Safer roads

So are you a driver who hates cyclists?

Or a cyclist who hates drivers?

None of the above? Or a bit of both?

Reading some of the feedback on articles about road safety – how to cycle safer…how drivers can be more cycle aware, etc, you’d think it was open warfare out there on the highway.

But surely, apart from the dedicated petrol-heads and the dyed-in-the-home-grown-goat-wool-hand-knitted sweater ultra-green types, a lot of these drivers are also cyclists and a lot of cyclists also drive. So why can’t they see things from the other point of view?

Strikes me that our roads would be a lot safer if as learner drivers, we are forced to get some quality insight into the experiences of other roadusers.

The standard driving test was probably fine at the end of the fifties but isn’t really adequate preparation for the 21st century Britishroad system. Answering a few questions as a result of reading a fat book full of theory is hardly preparation. Getting behind the wheel of one little car and mechanically learning to drive it isn’t good enough either. I mean, you don’t even get to go on a motorway. It’s like learning to whip up a decent scrambled egg and then being expected to keep up with service at Claridges.

There are all kinds of challenges on the roads these days. There are more cyclists for a start – including recumbent cyclists who feel that a small triangular flag on a long stick should make them sufficiently visible as they are only two feet from the road surface. Cyclists may hop off cycle lanes on to the road in front of you the driver at unpredictable points because of the ludicrous and nonsensical network of cycle lanes painted seemingly at random, beginning and ending for no apparent reason.

I’m stating the obvious here but we share the roads with all manner of cars, motorbikes, scooters, lorries of every size, buses, horses, ponies and traps (yes there are some where I live) not forgetting (especially during the days before Bank Holiday Weekends) the joy of the finding yourself behind a gleaming vintage steam traction engine. These are driven by the most laid-back people in the world who know they still have a perfect right to occupy most of a small country lane travelling at 4mph.

I’d scrap the driving test and introduce a Safer Roads System. Candidates would be required to experience driving all sorts of vehicles. See how it feels behind the wheel of an articulated truck. See how long it takes to slow down to take a roundabout – see what the visibility is like. Even better, try to reverse the thing!

Drive a bus. Drive a pick-up. Driving a big Dodge requires different skills to those required for driving a shitty little two-door. Driving a top of the range people carrier, or a top of the range 4WD you are high up there in your luxury cushioned Napa-Leather-World. Why should you give a toss about that cyclist pulled up at the lights to your left? I mean it’s hardly your fault if you turn left across his front wheel.

Ride a bicycle – learn if necessary – then ride in local traffic. See how it feels when a distracted driver late on the school-run whizzes past four inches from your bar-end at 40mph. Where, on the road, do you think you’ll be safest/ most visible? Try riding on a by-pass with traffic passing at 60-70mph on your right and stuff coming at you at 40mph as you cross over a slip road.

Ride a motorbike. See how considerate – or not – car drivers generally are. Feel the difference cornering in wet and dry conditions.

Let’s throw in horse-riding. We have to share the roads with our four-legged friends, our four-legged friends, they’ll never let you down… well they will if some prat in a soft-top comes scorching around the corner in a country lane.

It’s all about consideration really and experiencing the whole roads thing from other points of view.

Course, this kind of driving test would probably take a year to prepare for and it would be quite costly but better that than lives lost.

How many flighty seventeen year olds only learn to calm down after wrapping their first car around a tree? Tragically, some don’t even live to regret that first mistake.

Anyway, it would be worth it for the comedy value of burly would-be lorry drivers on bicycles wobbling their way through a maze of cycling proficiency cones.

I’d also enjoy watching petrol-heads trying to stay in control of a nervous mare faced with an oncoming Subaru with a roaring engine and a go-faster spoiler. Riding might be the next great challenge for the Top Gear guys. I’d also love to see Clarkson on a bloody great stubborn immoveable horse, groping around the saddle pommel for the ignition switch, trying to make it go.

So that’s the new drivers sorted. But there’s the substantial additional problem of those people who passed their test many years ago and now have as many bad habits as a convent full of lap-dancing nuns.

I should probably come clean and admit that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that, while I am immaculate cyclist, I may have turned into a dodgy driver myself. This is based on a lot of evidence of too-casual driving and the latest incident of attempting to drive down a cycle path. Don’t think my companion was too impressed by my protestation that the last time I was there, it used to be a proper road. Honest.

For current qualified drivers, a refresher every ten years would be reasonable, incorporating all the new facets of this radical new approach

Without wanting to sound all New-Agey, my Safer Roads System would be a holistic thing. A bit pricey, granted but it would definitely cut road casualties and deaths.

It would also mean the roads would suddenly get a lot quieter. I mean, realistically, between you and me, I can’t really predict a whole lot of people passing this test….


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Cycling and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Safer roads

  1. valzone says:

    I’m with you all the way Jan, a great read here by the way. I’m not a cyclist, the reason being, I never learned to ride a bike. That’s not strictly true actually, I can ride a bike, in a fashion, I just never owned a bike as a child. I did buy one when I was about 30, goodness knows why, I wasn’t safe to be on the road. I couldn’t let go of the handle bars to indicate my intentions. I used to get off before turning left or right and walk the bike. I was not a confident cyclist, I would wobble at the slightest thing, in the end, my husband locked it away and forbid me to use it, for my own sake and other road users. Now, if I’d had stabilisers……. 🙂

    As a road user, I do appreciate and consider all cyclists; as a pedestrian, I would have all cyclists who ride on the pavement, and that includes all the postmen, arrested and charged. There was an article in our local paper a few months ago, people were complaining about all the cyclists on the pavements, again it included the postmen. When questioned, the cyclists said “It’s safer on the pavements”. Despite it being illegal to ride on the pavement, not one person is ever charged, again that includes the god damned postmen.

    • janh1 says:

      Val it’s such a shame you didn’t have someone to ride with you, give you tips and help build your confidence. There’s still time if you fancy another go… 😉

      I agree about riding on the pavements where there is no shared pedestrian/cyclist route. It only happens because cyclists don’t feel safe on the road – oh and the cyclists who willfully by-pass traffic lights etc that other road users have to abide by.

  2. IsobelandCat says:

    Much in what you say is true.
    I feel safest about a foot to eighteen inches away from the kerb, but then some cyclists overtake me on the inside and it makes me v wobbly, and therefore dangerous.
    As I am a car driver too, I think it makes me more willing to wear my Hi-Viz jacket and hat, to help drivers see me. I am amazed at how many cyclists don’t bother even with lights.
    The car drivers I find scariest are young ones who have probably just passed their tests, and feel it’s somehow demeaning to be stuck behind a bike on a narrow road; and white van drivers. I’m not wild about some bus drivers either.
    I’m afraid i do sometimes take to the pavement Val, but only when it’s empty, and I go v v slowly.
    My local council, in its wisdom has just changed the crossings at a junction. There used to be a crossing for bikes , and a few yards away, one for pedestrians. Now it’s a shared crossing, and terrifying when it’s busy. Twice I’ve been nearly pushed off my bike by children running across the road, on one occasion the mother of a five-year-old called her across my path.

  3. janh1 says:

    That’s ridiculous, cyclists overtaking you on the inside! I’d say you’re in a good position in the road.
    As a cyclist you should assert your position on the road and not cringe right over to the left where a pedal might catch the kerb.

    Yep it’s only when you’re driving on a grey rainy day that you realise that unless you’ve got really GOOD lights on your bike, you’ll hardly be seen.

    I’ve had good experiences with courteous lorry drivers and even van drivers recently. Not sure if it’s because I’m wearing less in the warm weather 😉 But a woman cornering in a volvo with kids in the back while on the bloody mobile phone nearly took me out.

    Shared paths have their own hazards. A labrador shot out of the bushes on an extending lead in front of me as I was cannoning down the cycle path the other day, creating an interesting trip-wire effect. I braked hard, skidded long and managed to stay on before Val, the owner (who I know) emerged full of apologies to rein him in. My fault partly anyway. I was going too fast, but it was early morning – unlikely to find toddler in the way at 6.45am!

  4. IsobelandCat says:

    There was a letter in yesterday’s indie on much the same subject. Did you see it?

  5. IsobelandCat says:

    No, but I might be able to find one. The paper is in the recycling bag now.

  6. IsobelandCat says:

    here you go, a link to the letters page. It looks like you might be able to track back an ongoing conversation.

  7. papaguinea says:

    Jan, just over ten years ago I went on-line and bought a mountain bike at a shop at Inverness. This bike was then transported across to the west coast, past Ullapool and eventually delivered to an address in Kylestrome, Sutherland. I was 42 years of age and in good nick, training with a football in the local park. Anyway, I did a 50 mile round trip, Kylestrome to Lochinver, via Drumbeg and Stoer and then came back on the main road from Lochinver. I stayed overnight at Stoer. Just as well as I had planned the whole trip in a day. No way; despite 15 gears or so the road from Kylestrome to Drumbeg is up down up down for most of the way, and some of it particularly steep. I had the old Canon SLR on the back, a Canon A1 and took a great many pictures. How I wish I had had a digital camera with me! What amazing pieces of machinery they really are. The bike remained at Kylestrome for a few more years and I eventually sold it to a New Zealand chap who was going to use it across Europe. (There were Kiwi”s employed on the estate up at Kylestrome.)

    So yes, if I lived in the country and out of town with heavy traffic, buying a bike would be a must. Perhaps I should read more cycle blogs!

    PS Your banner picture of the far horizon with pink (dawn) light. Is that one of the shots from near Tongue that you had mentioned? If it is, then is it possible that the far away mountain is Suilven, near Lochinver, on the West Coast. I cannot imagine that it is because it would be so distant, but it is possible. (Suilven takes many profile shapes dependant on where you are observing from the road or track.)

    • Jan says:

      Hi PG. First the view – which is Eigg seen from Arisaig. That lump of rock is An Sgurr. 🙂

      There are shots of the Kyle of Tongue somewhere but on transparencies, I suspect, taken on DT man’s old SLR Pentax. I am in awe of your cycling feat, PG. Those roads aren’t easy but at least undulations make it feel more fun than unrelenting uphill!

      Given your experience, I bet you’d enjoy getting back on a bike for a toodle about. It never fails to make me feel like a big kid again – only in my case on a lush bike I couldn’t even dream about as a nipper.

      • papaguinea says:

        Thanks for the info Jan. Yes I wouldn’t mind saddling up again, if only to do a photo-shoot of Inner London, or to take on holidays to explore parts of England; there are plenty of counties I have never set foot in. PS I greatly enjoyed your Argos escapade!

  8. papaguinea says:

    PS I should have said “Just over 20 years ago”.

  9. IsobelandCat says:

    Thought of you toady when I was on my way to work, on my bike, and saw someone on one of the Barclay bikes wearing a horseriding helmet. No camera with me unfortunately.

    • janh1 says:

      Laughing at the “thought of you, toady” which works better with a comma!!

      A horseriding helmet. Like National Velvet. Excellent. 😀 Always carry a camera. I do but I never get it out quick enough.

      • IsobelandCat says:

        Being a wobbly cyclist who prefers both hands on the handlebars (no challenge to your no hands nineteen seconds from me in the near or distant future) I would have t stop and get the camera off my belt/out of my bag anyway.
        I looked for her today, but I was a bit earlier and there was no sign. Quite a few Barclay riders with helmets though.
        Could be quite a nice photo project.

      • janh1 says:

        I haven’t done 19 seconds since either. Averaging ten. Never mind, I will never achieve the effortless insouciance of a friend who can ride with his arms outstretched. Bloody showing off I call it.

        Sounds like an excellent photo project. Some cyclists just make me smile. I’d love to do a complete portfolio of images. I’ve rarely seen a guy as beautiful as the skinny racing cyclist I saw at the lights near GCHQ one day as i was going to work in the car. He just had it all. A kind of poetry and grace of movement born of being totally at one with the bike. And he was fit as hell.

        Yesterday I saw a guy in black full leather padded downhilling outfit with big gloves, shoes, saddle too low, knees and elbows akimbo, with his full-face downhilling helmet dangling from the handlebars. He was hilarious because he was riding as though he was tearing downhill – leaning into the corner as he crossed the pedestrian crossing, crouching over the bars as though lowering his wind resistance, and all the time he was on a tarmac shared pedestrian/cycle path next to the Lansdown Road. Plonker!

  10. IsobelandCat says:

    Sorry. I’m not calling you toady. that was a typo. should say ‘today’.

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