Monday, January 21, 2013

Driving Around Cyclists - My Two Cents

As a general rule, I do my best to avoid opinion pieces on my blog... My opinion is just that... And some people would agree, and some would disagree... However, I feel the rule can be broken to discuss a matter that affects us all as cyclists. In fact, even if you aren't a cyclist, it affects your partner, friends, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and your children who ride a bike, or who may one day like to try it. How would you feel to receive the news that a family member, or a close friend of yours had been killed in a cycle accident? And on the flip side, how would you feel to hear that a family member, or a close friend had been responsible for the death of another human being?

The other week, as I was riding my bike between Wanaka and Cardrona, I found myself placed in a rather unpleasant situation. There was a cyclist on the other side of the road, and two cars going around him, then another car behind them that decided to overtake the lot of them (two cars and a cyclist) on my side of the road whilst he was oncoming to me. The car passed me, heading in the opposite direction, on my side of the road with possibly a mere 50cm between me and their hunk of metal car. They were travelling fast enough that by the time I turned around to get the number plate, they were just about out of sight, and upon ringing the police communications centre (*555 for those of you who don't know it), the brief flash I got of his number plate turned out to not match the description of the car.. Bummer. The cyclist on the other side of the road was equally as horrified at this driver's dangerous antics. Whilst I was horrified, and quite shaken, I must say it didn't surprise me, and it's not the first time it has happened.

A few days later, I heard the news of a young cycling legend, Burry Stander, who was tragically hit by a Taxi and killed while he was cycling. And only a couple of weeks ago, I remember opening a news website to see a disturbing picture of a car with a completely caved in windscreen and a part of a cyclist's helmet still embedded in the windscreen. The driver had hit a cyclist at full speed, causing horrendous injuries to the rider. The driver was unhurt. I'm still not sure if the cyclist survived or not... The news article said he was in a critical condition, but it was obviously not considered important enough for the site to report back on.

I'm pretty sure that in all of the above cases, that the person driving the car had no intention of killing another human being... Which is actually even more scary than thinking it was done on purpose... The culture surrounding driver behavior around cyclists in New Zealand is out of control (and yes, granted, Burry Stander was killed in South Africa, but it still serves as a timely reminder of the importance of driver care around cyclists). I cycle on the road, and I do my best to be a considerate road user. I stick to the edge of the road, I signal to let people know what I am doing, if there is not a lot of room and a car is waiting, I will wave them through as soon as I can see a safe gap for them to do so. I also agree that there are some cyclists who are extremely inconsiderate. I too, find it frustrating when I am driving and cyclists ride two abreast and hold up traffic (just for the record, we are legally entitled to do so... Whether it is considerate or not is a completely different matter). I don't find it frustrating enough, though, to risk injuring or killing someone.

A friend of mine, Norm Douglas, recently made this exact post on his Facebook wall, and I hope Norm doesn't mind me copying it here because really, I couldn't say it any better myself:

"To my non cycling friends and to all my other friends,

 I know cyclists can get in the way sometimes and I know that we are often "lycra clad" morons. And yes I know we should "pay ya bloody rego" and yes we probably do need a good feed and a beer and yes we know you think we don't deserve to share the road.

We know this... but please remember this:

If you as a driver of a vehicle that can weigh many tonnes... if you make a mistake around a cyclist... YOU CAN KILL US.

Let me say that slowly... YOU ... CAN ... KILL ... CYCLISTS ... WITH ... YOUR ... CAR.

Just imagine how life would be AFTER you kill a "dickhead" cyclist who doesn't deserve to be on the road. Imagine the guilt for the rest of your life ... imagine knowing that you have killed another human, someones husband/wife, daughter/son, friend/colleague.

PLEASE be careful on the roads. Please."

I have said on many occasions now that possibly one of the only worthwhile projects our current New Zealand Government has engaged in is the New Zealand Cycleways Project (my political standings and views are not up for discussion here on this blog... Let it be suffice for me to say I think the cycleways project was a great idea and has been a worthwhile and beneficial accomplishment). I suppose from a political viewpoint, the government has realised that cycling brings huge benefits to the community, to people's well-being, and to tourism and the economy in general. The thing I find perplexing about the project is this... Has there not being a portion of budget set aside for driver education??? I mean, here we are, telling people what a fantastic place New Zealand is to cycle in... We have these great trails and amazing landscapes and friendly people, but not at any point do we see the need to teach people driving cars how to behave safely around cyclists??? It blows my mind that it appears to have been completely unthought of.

There are no ads on TV, or on the radio, or in the newspapers... There are no questions (or very few) on it in the theoretical test that people have to take to get their license... It certainly isn't part of the practical test to gain your license... So where do drivers learn what is safe to do around cyclists? Do they realise that if they pass too close, a gust of wind could blow a cyclist straight under their wheels? Has someone told them that they don't HAVE to pass a cyclist immediately if it is not safe, or if they can't see the road ahead... That it is OK to slow down and wait behind the cyclist? I am yet to be made aware of any driver who has killed a cyclist being tried in court on the correct charge... When was the last time we heard of someone going to jail for seriously injuring or killing a cyclist? If you kill someone, but don't mean to kill them, that's manslaughter right? My thoughts are, that to make New Zealand the cycling mecca that we are trying to sell the world, there needs to be driver awareness campaigns, laws surrounding the passing distance between a car and a cyclist, and tough penalties for those who injure or kill cyclists with their car. Someone needs to finally be held accountable for their actions and made an example of... Because at the moment, there are people who feel free to terrorise cyclists... And they get away with it.

It might sound preachy, but I certainly don't look forward to receiving a phone call to say a friend of mine has been hit and injured, or killed, by a car while they are enjoying their time on the bike. I would also never wish it upon my own family or friends that they would receive a similar call because the same had happened to me.

To put it in very very simple terms, stay at least 1.5m away from a cyclist when you pass them, and if conditions don't allow you to do that, then wait, and don't pass... It's really that simple. I'm not saying that cyclists always get it right... Some cyclists, I'm sure, are very naughty and inconsiderate on the road (as are some drivers), but it doesn't mean we all deserve to live in constant fear of dying every time we head out on the bike, and realistically, the consequences of a cyclist's own bad behavior will be their own undoing. "Buzzing" cyclists by driving past really close because they pissed you off, spitting at them out your car window, throwing bottles at them, and abusing them is downright dangerous and simply not on.

I love it when I go out for a ride, and a car slows down behind me because they can't pass, then as soon as I can, I pull over, and wave them past... Then they give me a friendly toot... And I give them a little wave, and we all carry on with our day. It might sound so corny, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because it is exactly the way it should be. So if you're reading this, and you cycle, I ask that you follow the rules, and be courteous on the road, not only for your own safety, but for the benefit of driver/rider relationships in general... And if you are not a cyclist and you are reading this, I hope it makes sense to you why it is so important that you are patient on the roads and give cyclists the space they require to get home safely... Don't risk ruining a family's life, and your own life, for the sake of a couple of seconds delay.


  1. Megan I like your post I would also like to suggest that the majourity of the bunch's I see out on the road do not act in the considerate manner you do, I am also an endurance cyclist I train alone and want to live but just like today I watched a group ride 4 abreast taking up the whole lane through the wellington cbd when I challenged them I got the usual BS funnily enough none of them were keen to stop and have a chat about it. This bunch are known for these type of actions I think all cyclist need to have a think about why motorists are so keen to hate us. I believe it is the actions of people like these I saw today that destroy it for us all. for the record there response was " fuck off cunt its our right to be here" what great ambassadors for our sport.
    Ride safe peoples
    NIck Dunne

    1. Hi Nick. Thanks for your thoughts. As I mentioned in my post, I fully acknowledge that there will always be inconsiderate riders, just as there will also always be inconsiderate drivers. I had a similar experience to yourself on the weekend when I was driving (although I chose not to voice my concerns to the riders). There are some bunches who ride with exceptionally good road manners, so I just don't ride with bunches who conduct themselves in an inconsiderate manner on the road. I suppose the other danger is that the reaction you received is probably the result of a lot of built up anger... Cyclists on the defensive... And drivers do exactly the same thing... The challenge for all road users is how do we dissipate that anger and get on with sharing the space safely???