This is one of the touchiest subjects that there has ever been, I am going to try to approach it with balance and zero emotion. Because it seems every time this subject comes up, it evokes emotional responses from both camps.
Motorists feel cyclists get a free ride (pardon the pun) and cyclists feeling like motorists never consider their safety.
Since the COVID19 outbreak, we have seen an unprecedented amount of people turning to cycling for fitness and running errands. Many people lost their employment, and this meant cost saving was required, one obvious solution with travel restrictions to local areas only, was for people to cycle.
“Many bike shops across Australia have reported a doubling in average sales, Bicycles in the $500 to $1,500 range are rolling out of bike shops as fast as the mechanics can build them” said the General Manager of Bicycle Industries Australia, Peter Bourke. (Ref ABC)
So, what’s the big deal about this feud?
Well, Motorists hate how cyclists use the roads, often stating they see them running red lights, taking up whole lanes, and holding motorists up in their travels. They don’t pay a registration or have a licence to ride, meaning they shouldn’t use the roadways.
Conversely, cyclists say they also are motorists who have drivers’ licences and pay registration on their vehicles but choose to cycle for fitness, social reasons, and now with COVID19, a necessity.
As a person who drives motor vehicles and cycles, I have thought long and hard about this issue, with the main solution on both sides being patience and tolerance. All road users even pedestrians have a right to a safe passage. Indeed, as a motorist, our first requirement by law is to protect human life, well above the cost to property.
If you had the choice of hitting a cyclist and killing them or a tree, you should opt for the tree, for instance.
I was out riding recently on some very well-developed shared pathways in Sydney’s North West when it occurred to me. How many motorists would feel safe walking down the edge of the road with vehicles whizzing past at 80km/h, such is the case on Windsor road?
No motorist would do it, why? Because it isn’t safe, this is why we have developed footpaths for pedestrians to safely use, along with crossings and footbridges.
Why is it then okay to think cyclists are different? Why would they want to have vehicles whizz past them at speeds that could easily kill them, assuming the driver is competent enough or of sound mind to avoid them?
Once we take this understanding and convert it to logic, we realise the answer is clear. None of us would be comfortable in killing another human on some twisted principle of who should or shouldn’t be allowed to use a piece of road to get around.
This is why motorists are required to give cyclists a gap of 1 meter at least under 60km/h and 1.5 meters over that speed. Even if the cyclist is going slower than what you want them to be, wait patiently until you are safe to overtake them, over double lines is even allowed in this case. The chances are the cyclist will catch you at the next traffic lights, anyway, meaning they really aren’t holding you up (think about it).
It is also worth noting the road rules too; under the NSW Road Rules 2014, bicycle riders are entitled to use a full lane when riding on the road and are allowed to ride two abreast in one lane. If bicycle riders are taking up a full lane, motorists need to overtake as they would any other vehicle.
So despite your frustration as a motorist, you are obligated to accept cyclist road use rights and indeed tolerance of each other is what is required. This comes down to our mental state (emotions) and our thinking, this forms a big part of the training that we provide at STC Education. Through learning, we can all grow to be better road users and as a result, better safer communities will arise.
Now, cyclists, you don’t get off that easily. It is important that you realise that just because we wrote this blog, doesn’t give you the green light to be arrogant about your rights and incite road rage. The best thing you can do is represent all cyclists in a manner that your actions reflect on the collective. Meaning, you need to always do the right thing, don’t run red lights, don’t break road rules, and never assume a motorist has seen you.
You may be well within your rights to travel on the road two abreast but if the road is narrow, is that the smartest route for you to take? Think of the consequences of the outcome of an impact with a vehicle or truck, it won’t end well for you, so why put yourself in jeopardy? And don’t compromise your safety for the fastest time on STRAVA for that section for the day, you know what I’m talking about!
This doesn’t need to be a war between road users, we have all been affected by the COVID19 Pandemic and we all need to be a little more tolerant of each other.
Lastly, councils need to be proactive in providing better-shared pathways to give cyclists and pedestrians newer safer ways of getting around, which takes away the need for motorists to be impacted by another distraction on our roads. This is a better way to spend resources and provide jobs in a new and difficult era for all of us to navigate.
Safe travelling for all road users.
Stewart Nicholls, Managing Director STC Education.