New additions to the Highway Code that come into force today afford cyclists more rights when peddling alongside cars and lorries on Britain’s roads
Image: Western Mail)
It has long been very clear to me that driving is a terrible activity and should be discouraged as much as possible.
Recently a friend of mine was slowly cycling up the long hill back to his home when a white van raced inches past him.
The displaced air of the vehicle caused him to almost topple into the gutter and his heart to pound as he frankly corrected his balance.
Understandably enraged, my friend yelled swear words at the rapidly disappearing back license plate as the motor raced up the hill.
Suddenly the van came to a screeching halt and the glass and metal barrier that usually separates drivers and cyclists was broken.
A man with a beetroot red face and fury in his eyes slammed his boots onto the tarmac, letting out a war cry as he raced towards my two-wheeled pal and flung a foot forwards.
It connected with the back of the bike and smashed the rear light.
As little red pieces of plastic sprinkled onto the road below, the righteous driver explained in no-uncertain and spittle-flecked terms that my friend should have been in the bike lane, despite one not existing, and then he should f*** off .
Depending on where you sit on the binary divide of drivers and cyclists, you will want this story to finish in one of two ways.
Drivers will of course be hoping that the van man properly lands a follow up blow, causing my arrogantly peddling pal to tumble onto the ground to uproarious laughter from the assembled motorists.
Cyclists will be hoping that the driver follows in the footsteps of the Reading Road Rage Warrior, whose moments fall as he vainly chased after a fleeing Lycra-lad was filmed and viewed 10million times.
Whether or not you’re disappointed to find out that my friend managed to race off to safety, the encounter is one of many which makes clear there is some bad blood between different kinds of road users.
For the car drivers, the fear of clipping a cyclist as they race through crawling traffic is a sincere and blood pressure raising one.
The rage directed towards people peddling two-abreast is just as earnestly felt.
For the bike rider, peddling beside a one-tonne hunk of metal on British roads that claimed 141 cyclists’ lives and seriously injured 4,215 more in 2020 is scary.
Unfortunately for those who associate with the former camp, they are in the wrong.
Britain used to be a beautiful land of rolling green hills, pristine meadows teeming with life and country paths adorned by luscious hedgerows.
Since production of the motorcar began in the early 20th century that beauty has been under constant attack, slowly chipped away in service of the car.
Now huge motorways rip through the countryside. Car parks and business zones surround towns gutted by their eleven vibrant centres. Primary school children are choked by exhaust fumes.
As a nation we made a serious mistake when we decided to build our society around personal transport pods rather than building on the early glory of our public transport infrastructure.
We didn’t know then that tens of billions of pounds of roads built each decade would not be enough to cope with the staggering demand for motors. We didn’t know then of the catastrophic toll fossil fuels have on the environment.
But because the driver feels safe in their metal castle – warm and separate from society and its problems – we bent our country to them.
For decades cars and motorists have been the dominant forces on British highways. They are the fastest, the least vulnerable and by far the most plentiful.
Today the Government has gone some way to right that historic wrong.
Changes to the Highway Code that come into force today give power back to the cyclist – a road user who requires a fraction of the tarmac of the driver, is all but emission free and a statistically lower burden on the NHS.
The headline change is that cyclists should now ride in the center of quiet roads, and keep at least 0.5 meters away from the kerb edge on busy tracks with fast moving vehicles.
They can also ride two-abreast, so long as they’re considerate and let motors overtake when it’s safe to do so, and pass slow or stationary cars either on the right or left.
The upshot of this, and a new hierarchy of road users which puts pedestrians and cyclists up the top – as the least dangerous to others – and HGV drivers at the bottom, is greater protection for people on bikes, and more responsibility for those behind the wheel.
Whether or not these changes calm the boiling tension between driver and cyclist in the long run, and enshrine what has long been known to be best practice legally, what is clear is that the cleated shoe is now on the other foot.
Car drivers have been demoted to secondary citizens on the highways, and cyclists are now kings of the road. And so they should be.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.