Drivers: 0. Cyclists: 61

Richard Garside
Friday, 21 January 2011

Like many people who live in London I cycle to work. I have my fair share of stories of psychotic, homicidal or just plain careless motorists. And a few of moronic fellow cyclists. I am also a motorist.

So I was intrigued to come across a new report by the RAC Foundation, on what it euphemistically calls Road Sharing. As most cyclists would point out, one rarely feels as if one is ‘sharing’ the road with motorists. Toleration perhaps. Sharing? No.

In his Foreword to the report the Foundation’s director Stephen Glaister poses the following question:

'Some rivalries are enduring. Manchester United fans despise Manchester City fans. Die-hard Labour supporters cannot abide Conservatives. And it seems many car drivers loathe cyclists – a feeling which is often mutual.

'Why is this so? Why do drivers consider the typical cyclist to be reckless and by the same token cyclists view ‘the motorist’ as inconsiderate and malicious?'

There’s some interesting analysis in the pages that follow, not least of all examples of frankly dangerous attitudes by motorists towards cyclists:

'When drivers encounter cyclists in circumstances that cause them to slow or deviate… their estimation of the cyclist’s discourtesy increases, regardless of the cyclist’s actual behaviour.'

I wonder how many cyclists are injured or killed every year as a result of this particular kind of boneheadedness?

And that points to one of the problems with this report. It treats ‘road sharing’ between cyclists and motorists as a level playing field, which it clearly is not. One group balances, slightly precariously, on top of a few bits of metal and rubber. The other group mostly sits cocooned inside an urban tank with very hard edges, when it is not sitting astride a throbbing chunk of metal with the acceleration of a passenger plane. I have been in a few collisions with fellow cyclists to no long-term ill effect. I really wouldn’t want to collide with a motorist.

The unequal outcomes from this unlevel playing field are clear from the road death figures. Here are the figures for 2009, taken from Table 5.19 of the 2009 Mortality Statistics:

  • Cyclists killed by motorists: 61
  • Motorists killed by cyclists: 0

This concrete reality of the unequal battle for space waged everyday between cyclists and motorists should be the starting point of any discussion. If cyclists do sometimes consider motorists ‘inconsiderate and malicious’ that’s because they sometimes are, and with deadly consequences.