Today’s column features guest writer Angela Einstein. (Please do follow that link before reading on.)
Take it away, Angela…
The other week I spent a long, enjoyable journey cycling through Hampshire. When the urban sprawl of Southampton’s satellite towns loomed over me, I suddenly realised what Luke Skywalker must have felt like when he dived into the Death Star’s trench.
Unfortunately, what should have then been an uneventful hour of crossing the county was full of events, thanks to endless poorly-designed roads.
Not that such infrastructural failings troubled many of my fellow road users. Blithely ignoring the dangers to me, they barged past me one after another with unabashed aplomb. Highway Code? Nah, that’s just for slackers (especially those of us not stuck in a stuffy Volvo).
What is it with some drivers? Okay, not all of you. But at the very least those scary white van men and 4x4ers who regard the road as their own micro-universe. A place where they can duck and weave with impunity and without recourse to the law.
Astonishing, really, when you appreciate the vulnerability of the cyclist or the pedestrian when riding or walking next to their hulking 4x4s or a massive HGV.
Indeed, 19,000 cyclists were killed or injured in road accidents in the UK each year while in 2014 a total of 13 cyclists were killed in London alone.
There’s no doubt that cycling is good for the nation. Indeed, a new report this week revealed that using the UK’s network of cyclist-and bike-friendly paths helps save the nation £1m every day.
Yet the enduring and rising appeal of the bike as a form of transport – more than a million people have taken to cycling in the past five years – has also given way to an appalling attitude of driver entitlement, resulting in some pretty terrifying road manoeuvres.
Practically every day, I witness drivers taking the law – and others’ lives – into their own hands, be it tailgating, speeding or weaving between road and pavement.
Which is why surely it’s time for the statute to be changed – especially with driving poster boys Clarkson, Hammond and May raising the profile of inner city driving.
After all, we cyclists have insurance by default, being such a low liability risk, and we don’t need to pass a driving test, for the same reason. Isn’t now the time to beef up our enforcement of uninsured and unlicensed driving? Or at the very least, beef up the law to stop the kind of dangerous hijinks practiced by so many of our four (or more) wheeled friends.
According to road traffic lawyer, Chufty McGrumblethump of Cockburn Cockburn McGrumblethump solicitors, part of the problem is that even when they cause death, drivers can’t be banned for life for their fatally poor conduct on the road.
“With the point system failing to work and drivers often not getting caught, how you can effectively penalise drivers, save for ineffective fines?”
Reginald Hogwart-Johnson, the police and crime commissioner for Fiddledehamptonshire, did say last year that she wanted drivers to be retested on a regular basis.
Not that drivers are entirely immune to prosecution. According to the 1988 Road traffic Law, the act of causing death dangerous driving (where the driving ‘falls far below’ what is expected of a competent and careful driver) carries the maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.
But Chufty McGrumblethump says that in a 40-year career, he has seen surprisingly few drivers being convicted.
“The biggest problem for the police or anyone involved in an accident with a cyclist is convincing a jury that the driver had any sort of obligation to prevent a mistake from becoming fatal. The law does need to make drivers more accountable for their law breaking. Drivers need to take responsibility for the safety of other road users as well as themselves.”
So why do drivers behave in this way? Perhaps it’s some ethical payback for the fact they use a form of transport which has associated taxes.
Meanwhile getting ‘behind the wheel’ is open to, well, pretty much anyone. Only the other day, I saw two rowdy chaps in a flat-tyred, smoke-billowing van that would clearly fail an MOT. In the absence of documentation to signify road worthiness and no palpable skill behind the wheel, I gave them a huge berth, trundling slowly behind for fear of trying to filter past.
And many drivers can also be scary. Last month a toddler was knocked over by a ‘hit-and-run’ driver and dragged along the pavement.
Clarabell Strummington-Bungleworth, a lawyer and partner in Justice4Motorists which fights civil claims for drivers involved in road accidents agrees that it would be helpful if there was some kind of regular testing once drivers took to the roads. “And I would certainly suggest that drivers pay attention to the Highway code.”
But suggestion is not the same as enforcement.
Before I go on I realise there will be those who will presume I have a natural hatred of drivers (heard it a million times). Actually, I’ve owned a car since the age of seventeen. And my husband is a fanatic. His car is the third person in our marriage (though he limits his racing to track days).
Admittedly my car is for laziness rather than necessity, so I restrict myself to urban roads and residential areas. My favourite is the big car park near the shops where there are acres of cars parked where there were once meadows and field across the South Downs.
No matter. In recent years the voice of the driver has become militant and unapologetic. Indeed when I spoke out about some selfish drivers on a recent column in Singletrack, the storm on social media was fierce and relentless. It reminded me of drunken men, cigarette smokers and all those others who believe their choice is an inalienable right which shouldn’t be contradicted.
I don’t even believe drivers pay for the road. As cursory research finds, most roads are paid for by local taxation, and so most cyclists have already paid for the roads. Whereas motoring taxes don’t even cover the remaining strategic roads plus the cost of clearing up collisions.
But surely, cycling is quite different to driving. That’s why drivers need to take a compulsory proficiency test and have an MOT certificate for their car. And why isn’t the wearing of helmets compulsory?
Kevin Peat, campaign and policy director for Drivers Drivers Drivers Rarrr, The National Driving Driving Driving Rarrr Charity, doesn’t agree with my ideas. Instead he thinks there should be a continued relaxation in road policing.
“With around 1 million people being unlicensed and/or uninsured and almost none being retested once they start driving, the licensing and compulsory training system for drivers is failing; not least because the Road Traffic Act fails to adequately define what constitutes poor driving. We may as well give up and make it a free-for-all, seeing as offending rates are very similar regardless of whether the vehicle requires licensing.”
He adds that the benefits would be negligible, and the bureaucracy involved likely to be something the bloody Europeans would like.
It would, no doubt, take a brave politician to give the go ahead to changes in the law. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to be content to see red. Though when it comes to tax, there are some drivers who will always see bullshit-brown.
Angela Einstein is a freelance wordhumper whose clients include Blah! Blah! Magazine, The Daily Trumpet, The Chipping Sodbury Canary Keeper’s Gazette and Sugar Ape. She strongly refutes allegations that she is just spending her lunchtimes lazily rewording piss-poor op-eds from professional trolls that represent little more than a swirling fragment of turd caught in an eddy at the edge of the sewage works of tediously deliberate inflammation and divisiveness promulgated by media outlets that appear to be either eye-wateringly desperate for click-based ad revenue or in the pocket of pro-motoring lobbyists or others with a vested interest in the status quo. She also strongly refutes allegations that the rambling, disjointed, incoherent and seemingly unedited nature of her work is due to the above, and she says she could write much betterer and coherenter if she wanted to, like.