“Drivers Think They Own The Roads. They Don’t.”

7 July 2015

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.

Comments

  1. Lyn 7 July 2015 1:26pm #

    Articles like this just induce waves of nausea now. I give up. (I’m pleased you haven’t, though).

  2. Neil Alize Illing (@nilling) 7 July 2015 2:08pm #

    House!! She managed to hit every anti-cycling rant, chapeau!!

  3. Ben 7 July 2015 3:29pm #

    I sit on the fence a little, As i am a cyclist, a motorcyclist and a driver (by a driver, i consider myself the level of enthusiast, rather than just an A-B`er)

    From this detailed rant against drivers and the calls for “more to be done” i feel that i should, in part, rant at the cyclist and call for “more to be done”

    Dont get me wrong, i agree that Drivers should be made to at least re-take the paper test every ten years when the photocard licence is renewed. Many long-term drivers have no idea on the changes in law, or best-practise. On a BBC News Vox-Pop, several people thought the national Speed Restriction meant “No Entry” and none of them knew why we have it and not a fixed speed limit.

    If you wish to cycle on the roads, i feel you should be at a level of comitance that suits the environment. I see many “wobbly” riders everyday, the worst being people on the bikes with the “Butcher-Boy” style handle bars and front basket, that is one death trap in motion.
    I agree this can`t be enforced, but i do think i could be given out as “Education”

    “We, the Gov/TFL/Council, think that to be considered safe on the roads you should be able to show proficiency in X,Y,Z while riding a bike”

    X being the most common cause of collision, Impact with a Car on the Passenger side.
    The highway code suggest that road users should not undertake, yet cyclists undertake all the time and never follow suggested road positions.

    If cycling a country road, you tend to ride within 1m of the left edge, yet when you take a bend, how many of you move the centre of the road to prevent being passed on a blind bend by a knob head driver? Not many, but you should.

    When moving faster than the cars, how many of you pass on the left, rather than shifting to the right side of the car, as you should. (Excluding Cycle lanes, as that is a lane)

    If you are in a cycle lane, that lane should stop at a junction, now, the highway code says you have right of way when exiting a left hand lane (cycle lane, bus lane etc..) and cars should give way, but we all know they dont, mainly cos they dont see you or dont even know the lane is there, I feel here, as a cyclist we should take a simple step towards self preservation and perform a “life saver look” like a motorcyclist would, this simple glance will allow you to spot cars being stupid and give you time to react.stop.

    I also think, that cycle lanes should be forced to BEND into the side street for 10 yards or so and make you cross in the side street, rather than topping across the junction. But I know no one likes this idea.

    Stop jumping Red lights

    All of this comes down to one thing “Education”
    Drivers think they have right of way because they dont know they do not. They think bikes are not meant to be on the road and fail to know that if the wheel is bigger then 20″ its not actually allowed on the pavement. Cars think that slow moving road users are not allowed in the middle of the lane when required to be safe, when you are and should only move when its safe for the car to pass (a straight line)
    Cyclists need to stop passing on the left and really really need to stop, stopping at junctions on the left of HGVs in their blind spot.. If an HGV has the front line, sit behind it and let it go.. you can pass it when its safe.

    Both sides are wrong, both sides need educating. hell, Scooter riders are the worst road user by miles, but i dont see half as much blurb about them..

    Lastly, stop putting lycra on at the weekend you MAMIL, and cycling on roads, its boring and rubbish, get a mountain bike and hit the trails. Same distance, twice the resistance but fun and mentally challenging. 😛

    • Bez 7 July 2015 4:10pm #

      I like how you started with “I sit on the fence a little” and then promptly clambered off the fence and wandered quite a distance away from it. Also how you start with “I am a cyclist” and then refer to people on bikes as “you” and “they” before finishing with “stop riding on roads”.

      For what it’s worth, the “drivers v cyclists” dichotomy in the piece above is balls: I’m just piggybacking the same dichotomy in the original article.

      PS which imaginary group was the non-sequitur “stop jumping red lights” aimed at? 🙂

      • Ben 7 July 2015 4:34pm #

        no no, don’t stop riding on roads, just stop being a rodie.. 😉
        That was just a tease.

        I may have got my point across all over the place, but the fence sitting is that we need both sides of the argument to be educated and stop blaming each other like one or the other are perfect.

        The OP was Anti car and Pro cycle, so as i pointed out, i felt i needed to add the Anti-cycle Pro car bit.. just a little. I also mentioned that Car drivers can be knob heads.

        As to the “Stop Jumping Red lights” thats aimed at all road users… Cars, bikes, motorbikes..

        • Bez 7 July 2015 4:39pm #

          I wouldn’t write an anti-car, pro-cycle piece. Fortunately Angela Einstein is happy to write any old crap for a remarkably small fee 🙂

    • Tim 7 July 2015 11:09pm #

      Ben. Congratulations on the most spectacular piece of missing the point I’ve seen all year.

      Did you even read the nasty piece of bile this was based on (linked at the top). Clearly the ignorant mainstream press doesn’t need your help.

    • Eric D 9 July 2015 10:40am #

      “if the wheel is bigger then 20″ its not actually allowed on the pavement”
      You just made that rule up !
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2987756/Police-threaten-confiscate-four-year-old-girl-s-bike-way-school-cycling-pavement.html

      ‘Comitance’ ?
      https://goo.gl/EekkVa
      =existance, as in ‘concomitant’
      Unless you mean people with a squint shouldn’t cycle ?

      “you should be able to show proficiency in … ‘Impact with a Car on the Passenger side’. ”
      I’m getting better at doing that – a swift kick can be effective.

      Cross-referencing more Angela Epstein –
      https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/us-not-them/

      “stop cycling on roads, get a mountain bike”
      You aren’t really Martin Epstein, by any chance, are you ?
      “And my husband is a fanatic. (though he limits his biking to off road)”
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/goodlife/11707713/Cyclists-think-they-own-the-roads.-They-dont.html

      I agree education is needed – launching BikeAbility without preparing drivers was a big mistake.

      • Ben 9 July 2015 12:01pm #

        With regard to the 20″, its something we were taught in cycling perissiancy in school and this was also in the hand bok for teaching it when i worked in a bike shop. (all be it 22 years ago for school and 14 years for bike shop) as to your Daily Mail evidence, i would not believe that rag if they told me the sea was blue..

        Comitance is an epic autocorrect and should read “Competence”, no idea how i ended up with that. 😀

        I am not Martin, that last bit was more a fun, joke ending, and a small “wink” of a shot at the MAMIL club.

        I actually like all cycling disciplines, however i find the MAMIL collective to be the most rude, boastful, demanding bunch. I often ride at Richmond Park with my mrs, she is not the best cyclist so i sit behind her as a “Tail gunner” to force other road users to giver her a bit more room. Cars don’t seem to have issue with this, but MAMIL`s like to shout and moan, even if i am using a road bike. I still dress like an MTB rider as I cant think of anything worse that displaying my nuts for the poor people of the world to view, this difference in dress means simple things like asking “do you have a pump, multi-tool?” etc are all met with snubbing looks of disgust.

        Lastly, if you meet up with any other bike rider (BMX, Trail, DH, Trial) we all talk about the same things, the ride, the jumps, the tricks the fun. If you add a MAMIL to that group, its always about stats and stats and stats and stats.. juss say`in!

    • michael 27 July 2015 1:55pm #

      You are missing the point here!

      You are ‘inverting’ an article which is already an inversion, and hence just recreating the original article linked to in the first line.

      PS – cycle lanes deflecting at junctions is what most pro-infrastructure people want, I thought? Sadly we mostly get crap excuses for infrastructure in this country. Just as we mostly get crap excuses for journalism.

  4. Keith Whalen 7 July 2015 4:44pm #

    For me it was the holy grail of anti-cyling rearing its ugly head in the original article in the Telegraph. I refer of course to to the mention of “Road Tax” and the belief it is still paid..

  5. Ronald Reid 7 July 2015 4:58pm #

    I know that selection bias covers this, but is there a more specific term for any individual who thinks that cyclists invented the disregard for the Highway Code and are the only ones doing it?

    Answers on a post card etc…

    • Michael 24 July 2015 8:21pm #

      A combination of Freudian projection and the outtgroup homogeneity effect, would be my guess.

  6. D. 8 July 2015 2:43pm #

    Unfortunately, with the announcements regarding hypothecation of VED in today’s budget I suspect that motorists will think even more strongly that they *do* own the roads…

    • Ben 8 July 2015 2:48pm #

      Yer, if only they knew the reasons roads are not covered by the VED, such as that roads benefit all, not just drivers. EG we all get our shi* delivered to shops for us to buy.. Access for Emergency services etc. So they might think it, but they are wrong. 🙂

      • Bez 8 July 2015 3:21pm #

        The mention of emergency services segues neatly to my go-to balance sheet at the moment:

        VED revenue is near enough the same as the cost of the Highways Agency, ie the strategic road network, from which cycling is statutorily or effectively absent.

        All remaining motoring revenues (of which something approaching 90% is fuel duty) cover the public sector cost of clearing up after traffic collisions.

        All other costs borne by the public, such as the health costs arising from pollution, roughly half of which is directly attributable to motor traffic, are not paid for by motoring taxes.

        Net result is that the new hypothecation just formalises something that was a de facto reality, and motoring remains significantly subsidised as a whole.

        The people who will refuse to understand this will be the same who have always refused to understand it. Little changes. Idiots will still be idiots, professional trolls will still be professional trolls and Tories will still be a socially divisive malevolence.

      • michael 29 July 2015 10:04pm #

        The thing I will never understand about this argument about ‘who pays for the roads’ is that it always seems to be based on the, frankly bizarre, idea that the only relevant cost is that of building and/or maintaining them.

        What is so hard to understand about the concepts of ‘land rent’ or ‘opportunity cost’? The biggest cost of roads is that related to the value of the (highly strategically valuable, particularly in cities) land they sit on. Why should paying maintenance for the road itself entitle a group to exclusive use of that valuable land?

        The issue of road-building and maintenance cost is something of a red-herring. The question is, what is the most efficient way to use that land for the good of all. I don’t see that using vast amounts of it for over-sized, space-inefficient, vehicles, yet alone for _storing_ those vehicles, is an efficient use of that scarce public resource.

    • Jitensha Oni 8 July 2015 3:25pm #

      Without a visible tax disk, how will they prove it on the road e.g. to an irate bike rider ?

      • Ben 8 July 2015 3:27pm #

        No matter anyway, there a lot of Cars now that do not pay VED as they have 0 emissions..

      • D. 10 July 2015 4:44pm #

        Its not just zero-emission vehicles which are zero-rated for VED, Ben. My household has two motor vehicles, both zero-rated as historic vehicles. In my (poor) defence, I cycle to and from work after doing the sums on fuel costs and parking. Mine (a VW beetle) does barely any mileage per annum – it sits on the drive and is mainly retained for sentimental purposes; but my wife uses her’s (a VW microbus) all the time. Both are not exactly zero emission vehicles (far from it). But the powers-that-be created VED exemption so of course we’re going to take advantage of it. That said, they absolutely guzzle petrol so get hit with fuel duty.

    • Tim 10 July 2015 3:15pm #

      Genuine VED/Road-fund question for people who understand this sort of thing (eg Bez).

      Surely unless there is a 1:1 relationship between VED payments and road spending (in some form) then the whole hypothecation thing is a nonsense? I understand that the plan is for VED to be ring-fenced for the “road fund” but unless it covers all strategic road spending and isn’t supplemented at all from other funding sources then what’s the point? If all strategic road spending was restricted to income from VED (or other specific “motoring” taxes there might be some logic (?) but as it is I don’t get it.

      As I posted on Peter Walker’s Guardian article:

      Calling the ring-fenced VED tax “x” and other tax revenue “y”, what difference does it make if you spend all of x plus some y on strategic roads, or if you just mix x up with y and spend as much as you need from the total?

      But as it is the only difference will be:

      – more administrative burden and cost to keep them separate.
      – misplaced sense of ownership/entitlement from drivers (possibly).

      And neither of these outcomes is a good thing, so why would you?

      (I put “possibly” because I agree with the “little changes, idiots will be idiots” bit. IMHO more dedicated good quality provision for cycling would work against the marginalisation of cycling regardless of funding.)

      • MC 10 July 2015 11:54pm #

        An article yesterday on the Campaign for Better Transport website included what seemed like a pretty plausible explanation for the VED ring-fencing, certainly given this government’s ideoligical allegiance to feathering the private sector nest. I”ve quoted the relevant section below the link.

        http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/blog/better-transport/budget-road-fund-is-anti-motorist

        “… For a start, it’s quite clear that the “Road Fund” will (in England anyway) only go to strategic roads – in other words, the 3% or so of English roads run by Highways England. The rest of the road network will have to rely as now on ordinary Government funding.

        This is part of a wider policy. In the last Parliament, there was a lot of work done on part privatising the motorways – but to make this work it was realised that a secure revenue stream would be needed. Lots of work was done on putting tolls on new roads, starting with the A14 Cambridge-Huntingdon upgrade, but the politics of that proved too toxic. With this new Road Fund, the job is done – and Highways England can be privatised, in whole or part, with a revenue stream against which the new private utility can borrow to build more roads. “

      • Tim 13 July 2015 9:27am #

        Thanks for the link MC. Very interesting. Another potential back-door privatisation of a non-fungible service, because the rail privatisation was such a success. Would that mean VED increases though, to fund new motorways? Difficult to imagine considering the tories have avoided tolls (as per the article) and they continue to freeze petrol tax.

        “it’s quite clear that the “Road Fund” will (in England anyway) only go to strategic roads…”
        Unfortunately I’m not convinced it will be clear to many people.

  7. D. 10 July 2015 4:38pm #

    I think Angela Einstein needs her own regular column, Bez (after all, I’m sure she’s just not a figment of your imagination used for satirical purposes, right?).

  8. D. 14 July 2015 10:54am #

    The ‘At War with the Motorist’ blog https://waronthemotorist.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/motorists-are-welcome-to-the-roads-they-pay-for/ says the following:

    “George Osborne has decided that the money raised from Vehicle Excise Duty … should for the first time in 80 years be ringfenced for spending on roads, through Highways England (the recently rebranded Highways Agency). … So if this tax sends a message it’s exactly the right one: you pay for the motorway network. Want to own the road? Bugger off to your motorway. The county A roads, borough B roads, city streets and country lanes are not yours.”

    So all we need to do is get some t-shirts and jerseys made up with “You pay for the motorways and we don’t want to ride on them anyway; WE pay for the other roads, so **** off!”

  9. Steve 3 September 2015 5:33pm #

    An excellently reworded version of her original. I hope Ms Epstein has seen it, though I doubt it will do much to change her views. Unless of course her views are actually different to what she writes and she only writes that drivel to pay the bills. Not sure which would be worse.

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