Don’t do it kids.
Two days ago, Jeremy Clarkson tweeted this:
Amongst the various responses, many people called for Clarkson to run the cyclist over and someone referred to cyclists as the ‘cholesterol’ of the road.
Last Thursday morning when I cycled to work I noticed how snarled up Exeter’s traffic was. Just before 7am there had been an accident at the end of the M5, just as it splits into the A38 heading into Plymouth and the A380 into Newton Abbot. Although I was across the other side of town, even at 9.30 traffic was nose to tail and at a crawl. Pretty much the only people going anywhere were those on foot or cycling.
It’s not unusual either. Search on “Splatford split crash” and you’ll see what I mean. At the beginning of December a woman crashed on the M5 near Exeter and on that occasion too, traffic came to a standstill. Devon’s capital was gridlocked, the M5 was jammed, and no-one was getting in or out of Cullompton either. That morning I left the yard where I keep my horse about 15 minutes after someone else left in a horse box. I trundled off, noticed how bad the traffic was, and just kept going past it. After about 6 miles I went under the motorway. Looking up to the road, sure enough there was the horsebox (it’s quite distinctive). You would think, having given it a 15 minute head start, a push bike wouldn’t beat it over that distance, but I did. I didn’t feel like cholesterol. If anything, on these mornings, people on bikes are the aspirin, preventing absolute gridlock and ensuring that at least some of us get to work on time.
So let’s look again at Clarkson’s photograph. He may or may not have taken the photo illegally. Look at where the cyclist is. He is in primary position, as recommended by the Department for Transport. He is also on a zebra crossing, and overtaking is banned on zebra crossings and within the warning markings before them (see Highway Code rule 191). Just ahead of the crossing is a junction with give way signs so even without the crossing, had Clarkson overtaken he would have had to brake at the junction. You should not overtake at or near junctions (HWC rule 167) or when your way forward is not clear (HWC rule 162), or indeed if you are following a cyclist near a roundabout or junction (167 again).
Looking at the junction, the way to the left is restricted by an ambulance. To the right it is unclear (don’t overtake unless you know your way forward is clear). Straight ahead there are cars parked meaning entering into a passing situation with the visible oncoming traffic. The cyclist would be able to fit through those gaps, Clarkson in his car would not. Thus in any scenario that emerges from the photograph, Clarkson should not have been overtaking anyway.
This is something that drivers conveniently forget, or blank out. In crowded situations in towns, cyclists are often quicker. Oh they may not reach the same maximum speed, but their average speed overall will be at least as quick. The crashes in Exeter show how vulnerable our road system is. Just one accident can bring absolute gridlock that lasts for hours. So why do so many drivers ignore this, and resort to threats of physical violence at the very thought of not being able to overtake someone who is only going to saunter past them as they sit fuming at the back of a queue of traffic? Why the fuss about a minor delay that isn’t really a delay, whilst shrugging with acceptance over such horrendous queues?
Well essentially the problem is this: drivers would have to acknowledge a problem with their own behaviour if they were to admit that a car is not really the best way to get around crowded towns and cities. Since they can’t, or won’t, examine their own behaviour, they just pick at random on a group that is consistently portrayed as other by the British media and by people such as Clarkson. Knocking cyclists, literally and figuratively, is socially acceptable. Admitting that cars are a problem would entail a level of self examination which sadly seems lacking amongst many of the British public.