Saturday 17 April 2010

3 Points on Your License

Yep, a speeding fine. A similar breaking of the rules of the land. Something your not meant to do, because a number of people and/or circumstances have realised that it's very dangerous thus should not be done. It's for the common good. It saves children on their way home from school trying to cross busy roads. The limit is 30, so don't go past that or you won't be able to stop before hitting a child that's run out. It saves vunerable people who can't rush across roads at 4mph.

We all know why these laws are there. We feel them when we are the person trying to deal with a local traffic inconvenience on foot. We all appreciate the police when they stop people breaking these laws and make our streets safer for us to use. Sometimes, as car drivers, we find it a bit irritating, but do understand why we shouldn't break these laws. It helps us as society ensure we are protecting everyone.

Now, take the common cyclist. A rarer thing compared to 30 years ago, although recently that trend has changed. A good thing it has, it helps clear the roads of unnecessary cars and does useful things for general health and reducing greenhouse gases. We have all seen 'them' break red lights, we have all seen 'them' bunny hop onto pavements to avoid road controls. Doesn't that make everyone angry? Me too. So why do they do it? Is it that they are just unruly good-for-nothings?

Actually most cyclists don't do these things. It's just very obvious to a car driver when one does because that cyclist is beating a system the car driver feels compelled to acknowledge. If a driver told me (and I'm a driver too!) that cyclists should obey these laws as well, I'd agree completely.

One reason for this bad behaviour does arise from some of the car-based decisions made by road designers. I know plenty of places where a cycle route is clearly marked all the way through a junction, including to those joining, and despite there being no contrary traffic route, cyclists have to stop when the light is red. One I know is at a bottom of a slope so surprisingly, a lot of cyclists do not stop, given the good speed to which they have got. Cars do, but they would be fighting for road space with vehicles coming in from the right anyway, so it's probably a good idea.

So, should these pesky cyclists just get away with it? Funnily enough loads of drivers do not obey the rules of the road and get away with it, and regularly. And in front of the police as well.

Many pedestrians and cyclists know that drivers regularly exceed the speed limit. But perhaps that's okay because it's not by much and not without the driver paying a lot of attention. Many cyclists know that drivers regularly enter the forward-cycle boxes at lights. A mechanism setup because it was shown to improve safety of all road users and saved countless lifes. I have seen it happen so many times, probably at least once for every time I've been in a car or on a bike.

So today, I wasn't surprised when I saw it again. And watched the police car who could also see this happening do absolutely nothing. To me (and the law where it's 3 points on your license), it was the equivalent of watching a car doing 60mph (in a 30 limit) right passed their front window. And not bothering because it wasn't important to them.

So, many people get excited about cyclists misbehaving. I'm one of them as well, but feel there's a greater danger being overlooked. So few people seem to realise the hard damage a car will do. If anyone wants an idea perhaps they'd choose to get on a 15kg bike and match it up to a 1-tonne car. Then, the idea of trying to ride those small things against those big lumps of metal will help anyone realise why cyclists try to take easy and much safer routes away from them.

In the end, what makes cyclists and drivers behave is either some kind of understanding of the consequences of ones actions, or some kind of penalty mechanism when people misbehave. It's quite clear that whilst the police do not do anything to stop bad actions, people will continue to be maimed and killed, despite our society already producing the laws to protect us.

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