What Everyone Needs To Know

27 November 2013

Oh, look. A “share the road” campaign.

Now, I confess that when I saw the “What matters most?” home page I was pleasantly surprised. It actually seems to be focusing on safety. The three ‘posters’ that flash up are, admittedly, a little contrived to fit the title (is “impatience” something drivers prioritise, like using a phone? no – and they’re a bit confused: “road positioning” for people on bikes is placed in a way which implies it should be unimportant – and… never mind) but they are at least addressing things that drivers and cyclists can do to ensure safety.

When it’s a person on a bicycle versus a person in a car, there is – aside from barely conceivable freak incidents – only one person that’s at risk, and that’s the person on the bike. The home page not only recognises that, it highlights real behaviour risks on both sides. Good stuff.

When I got to “What cyclists want drivers to know” things still seemed pretty decent.

Thing is, I knew it was going to go downhill when I got to “What drivers want cyclists to know“. I’m going to comment on each of the items first and then sum up at the bottom. If you get bored, just scroll down to that.

Oh, and this runs as a “you/me” conversation because that’s how it’s presented on the site. It’s not how I’d normally frame it: as the site itself says, “many cyclists are also drivers; sometimes, we choose to cycle.” (“Many”, by the way, is over 80%. I drive more than I cycle.) But hey, let’s roll with it…

What drivers want cyclists to know

I want to see you

  • Help me to see you, by wearing bright colours. – Do you have trouble seeing people in subdued colours? Maybe you’re not ideally suited to pointing a car at them.
  • I have blind spots and the bigger my vehicle is, the larger the blind spots are. Think – if you can’t see my mirrors … I can’t see you. Position yourself so I can see you.  – Yes, positioning myself where I can be seen is wise. But do you really have blind spots? Or are you simply not moving your neck? I think I’ve yet to drive a car where I couldn’t see everything at least person-on-a-bicycle-sized, no matter where it was within my immediate vicinity, with a shoulder check. Sure, if you’re in a huge lorry then this applies, but don’t think it’s an excuse when you’re in a car.
  • You are smaller and narrower than other vehicles I expect to see. If I am sitting at a T junction, even a bollard can obscure my view of you. You can make it easier for me to see you by cycling away from the kerb. – A bollard is obscuring your view? Maybe, before pulling out, you could think “there might be something behind that bollard” and proceed with caution. And, you know, look twice, so that you see something that’s moved out from behind the bollard since your first glance. Anyway, what if you can actually see nearer the kerb and the bollard obscures me when I’m a little to the right? I’m going to be doing a merry dance if I’m to optimise my line of sight to every other car on the road. Give me a break; I might simply be behind a (rather large?) bollard.
  • Use good quality lights front and rear at night and in low light levels. Check that they work every day you cycle. – I do. Which is why I wonder why you think I need bright coloured clothes.

Show me your intentions

  • I can be more sure of your intentions if you are consistent and predictable. If your road position remains the same – when possible – and your body movement is calm, it suggests to me that you are concentrating and in control. – Why will that affect how you treat me? If anything, it means you’re going to assume everything is ok and you’ll forget to account for unexpected events. Is it less important to give space to people who aren’t perfect? Relying on consistency and predictability instead of relying on a margin for error is precisely what killed Denisa Perinova, and many others.
  • If you need to adjust your road position, look over your shoulder if you can and indicate your intentions to move. – Again, you seem to be looking for reasons not to bother accounting for changes in position that I might be forced to make without warning or intention. Like if a wild animal runs in front of me, or someone open their door into me, or there’s a gust of wind, or I get a puncture, or the bloke who didn’t double-check his view past the bollard pulls out of that T-junction towards me. I mean, yeah, I’ll do what I can to avoid being hit by you, but cut me some slack if shit happens, eh?
  • You don’t have indicators – use your hands and arms to make bold confident signals for 3-5 seconds at a time, well before you intend to change position or turn. – I do, but again, note that sometimes it’s not possible (you can’t complain about someone on a bike wobbling slightly if you expect them to indicate for 5 seconds going downhill on a potholed road). And it’s not like every driver does it all the time, eh? When I learned to drive I was told never to rely on people’s indication, because to do so is dangerous. Where did you learn?
  • Wearing earphones suggests that the call or the music is more important to you than your own safety. I would like to know that you are concentrating and able to hear me approaching you. – By the same logic, you listening to a stereo or having your windows closed suggests that your music and warmth is more important than my safety. Anyway, even if your lazy preconceptions about headphones hadn’t been proven to be total claptrap, why are you talking as if it’s legitimising you not bothering to not care about my safety?

Stop, go and filter

  • When you are about to move off, look over your shoulder – it tells me you’re going. When you are about to pass me, give me space. I might be going. Yeah, I know I should look over my shoulder. It’s just that if I make a mistake, you might kill me. I notice people tend to drive well away from the pavement when there are young children on it; you know, in case they make a mistake and trip over. You don’t want to kill them. But if an adult makes a mistake you seem less bothered. Is it ok to kill adults but not children? Why is that? Anyway, looking over my shoulder doesn’t tell you I’m going, it tells you I’ve looked for you. If anything, it means I’m less likely to go, because I’ve taken the care to lo0k for you. Your inferences are weird.
  • Be cautious when you filter through traffic; I can change lanes, adjust my speed, turn or even open doors. And be aware that larger vehicles can also swing out before turning. Aha. Some good advice. Yes, when I’m the one approaching from behind, I need to take account of the fact that the people I’m passing may make mistakes and that I may be putting myself into a space where I’m not conspicuous. Good.
  • It is difficult for me to see you if you filter past the nearside of my vehicle. It might be safer to pass on my offside, where I have a better view through my right hand wing mirror. Perhaps you may like to adjust your nearside mirror, it seems to be pointing in the wrong direction. If you lo0k in it, this should be apparent.

At night

  • Please wear reflective clothing. Reflective patches or logos on the moving parts of your body show up particularly well. I do. But the main reason for that is that people drive at speeds greater than that which is safe given their speed. Please don’t do that. Then I won’t have to wear fancy dress.
  • Use good quality lights front and rear and check that they work. Yes, that’s the law.
  • The latest LED front lights are very powerful, please check that they are not dazzling me. Sound advice that plenty of people on bikes could take on board. Though, you know, if you could persuade all other drivers to look past bollards and that sort of thing, maybe it wouldn’t be such an arms race.

In groups

  • It would be helpful, where appropriate, if you could move into single file, or spread out into smaller groups so that I can pass more safely. It would, yes. Roger that.

To sum up

Every “share the road” campaign goes the same way. People think that sharing is about having a similar number of guidelines or rules to adhere to. So any “What X wants Y to know” page must be a similar length to “What Y wants X to know”. The few good points in “What drivers want cyclists to know” are diluted massively by points which simply legitimise driving that allows simple human errors to result in death. This attitude is absolutely fundamental to the problems that erode safety. Any true safety campaign should seek to break down this attitude, not to propagate it.

Sure, I know I need to ride safely and I know I should ride courteously. If we’re promoting courtesy, then these are two good lists. I like the “What X wants Y to know” approach, and I think most if not all of the points are valid in terms of things like courtesy. But that’s not safety. Why would we spend piles of public cash, time and time again, promoting courtesy?

Yet again, the lists are presented with equal importance. Everything is chucked into two buckets and handed over. If you want the stuff in this bucket, you give us the stuff in that bucket. Hell, over 80% of people who ride bikes also drive, so over 80% of the people who chucked the stuff in the first bucket already have the stuff in the other bucket.

This is bullshit.

What people need to know is this.

Safety is not rules.

My life is not your inconvenience.

Stop trading irritation for safety. Just sort the safety out. Then we’ll talk.


  1. Ian 27 November 2013 1:45pm #

    The latest LED front lights are very powerful, please check that they are not dazzling me..”

    Yes and car lights, latest or otherwise, are very bright. Be good if you remembered to dip them. And even better if you could be bothered looking, so I didn’t have to try to scar your retina to get any attention. But since you can’t be bothered looking for non-threatening things, I have to find a way to look like a threat.

    • MrHappyCyclist 27 November 2013 3:52pm #

      Yes. I still feel I need lights that are likely to be noticed in the peripheral vision of a driver who isn’t bothering to look. Often, it seems, the only way to draw your attention to the fact that I am here is to do something that you find irritating.

  2. D. 28 November 2013 10:03am #

    In all fairness to them, the section on ‘what cyclists want drivers to know’ about overtaking is spot on and should probably be printed in foot-high letters along every major road (because most drivers don’t seem to have taken that particular guidance on board at all).

  3. Fred 30 November 2013 12:26pm #

    I think the bit about getting in to all the sight lines directly contradicts the bit about not driving erratically. If someone happens to be passing behind a huge bollard (post box?) momentarily, maybe the driver needs to look not glance, even more where there is a lot going on in the streetscape?

    It does perpetuate the lie that we are equally responsible for the accidents, not backed up by the accident statistics. Although in many drivers minds I expect the belief is (incorrectly) that cyclists are mainly responsible.

    The only bit I would say is that while I don’t think it should be used to water down important safety messages, courtesy and consideration are things worth promoting for the benefit of all road users. I say that knowing that there are far too many instances where courtesy or law and order issues are inappropriately used to muddy the water when discussing safety. I feel this probably needs more public debate so people realise they are separate and allay some concerns often used to detract from the safety issue.

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