Motorists are often the more common source, perhaps because of the added intimidation a driver possesses, secure in the knowledge they are encased in their own metal box, while the road cyclist is always going to be vulnerable on a bike weighing about as much as just one of the aggressors car tyres!
When experiencing road rage, some cyclists choose to remain silent, hoping to minimise the possibility of exacerbating the situation. Others, unable to maintain their composure in the face of wrongdoing, are likely to engage in an argument. Whatever stance you have taken, or would choose to take if faced with such a situation, the issue remains a problem for road cyclists across the globe.
I Pay Road Tax!
The treatment of one rider by other road users has laid the foundations for an ever growing one man campaign in the UK. The ironically named ‘I pay road tax’ is the brain child of Carlton Reid, a British cycling journalist and author. The campaign is named after the daily road tax rant directed towards those of us on two wheels. We’re all accustomed to the average motorist’s assumption that cyclists don’t pay road tax and therefore have no rights on the road. The ‘no pay, no say’ attitude is sharply addressed by Reid on his site with a brief history of UK road tax. Abolished 74 years ago in the UK, in fact road tax doesn’t exist!
It was Winston Churchill who in 1926 initiated the process to eradicate road tax. This move was based around the fact that Mr Churchill didn’t want motorists making a token payment giving them ownership of the roads. Motorists finally ceased to pay road tax in 1937. A number engrained on many a UK cyclist’s brain, ready to be deployed at any moment of confrontation with an angry motorist. The upkeep of British roads is actually paid for by general taxation. So every taxpayer in theory has a right to use the roads. Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is what many warrant as road tax. The argument that cyclists don’t pay VED so don’t have a right to the road doesn’t stand with many hybrid and low emission cars being exempt from paying this duty. The comments of one supporter on the ‘I pay road tax’ website sum up this argument nicely:
“So if I go into the pub for a pint of beer, do I have a greater right to be there than the guy standing nearby drinking his Coca Cola? After all, I’m paying more tax on my ale, so he should stop free loading on the warmth, toilets and music of the pub, no?”
So that you’re well armed to respond to any future rants, let’s sum up some of the main points:
- Road tax doesn’t exist! ‘Car tax’ or Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is based on the emissions of your vehicle. It isn’t a right to use the road. Bike 1 – Car 0.
- Your so called ‘road tax’ is taken by the government who then distribute yearly budgets to local councils, who in turn then spend a tiny proportion on the roads. Bike 2 – Car 0.
- Everyone’s tax goes into the pot before being dished out, so even if you don’t tax a car you still pay for it! A hat-trick for the Bike! 3 – 0.
Recently, the wonders of helmet cam technology was able to capture the daily ignorance displayed by many a motorist. Uploaded to YouTube, the incident involving one cyclist was displayed for the world to see. After pulling out in front of the amateur cameraman the video shows the driver of a white van launching a missile in the form of a nearly full drinks bottle out of the passenger window. This was the consequence of a prior heated confrontation in which the cyclist expressed “road tax hasn’t been around since 1937” in response to a tax dodging comment made by the van driver. The motorist concerned was actually prosecuted and done for assault and driving without due care, receiving 5 points and an undisclosed fine, or Karma some may say. Although an extreme example, this motorist/cyclist confrontation is a common occurrence on the roads of Britain and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the user disabled the ability for us to embed the video in this blog for you to watch. However, you can watch the full video of this cyclist’s traumatic experience here. Please note: the video does show some heated debate and some bad language is involved at times!
What about those pedestrians getting in our way!?
This brings us down the pecking order to the pedestrian-cyclist relationship. There are rules governing how pedestrians should cross the road. However, these are largely ignored. Pedestrians seem to feel that he/she have few responsibilities to others, particularly bicycles. This can cause particular inconvenience to cyclists who are worse off after a collision with a pedestrian than a car may be. However it seems like the cyclist is in a middle of the road hierarchy system where motorists treat them as pedestrians, and pedestrians don’t treat them as motorists. This leaves the average urban cyclist in a difficult position.
The situation isn’t aided by the beliefs of some disillusioned parents who seem to think children’s buggies being wheeled vehicles means they have a more than legitimate claim to use cycle lanes.
The US State of Idaho has a unique set of laws which differentiate the cyclist from other road users. Cyclists are able to use red lights as stop signs and stops signs as yield signs. This takes into account the manoeuvrability, loss of momentum and wider field of vision of a cyclist, although does little to ease the current tension with other road users.
In other US states there are some cyclists disregarding the rules of the road completely. Bike Salmon is a term that was coined on a New York urban bike commuting blog. Bike Salmon refers to when a cyclist rides against the flow of traffic down a one way street. This video proves how cyclists need to keep an eye out for pedestrians just as much, if not more, than they do with cars, however you have to feel for the poor guy as he shouldn’t have to look out for a bike going the wrong way!
Even the Pro’s experience it.
While the everyday rider is often a victim of road rage, a recent Twitter post from Geraint Thomas reveals even an Olympic gold medallist, world champion and Tour de France white jersey wearer can face abuse from other road users.
“Just got some right abuse off a van man for riding on the road,” posted the Welsh cycling professional, before continuing to conclude, “Someone hasn’t had any nookie in a while!”.
Clearly, no one is safe!
A ‘Cycling Revolution’?
So what’s being done to help the typical cyclist? London’s current ‘cycling revolution’ involves a number of initiatives such as Barclays sponsored Cycle Hire and a number of new Cycle Super Highways – also sponsored by Barclays. While the Cycle Hire scheme appears to be a fairly efficient way of getting from A to B, albeit with an overly confusing pricing structure, the Cycle Super Highways have been the subject of sustained ridicule.
The vivid blue being used to mark out the Cycle Super Highways has been one of the most widely criticised aspects of the routes, with commentators suggesting the road paint is just another part of Barclays domination of London cycling. However, negativity towards the routes continues with many suggesting the ‘Smurf lanes’ are simply a “lick of blue paint”, with few changes to the road itself. Transport for London has rebutted this claim arguing that extensive maintenance has been carried out to revive roads suffering from potholes.
Moving away from superficial aspects, cycling bloggers have been quick to claim use of the Cycle Super Highways is essentially ‘Velocide’. In essence, they confirm the routes remain a breeding ground for road rage. Concerns include, but are not limited to:
- The lanes being devoid of any markings to indicate they are indeed cycling lanes.
- Cyclists and drivers cannot co-exist on many stretches of the routes.
- Drivers frequently block the lanes, causing cyclists to venture outside them into dangerous traffic.
- It’s difficult to call the routes Super Highways because they rarely meet a maximum width of 1.5 metres, making it incredibly difficult for cyclists to ride in any fashion other than single file.
The following video illustrates some of these concerns:
The Superhighways are clearly a compromise as Transport for London has attempted to balance the needs of bicycle activists versus motorists, although the result has been a failure to satisfy either side.
In order to make city roads safer for the cyclist, segregation of cycle lanes is an obvious next step and has been well implemented in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Barcelona to name but a few. By placing a physical barrier between cyclists and drivers, cyclists will ultimately feel safer and instances of road rage are bound to be reduced.
Nevertheless, these developments are limited to major cities and the road cyclist elsewhere is still vulnerable. An interesting way for cyclists such as yourself to avoid busy roads, where instances of road rage are more likely to occur, is to use one of several new smartphone apps.
CycleStreets is just one example which allows you to plan cycle-friendly routes, including the quietest route, thereby avoiding large amounts of other road traffic. The app also attempts to plot routes that take advantage of descents, and avoid ascents where possible. Details of this feature led one commentator to muse:
“If it can find me a downhill route from my home to work and then another downhill route back home again, then it’s worth every penny”.
However, this response is slightly misleading as the app is in fact a free download. Try it out on your iPhone now. An Android version appears to be in the works as well for those sporting an Android powered device.
Finally, for those who want to stick to their guns and are determined to remain on the busier roads, give yourself the best possible chance of being seen by other motorists, and staying safe, by taking a look at some of the latest products over at the PBK website. With a range of high powered rechargeable headlights, lightsets, front and rear safety lights and reflective, high visibility clothing, make sure you have everything you need to ensure that you remain safe on the roads.
Have you ever experienced road rage during your cycling lifetime? What do you think of the cycling initiatives in London and elsewhere and how do you stay safe on the roads? Let us know your opinions and stories below and where the best/safest cycling can be found.