Dangerous Roads, Dangerous Drivers

As a keen cyclist, the tragic news of yet another cyclist being killed on the roads really shocks me, and is becoming way too commonplace. A father, son, daughter, mother gone in an instant, bike smashed, a life gone.  The shock waves initially reverberate on cycling social media and forums,  but sadly nothing much comes of it, time and time again. Ultimately what can be done? As a cyclists of many years, my solution is simple. Stay off the roads when on a bike, by any means possible: pavements, verge, mountain biking.  And if I have to ride on a road with traffic that has no verge or pavement, I would sooner ride facing the traffic so I can at least see the cars coming as to avoid them. Desperate times require desperate measures. So many cyclists have being taken out unsuspectingly from behind. The general situation is getting worse, I now loathe the thought of a road trip, something I used to love. Way too much stress and one day my luck is going to run out.  And I categorically deny become more conservative with age.

But let’s try look at the bigger picture as to why this is happening. Sure, there are a few nut-case cyclist-haters out there, but by-in-large, these are tragic accidents, and are a symptom of a much larger problem of the situation on the roads are here. The cyclist fatalities are dwarfed by other road deaths, a drop in the ocean of blood that flows on our roads. This weekend: 19 dead from a taxi that ‘lost control’ and collided with a truck. Insane. Yes, real accidents do happen, but by and large I assert that most could be avoided. But lets be clear, is not the roads themselves (besides the pot holes and general decay),  it’s the drivers, specifically the appallingly bad and lethal culture of driving that prevails. Anyone who travels or drives on the roads here sees and has to deal with this each and every day. Bad driving with Impunity. Rapid changing of lanes over the speed limit with no indicators. Stopping in front of you willy-nilly. Keep on going besides the traffic light turning red. Over taking on a blind rise. Slow drivers in the fast lane chatting on their cell phones without a worry in the world. Cutting down the verge yellow lane or the facing on coming traffic when everyone else is queued up, generally thanks to a dysfunctional traffic light (which is becoming way too commonplace). Txting while driving. Blue light brigades, indicators, stop lights, head lights not working, visibly un-roadworthy vehicles, etcetera. Despite their numbers, the Traffic Police are impotent and ineffective to put in mildly, at least the Metro here in GP. They seem only to do what helps them meet their income quotas, preferably in the more leafier and pleasant parts of town. They are way out of touch with their core mission as public servants, but let me not get distracted by agonising about the utter failure of yet another pillar of public service here.

Perhaps the culture of bad driving is the crux of the problem, but why? Where are the good drivers? I’ve always had a hunch that bad habits proliferate, and are contagious, although I hold that the converse is also true. (PLUR and all that, as anyone fortunate to have enjoyed that epoch will remember). Then this last week, the tweeter brings my attention to a study done on this subject at the University of Florida. It showed that “Rude behaviour spreads like a disease”, and this just goes some way to vindicate my views, and here is a summary:

    “In a series of studies, Foulk and colleagues demonstrate that being the target of rude behavior, or even simply witnessing rude behaviour, induces rudeness. People exposed to rude behavior tend to have concepts associated with rudeness activated in their minds, and consequently may interpret ambiguous but benign behaviors as rude. More significantly, they themselves are more likely to behave rudely toward others, and to evoke hostility, negative affect, and even revenge from others.”

Please see the full article here on the Scientific America web site: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rude-behavior-spreads-like-a-disease/

If you think about it, when one sees a person doing something bad, or wrong, and taking a chance on the road, that edges yourself to deem it more acceptable, and this might sway your moral compass (if indeed you have one) to do that yourself. And if you can get away with it, why not... then it becomes de-facto. As vulnerable cyclist you see this way too often, constantly having to anticipate and always expecting the worst. But it the one you don’t see coming (and cant avoid) that’s going to kill you.

But that is just one aspect. It’s a complex problem, with many aspects, facets and dimensions, and I don’t say I understand them all, but it’s a ‘conversation’ we should all be having with ourselves.  Here’s another one: I feel there are too many drivers who should not be in charge of an instrument of such absolute power (the motor vehicle), that can bring death so easily to innocent and unsuspecting people.  We have, quite rightly in my opinion, very prudent and strict procedures and controls for the issuing of  Firearm Licenses, yet just about anyone can drive a car/van/truck/concrete mixer with a few ‘tests’? I know of people who got a truck license because then they didn’t have to learn to reverse park.  And licenses are easily bought, base skills and sense of responsibility are not adequately assessed, there is no compulsion to assure the road worthiness of the vehicle you are driving.

Compare this to say the rigidness of getting a Air Pilots License, something I am familiar with albeit lapsed (it’s an expensive hobby). That’s a seriously lot of training and commitment, and a big emphasis in the training on safety,  dealing with emergencies, and a very rigid assessment of skills, as well as on-going assessments. You also need adequate base skills and education, and of course the base aptitude skill. Pilots learn to take their responsibilities to safety as prime.

Another factor, it has to be said, is incapacity (to put it politely) in the powers that be to deal with this situation constructively, beside the local traffic police.  Proposed legislation now in the rubber stamp works tries to address the larger problem, but in my opinion has not be adequately thought through, and its not going to help. For instance, look at the proposed reduction in speed limits. Yes, momentum is  mass times velocity squared, but it’s the idiots in those fast cars that do the killing, not the cars themselves! Does a gun go off by itself and shoot someone by accident? And why punish most of us who need to get from A to B quickly and efficiently? Here’s something they can do: ban the Blue Light Brigades! That would be a good start, and much appreciated by all road users. It achieves nothing but resentment, they way those power trippers push other used off the road is abuse of power.

Otherwise, what can we can do as drivers, cyclists and other road users, beside utter despair and avoidance of any road travel? One thing we can all do is to try up the bar in Road Manners. For starters, learn to Give Way. Its real easy. And if someone gives way to you, acknowledge it. It will feel good. Have a nice day.
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