint of a space, coupled with oncoming traffic and you have a recipe for close passes. The depressing thing was yesterday a sodding Police car did this to me on the road to Holytown. If they can't get it right, what hope for civilians?

  6. I'd agree with Joel above. Most drivers will wait but only if it doesn't hold them up and is convenient for them. They are like rats, any hole just to say large enough, and most will attempt to squeeze though, almost like they have no brakes and cannot stop.

    This seems to apply to other drivers as well though, and I certainly don't think it's just maliciousness against cyclists. There is a mentality of seeming to want to keep the momentum going at all costs & this applies to traffic calmed roads with chicanes as well as major trunk roads.

    It definitely has got worse over the 10 to 15 years. I wonder if driving instruction has changed from learning to drive properly to learning just what's needed to pass the test. The rise in pass in a week schemes cannot have helped either.

  7. The driving test is totally inadequate and does not ensure a driver knows how to drive around a cyclist. The government has cut road traffic police numbers and traffic support officers, in the Thames Valley at least, are motor supremacists who refuse to take appropriate action despite clear video evidence. I believe that nationally the police have been instructed not to act unless absolutely necessary. A PC told me he would consider action only if I was actually knocked off my bicycle. I find the number of incidents of aggressive driving are increasing by which I mean beeping, shouting, hand gestures and deliberately driving at me. The police share these drivers' resentments and sympathise with them.

  8. I've noticed with the school run, either cycling with the kids or walking and just needing to cross busy road, the weather makes a huge difference. Funny really, when they are warm and dry, they drive as if they were afraid of getting wet. It's usually days when visibility is poor that people driving decide to take risks and behave selfishly.
    The ridiculous amount of traffic, slow moving traffic in these rush hour films is testament to how badly our road infrastructure is and expecting flawed human beings in products sold to them on the promise that it will make them fast, sexy and powerful then sticking them in a jam is partly the problem.
    Most do overtake safely but if every journey you are overtaken by 100 cars and 5 of them scare the jeepers out of you, that's still an unworkable way to design roads.
    The majority should be using public transport or cycling for a start, a proportion should be able to use better direct routes, a proportion should be banned from the rush hour and of course a proportion should be banned for life. If drivers licences were more like pilots licences and required retesting and on going training that would save a good few lives lost.

  9. As a seasoned Cyclist and driver and a commuter by car and bike the most dangerous factor for everyone is speed and impatience. Slow vehicles down and we will all be a bit safer. Also add speed humps at mini roundabouts as on a bike I feel that's were I am most vulnerable

  10. Just anecdote, but I'm sure I've seen much more damage to street furniture in the past couple of months, smashed pedestrian island bollards etc. Perhaps the weather does affect driving standards.

  11. from big cousin6 March 2014 at 07:55

    Hope one day the roads will become more friendly to cyclist. Just like holland france and belgium. We drive in europe a lot and its great to see family and individual cyclist enjoy the ddesignated Separate lanes . We are soooooo far behind. One day we will all be happy together on our roads