Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sucks to be a cyclist in NZ right now

5 cyclists doing nothing wrong taken down by careless, thoughtless, and reckless motorists in as many days, all dead, with another touch and go today.

Story link

As a cyclist and a motorist, I refuse to call these accidents. Accidents are genuinely unexpected and unavoidable in foresight. All of these deaths are neither.

At last count there are 470 comments attached to the above story following the usual antagonistic divide of motorist vs cyclist, with far more blinkered examples of the former, and few voices of reason. One should be wary of seeing this as a representative sample of population since it is self selecting, but an astonishing number seem to subscribe to the belief that cyclists have no right to be on the road, no right to any expectation of safe passage; whatever happens is their fault for being there. Dedicated cycling infrastructure in the form of designated lanes and safe areas and the like is slowly appearing, but is still rare, and nowhere near the norm, so bikes and other traffic are forced together. To be fair, while a lot of drivers (either maliciously or ignorantly) don't react to cyclists well, there are many stupid cyclists who give the rest of us a bad name by thinking the road rules don't apply to them because they aren't in a car, or worse translate the at times palpable antagonism on the roads into deliberate provocation. I could rant about my own experiences as a regular commuter cyclist, but that would take an entire other post.

While as cycling becomes more popular there is something of a quiet culture war going on around it at the moment, the bigger point being missed as the heads bang on the comment threads is just why these incidents keep happening. It should be a scandal that a young driver thought there was nothing wrong in navigating a blind corner at speed on the wrong side of the road (a practice that killed three cyclists in one incident). It isn't, because it is accepted that as a nation we suck at driving. Across all road users (cyclists included) there is a certain element with a huge attitude problem, mostly centred around 'me first, screw everybody else', and a total lack of consideration for other road users, and a lack of awareness of potential consequences.

It's everywhere, constantly. Just in one ten minute drive home tonight on quiet suburban streets I counted three separate incidents of the type of driving that causes crashes. On a long drive on the open road dangerous driving is a typically regular sight, people risking lives to get where they are going a minute or two earlier. Local readers can try a challenge if they want. Next time you drive, if it is safe, try sticking exactly to the posted speed limit, and see how long it takes to pick up a tailgater, then a queue. It won't take long.

Driver training and licensing in this country is a joke (again to be fair, there is no formal licensing or training for cyclists at all, despite a formal road code being drawn up for them. Bicycles are also not subject to vehicle related road user charges or levies, although most cyclists are car owners, and pay levies accordingly anyway). No formal education or training required, essentially just a multichoice test and practical assessment and you are good to go. Enforcement of driving laws is similarly laid back, no matter how much those drivers for whom speed limits are only a guideline bleat about speeding tickets being an easy means of revenue gathering (hint: if you don't want a ticket, obey the bloody LAW! ). We are very good at licensing car operators rather than drivers. Formal and defensive driver training should be mandatory because the fact that you are in control of a big piece of metal that has mass, inertia and momentum, which you only need to screw up handling once to kill yourself, or worse somebody else, seems to be lost on people. I won't claim to be a perfect wheel, but on observation most drivers are nowhere near as good and safe as they think they are. They think it won't happen to them, if they think of it at all. I've survived both serious bike and car crashes, so I know it can and will if you let it.


stretch said...

Hmm. I find your opening comment interesting - "5 cyclists doing nothing wrong....". Do you actually know they were doing nothing wrong? Just playing devil's advocate there. From what I've heard in at least one accident, the car does seem to be at least partially, if not entirely, at fault

There always seems to be polarised views. On the one hand, all motorists are careless and reckless, and ignore cyclists' safety. On the other hand, all cyclists are egotistical maniacs, and think they can do anything because they are on a bike. I strongly suspect that neither of these are true. There are careless, reckless, dangerous drivers, yes. There are also careless, reckless, dangerous cyclists. Unfortunately the cyclist is much more vulnerable, and tends to come off worst in any clash.

You note that the driver training and licensing is a joke. Is there any real cycling training, apart from the 'bring your bike to school' policeman talk we all got at about the age of 6 or7?.

It seems to me that it is in the cyclists' best interested to follow all rules 150% of the time. It's like a pedestrian getting hit by a truck on a pedestrian crossing - is it any comfort to them to know that the truck was in the wrong? I see cyclists running red lights so they don't have to stop, riding 2 or 3 abreast, or wide out from the kerb, weaving through slow moving traffic or queued traffic, etc etc...I thought it was interesting on the news today, when introducing an article about road safety from a cyclists point of view, they showed shots of cyclists riding 3-abreast on what seemed to be a busy urban road...

Hmm, that was a mish-mash of comments!

Off-Black said...

I'm basing my reading on the deaths on the published reports. I haven't seen anything that suggests they were riding badly or illegally and what happened wasn't due to other's error or lack of awareness. I wouldn't have made that statement otherwise :)

Your point about cyclist training is duly noted and something I forgot to mention. Post has been edited accordingly. There is a seemingly little known and promoted road code for cyclists, but other advocate groups no-one is really out there telling cyclists how not to be stupid. I try and follow the applicable rules no matter what vehicle I'm using, but agree as a cyclist you need to be ultra disciplined, if only to set an example.

I also saw the same cyclists on the news. Muppets (MTB riders natural distain for roadies may or may not colour that opinion:) They were riding illegally all the same).

Pearce said...

I totally agree with your post, pretty much word for word.

A few months back, a close friend of mine was knocked off her bike. When I mentioned this to my mother, instead of saying "Is she okay?" she just started ranting about how cyclists think they own the road and it was probably her own fault, etc.

It was disturbing to find such a blinkered attitude so close to home - mum didn't even seem to care that my friend had suffered several broken bones, just writing off the whole thing as being "another bloody cyclist".

missrabbitty said...

people think i am weird because i insist on travelling at the posted speed limit...and sometimes even in the fast lane! i am constantly amazed by those people (usually male) in their usually brand new HUGE cars that proceed to sit on my arse while i am doing the speed limit. they seem to think that doing that will intimidate me into pulling over. nope. that makes me more determined to sit there. i'm terribly sorry that the speed limit is not good enough for you.