What’s The Difference Between a Duck?

3 March 2016

It’s a rare day indeed that I see a video about “road safety” or road-related attitudes which imparts a good, balanced message that understands the facts that people are the same but vehicles, and the consequences of using and misusing different types of vehicles, are very different.

Today is not one of those days.

This video comes courtesy of Motoring.co.uk. “Sharing is caring,” they say. And when a motoring organisation of any kind talks about “sharing”, it only ever means one thing. Is this the exception that proves the rule?


“Cyclists vs Drivers—A difference in perception.” Hmm. Ignoring the threadbare generalistic and antagonistic phrase “cyclists vs drivers” (wait a moment while I fight with myself), it’s an interesting choice of title because there is only really one perception here. The idea that this represents a “difference in perception” reminds me of the old surrealist joke, “what’s the difference between a duck?” (one of its legs is both the same)—it’s baffling to talk of “a difference” when referring to only one subject.

Let’s go through those placards one by one. The language and the subject matter are both interesting.

“There are now more cyclists on the road than ever before.” This is flat wrong, for a start: there used to be far, far more people riding bikes. But don’t let that get in the way of a bit of playing to the crowd, many of whom hate “cyclists”: there are, apparently, more of the two-wheeled bastards now, so bear that in mind as we tell you some other “facts”.

“But 67% of cyclists lack confidence on the roads.” Of course they bloody do. They’re forced to share with other people of wildly varying abilities and attitudes who are at the wheel of fast, heavy lumps of metal. The stakes are high: a simple mistake (hell, sometimes you don’t even need a mistake) and that driver who didn’t leave enough space is going to take you down. You’re talking confidence? People are confident when they’re driving, aren’t they? You wouldn’t find 67% of drivers lacking confidence, that’s for sure! And you know why that is? Because this isn’t about confidence in one’s own abilities. It’s about confidence in the ability of one’s vehicle to protect against the effects of a car crash.

Only 10% of cyclists said they were ‘very confident’ when on the roads.” Sure. relatively few people—wilfully or otherwise—don’t think about the basic matter of what happens when someone in a car doesn’t give them enough space. Again, let’s remember this: Confidence is not competence; confidence is about perceived immunity.

“61% of cyclists said it is ‘too dangerous’ to cycle on the roads. Of course, another way of phrasing this is that 61% of cyclists think that sharing with drivers of motor vehicles is dangerous (which it is). Take the drivers and the fast, heavy vehicles away and the roads are quite safe. All that’s mentioned here is the road, though.

“51% of motorists said that cyclists are a hazard when driving.” Ah. “A hazard”. A word with fairly strong connotations, let’s face it. Hazardous substances are those which will cause you harm. Hazardous environments are those which will cause you harm. Someone on a bicycle will cause you harm? Sure, there are a handful of stories a year of some idiot on a bike crashing into a stationary car and causing material damage, which is a sort of harm, but I would suggest that the complete lack of stories of people in cars directly killed or injured by the actions of people on bicycles, combined with the daily stories of the reverse, is what we should be focusing on. An average person armed with a 15kg, 15mph bicycle is a hazard, and an average person armed with a 1500kg, 70mph car in which they are well insulated from even high-speed crashes isn’t? Seems odd, but maybe the video will get to that in a bit.

“36% cited ‘no lights’ as the main reason cyclists were a hazard.” Cyclists are a hazard. Uh huh. We get it. Sure, too many people ride bikes without lights. This is Not Good. Maybe we’ll get to the Not Good things that people do in cars soon.

“33% of motorists claimed ‘weaving’ is a big hazard.” Hazard. OK. We get it. Yeah, that thing that people do on bikes that people in cars don’t like, primarily because they’re stuck in traffic. Hazard. Causes you harm, somehow. Cyclists are a hazard. Can we talk about, say, dangerously close passes now?

“32% said the problem was ‘no signalling’.” Oh, OK. Sure, that thing people absolutely always do when they’re in cars and signalling doesn’t even require them to take their hands off the controls? Could we talk about that? No? OK. Maybe it’s coming soon. Anyway, in the meantime, here’s a tip: if you drive in a way that doesn’t endanger other people, indicating makes absolutely no difference. You know that thing that motorcyclists are taught? “What does a flashing orange light mean? It means the light’s working.” Don’t assume. Anticipate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s someone on a bike or in a car, never assume that any indication or lack of is going to result in a certain action. If you want to read vehicle body language—the lean of a two wheeler, the pitch of a car—then that’s more reliable, but if you assume that indication or a lack of means you can proceed where someone else (or yourself) would be endangered if it were wrong, then you are driving dangerously. Anyway, back to the video. Must be something about drivers coming up.

“Please have respect for other road users.” What, that’s it? That’s the valedictory message? Hold up a minute. This has been a non-stop kicking of people on bikes, which makes this message crystal clear: it says “Cyclists: respect drivers.”

Your concept of respect is bullshit.


  1. David Johnson 3 March 2016 12:31pm #

    You raise a great point in the definition of confidence. I am one of the 67% of cyclists that lack confidence on the roads. This is despite a huge amount of experience, good road craft and good bike handling skills. The problem I have is that I can try to influence other road users with signals and road positioning, but if they choose to ignore it there’s nothing I can do.

  2. D. 3 March 2016 4:02pm #

    I agree with your points. It’s quite funny, that video. I particularly like the way it seems to be portrayed that the bicycles are running into and shunting the motor vehicles around (maybe the bikes are made out of neutron star material instead of carbon fibre?).

    On the point that “There are now more cyclists on the road than ever before” I think you’re being a little harsh. I don’t think it’s necessarily a “bare-faced lie” so much as that there are now more cyclists on the roads here in the UK since perhaps the 1970s, so there are more cyclists on the road than anyone regularly driving now would ever remember (or have encountered).

    Your comments on “33% of motorists claimed ‘weaving’ is a big hazard” are spot on, though: basically, motorists are just jealous that cyclists *can* filter through traffic. You notice that car drivers don’t grumble as much when motorcyclists filter past them, but they’re fellow fossil-fuel-burners so it’s OK, I guess…

    • Bez 3 March 2016 4:07pm #

      Fair point. I’ve changed it to “flat wrong”.

  3. sara_H 3 March 2016 8:33pm #

    Wow! What a terrible video.
    It’s just an ill informed attack on bike riders dressed up as …… Well, I don’t really know what it’s dressed up as.
    At the end it’s credited partly to gov.uk.
    Please tell me the video wasn’t part funded by tax payers?

    • Bez 3 March 2016 9:22pm #

      Gov.uk seems to be cited only as a source of statistics.

  4. Richard 3 March 2016 11:02pm #

    Are you sure this video was serious? If I hadn’t read your comments, I would have assumed it was some sort of joke by guerrilla video makers intent on proving the absurdity of motoring organisations.

  5. David 4 March 2016 5:57am #

    Hmmm! Define weaving.

    Do they mean filtering, or, do they mean legitimately moving around in your lane to avoid pot-holes, glass, debris iron-works, slower riders and parked cars? Both of which are perfectly legal.

    The trouble is that a bike rider’s idea or share the road is ‘Please respect my right to be here and do not endanger me’ and a car driver’s idea of share the road is ‘GET YOUR F*****G TOY OUT OR MY F*****G WAY YOU F*****G C**T!!!!!!!’

    • D. 4 March 2016 10:44pm #

      That whole ‘moving around in your lane to avoid hazards/obstacles’ is clearly a contentious issue. I (anecdotal, sorry!) had a woman shout at me that I’d been all over the road this one time. I know that I’d held a pretty much perfect line a fixed distance from the kerb, only deviating to avoid potholes. What she’d actually meant was ‘I couldn’t safely overtake you and I’m mad as hell about it ‘.

  6. Simon Parker 4 March 2016 8:55am #

    The report says that 67% of *cyclists* lack confidence whilst riding a bike on the road, or that 61% of *cyclists* think it is too dangerous to ride a bike on the road. These numbers only make sense if you substitute the word cyclist for *people*.

    • Bez 4 March 2016 9:10am #

      In this case, that’s not quite true. If you were to say “people”, you’d have to say “people who already ride bikes” to be able to use these figures. The remaining subset of “people” are those who don’t ride at all, and it’s quite likely that an even higher proportion of them would say they lacked the “confidence” to deal with the danger.

      • Simon Parker 4 March 2016 7:09pm #

        I have done a bit more digging around. In London, one of the least cycling-friendly cities in the world, 18% of people cycle, 65% regularly, 35% occasionally. Around a fifth of regular cyclists (21%) use their bike at least five days a week. 89% of regular and 75% of occasional cyclists feel safe cycling in traffic. However, these figures fall to 47% and 33% when cycling on busy roads.

        In Bristol, 31% of people rate cycling safety as good or very good. If you read Roger Geller’s Four Types of Cyclist, you’ll see that the figures used in the video only make sense if you allow that “people” is the right word to use, and not “people who already ride bikes”.

        The only reason this matters to me is that I would like to see places like London and Bristol develop cycling networks. We need to understand who would use these networks, therefore, particularly in the formative years. The way that we’re trying to develop an amenable cycling environment here in the UK is all wrong. No other town or city in the world has ever or will ever do things like we’re doing them.

        • Richard 4 March 2016 7:20pm #

          Simon, you are so right. Unfortunately, Bristol is inextricably entwined with South Gloucestershire, and while the former may be doing lots of good work, the latter makes all the right noises but almost totally fails to deliver. I went to the SGlos cycle forum last night, four cyclists and eight council officers. There are so few cyclists because they have all become disillusioned with the forum which has failed to deliver any significant improvement, and is seen as just a tick box exercise to prove they’ve consulted cyclists. At the previous forum, one guy asked what the purpose of the forums was, because he’d been going for ten years, and in that time, he’d been ignored, patronised and lied to. I’m not sure why I still bother going.

        • Tom Hyde 8 April 2016 11:12am #

          According to TfL’s Attitudes towards Cycling report, 40% of Londoners feel cycling is a safe way of getting about, but only 21% feel confident cycling on London’s roads (p 76). Amongst cyclists, 81% of regular cyclists and 48% of occasional cyclists feel confident cycling on London’s roads (p 82).

  7. Colin Smith 4 March 2016 10:36am #

    Bit worrying that 49% of motorists don’t know HC 152, 153, 154, 155 etc etc – specifically mentioning cyclists as something they need to look out for – i.e. a hazard?
    Along with pedestrians, horses, cars, trucks, traffic calming? And all the other hazards they should be looking out for? 😉

  8. congokid 4 March 2016 4:51pm #

    The message of this pathetic video is entirely one-sided, and totally ignores the fact that *everything* on the road is a potential hazard, in particular other vehicles. I believe my driving instructor once told me it also extends to people/animals, etc, on pavements, who might and often do enter the roadway without warning.

    • Notak 6 March 2016 1:33pm #

      Yes, we’ve all become used to a road environment that is mostly very regulated with unpredictability reduced as much as possible. Unfortunately it’s been regulated in favour of the normalisation of driving motor vehicles without allowing for anything or one else. Sadly, we’ve all learnt that this is the norm and therefore it’s generally accepted.

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