From speeding and light jumping to parking in bike lanes and passing too close, driver behaviour is one of the main deterrents to widespread cycling
Wed 21 Nov 2018
Ten things drivers do that make cyclists feel unsafe – video
What prevents significantly more people in the UK from riding bikes for everyday transport? The primary answer is simple: a lack of safe infrastructure.
If cyclists are expected to share the roads with a tonne or so of speeding metal then, global experience shows, you won’t get more than a certain, small percentage of the population doing it, predominantly the young and gung ho.
But the reasons behind this are more nuanced than they might seem. Yes, actual danger is a significant issue. But in the UK, cycling is both less safe than it could be and also significantly more safe than most people believe, with an average of a million miles ridden per serious injury or death.
The problem is it feels unsafe. A pioneering 2015 study found frightening incidents, even if they did not actually cause harm, were a routine experience for UK riders. This is a particular issue for novice cyclists, many of whom are swiftly put off their new mode of transport.
Although safe cycling infrastructure can prevent the great majority of such experiences, it’s also worth stressing that near-misses are not necessarily intrinsic to the current road system. Many happen because of poor choices, carelessness and reckless actions by other road users, overwhelmingly drivers and to a lesser extent riders of motorbikes and mopeds.
I decided to try and create some sort taxonomy of these behaviours by borrowing a cycle camera, riding my usual route to and from work in London, and recording what happened. The highlights, if you can call them that, can be seen in the video above.
The vast majority of the clips come from the last few weeks, though a couple were from earlier. Some of the dates shown in the bottom of the screen are incorrect as it took me a while before I remembered to set it properly.
The borrowed camera was a Fly12, an excellent combined front camera and light made by Australian company Cycliq. I also briefly used their rear-view model, called the Fly6, which you see in a couple of the clips.
Before I list the behaviours, one final point is worth noting: this video is almost certainly an understatement of the extent of frightening behaviour on most UK roads.
One of the most scary, and regular, experiences is excess driver speed. All my clips come from central London, where congestion keeps average speeds low. Ride in a less built-up area and you will routinely be overtaken by cars doing 40mph or much more, even in 30mph limits. This is no fun.
Also, almost all the riding took place on my carefully-plotted route into work, which mainly comprises side roads. It’s no surprise that several of the worst incidents I chronicled come from a single spot – the perennially feral roundabout on the south side of Lambeth Bridge.
After all that, here is my list of 10 driver behaviours that routinely intimidate and frighten cyclists. Watch the video for my examples, and then tell us which ones annoy or worry you the most.
No fun in a car, terrifying if you’re on a bike. It’s amazing how often some drivers think it’s OK to drive an inch behind your rear wheel. The example in the video was a particularly bad one – the driver concerned seemed to think I should have been in the bus lane, even though it was occupied further down, and tried to more or less shove me off the road.
2. The close pass
A hugely common experience, generally carried out by drivers who feel compelled to overtake no matter what the risks. Obviously, fast close passes are the most scary, but they are always a shock, as shown by the startled yelp I generally give in the examples above.
3. The overtake-and-cut-off
Another routine occurrence, often requiring you to slam on the brakes. The example above features a motorbike rider, who tailgated me down a narrow 20mph street where it was clearly unsafe to overtake, beeping the horn, before pulling across me to turn, seemingly as much for punishment as convenience. Don’t turn up the volume too loud at work, as I’m afraid I swore.
This is ubiquitous, and as mentioned above, is much more of a problem on quieter roads. Even in London at less congested times, for example during the night, speeding is the norm. The example above shows that even when it’s a moped, an over-fast overtake can be startling.
5. Stopping in the bike lane
It is amazing how many drivers think cycle lanes are some form of emergency parking. The video snippet above features a sight I see several times a week – a 24-hour bike lane near where I live blocked by someone who has decided to pop into the adjoining shop, forcing riders to pull out into the centre of a busy road while going up a hill.
6. The lane squeeze
This seems linked to some drivers’ belief that cyclists should be squeezed into the gutter, and that if they’re not it’s fine to edge into the rider’s lane to try and nudge them over. In the example above, I was deliberately in the centre of the lane on the roundabout in question, as I was turning right immediately afterwards.
7. The pinch point push
Every cyclist knows this one: as the road narrows, usually for a pedestrian traffic island, someone in a vehicle tries to overtake at the last minute, obliging the cyclist to brake heavily to avoid being forced into the kerb, or worse.
8. Annexing the advanced stop zone
Used in many cities, these painted boxes at the front of traffic lights are designed to allow cyclists to set off from a green light in full view of others, not trapped among a stream of vehicles. Sadly, quite a few drivers ignore this, forcing cyclists either to wait behind or edge even further ahead.
9. Jumping the lights
There is much popular fuss about this habit among some cyclists. But watch most junctions carefully and you’ll see just as many drivers ignoring the red. This is often done at speed – many accelerate across as the lights change – and causes many more deaths and injuries. As ever, it’s all about the physics.
10. Hogging the road
It’s common as a cyclist to have vehicles occupying space which isn’t strictly theirs. The example in the video shows one of the many ways the residential street shown is unpleasant to ride on – right-turning drivers cutting the corner, veering heavily into the opposite lane. If you’re coming the other way in a car this can be unsettling. Do so on a bike and it’s downright scary.