All 2 entries tagged Motoring

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August 15, 2013

Why, as a motorist, I have a problem with cyclists

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The BBC news is today running an article entitled “Is there any such thing as Road Tax?”. The article actually explores the tension between motorists and cyclists, looking at the often-made claim by motorists that since cyclists don’t pay road tax, they shouldn’t be getting in their way.

I’d like to start this article by a couple of points about my own circumstances. I am a motorist, and I have a round-trip commute of 80 miles each day. I do occassionally cycle on the roads, although cycling is definitely not something I would choose to do as a past-time. When my commute is shorter, I hope to commute by bike every day. And my wife already commutes by bike every day. So, although I am a motorist who doesn’t currently use a bike very much, I don’t have a problem with cyclists as reasonable and responsible road users. When I see a cyclist, I will always endeavour to give them plenty of space on the road when overtaking, and I wouldn’t dream of using my car aggressively to intimidate one.

One of the issues this article touches on which some might find surprising is that VED (to give road tax its technical name) doesn’t actually get spent directly on the roads, it goes straight to the treasury. This is really a separate topic, but it’s definitely something that all motorists should be challenging more strongly. What are we paying the duty for if it doesn’t get spent on the roads? Government should be primarily funded by taxes evenly spread across tax-payers. We all pay our share of income tax, every time we buy something we pay a flat percentage of VAT, etc. Other taxes, such as council tax, are there to fund particular services – fine. There are other taxes aimed at changing our behaviours, such as on cigarettes. In this regard, motorists already pay a tax precisely linked to the environmental damage that vehicles do – which is of course fuel duty. So what is VED for, if not for the maintenance of our road network? There should either be a direct link between the two which all road users should pay, or it should be scrapped altogether because it’s not an even and fair tax on the UK population as a whole.

The main thrust though, is that motorists don’t like cyclists because they don’t pay to use the roads. I don’t think this is really true. Certainly it’s a well used phrase – I even use it myself from time to time – but really, that cyclists don’t have to pay to use the roads is not what irritates motorists. There are two issues around cyclists really that bother me:

1. Cyclists pick and choose the traffic laws they abide by. The most common example is jumping or ignoring lights. The problem here I think is that unlike the motorist, the cyclist can do this without fear of losing their ability to use their bike. There are no fines that I know of, nor is there a points system to dissuade them from law-breaking. Were I to observe in the dead of night that it was perfectly safe to run a light and be caught, I’d be £60 poorer and 1/4 of the way to losing my licence. Cyclists can do this without consequence. I’m not saying that motorists don’t break rules – of course they do (and there are plenty of bad examples of driving I could list that make me equally irate) but there are consequences for the motorist should they be caught. Unlike with cyclists, this keeps some semblance of order about things. This disparity of consequences is a real bone of contention for me. I think that this is an issue that needs some form of legislation to address, with fines and black marks against bad cycling just as for bad driving.

2. Cyclists hold motorists up – unnecessarily. I don’t usually mind encountering slow traffic or short delays where necessary – sometimes it is unavoidable for road users to get in each other’s way. Examples would be cyclists on narrow country lanes, or slow moving vehicles such as tractors and trucks that don’t have much of a choice about getting in the way or not. But when I encounter cyclists riding 2 or 3 abreast and leaving me unable to overtake, or riding in the middle of the road a long distance from junctions, or using the road in the way when there’s a cycle path also – well I consider that pretty unreasonable, and delays are bound to wind up motorists quicker than anything else. If I chose to dawdle along as a pedestrian on a cycle path and not get out of a cyclist’s way, I would (quite rightly) expect to be told in no uncertain terms to change my ways. Why should cyclists expect any different from motorists? This irritation isn’t solely reserved for cyclists – another great example would be middle-lane hogs on the motorway, who cause no end of delays and frustrations by not realising there’s a lane to the left.

So, in conclusion – don’t break the rules and don’t get in the way, and everyone will get along just great.

October 23, 2005

The road safety bill and detection devices

I am currently considering purchasing a Snooper S6-R radar detector for a very simple reason – I am tired of spending my entire driving constantly monitoring the speed limit and my speed, watching out for speed cameras and police vans etc. It is getting to the stage now where I am concerned that my ability as a driver is being impaired because of the amount of attention this takes off of the road and onto just monitoring the speedo and what's parked in the next layby. So this is where the detector comes in. By having one of these devices, it will constantly have a display of my current vehicle speed, the current speed limit (often hard to spot in areas of speed camera enforcement due to lack of signs!), I can set audible alarms for when I am over the speed limit so that I know when to slow down without having to concentrate on every single speed limit sign with the constantly chopping and changing speed limits that exist on our road network today, and I won't have to scan behind every bush and tree and on top of every motorway bridge for cameras and enforcement officers.

Aha, I hear you say, you want one of these just to break the speed limit. Well partly I do want one of these so that if conditions allow I can break the speed limit safely by not having to concentrate so hard on cameras etc yes. I'm not going to try and feed you all a rubbish story that it's all about ensuring that I never break the limit. But on the other hand, a lot of the time my concentration problems are related to the fact that there are speed cameras everywhere and I haven't spotted the single speed limit sign that was 4 miles back half covered by overgrowing trees. And if you've driven on British roads recently you'll notice that the speed limit changes rather a lot. Hence by having this system in my car I will not have these troubles anymore, and consequently make me a safer driver.

The government doesn't seem to agree though. The current road safety bill seeks to ban detectors (although GPS-based systems will remain legal). The argument is that detectors are used by drivers to basically exceed the speed limit where they see fit, and as such make our roads more dangerous. Given the number of statistics and numbers thrown about by road safety groups, it's perhaps surprising that in this bill they evidently haven't read the largest survey into radar detector use, conducted by MORI in 2001 and sampled just over 1,000 drivers, about 50% of whom had a detector and 50% hadn't. Read the report and it's findings here if you wish. To summarise, there is a stark contrast between the profile of a driver who has and a driver who has not gone to the effort of purchasing a radar detector. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it takes someone who cares about driving/keeping their licence a lot more than your average motorist to voluntarily go and invest several hundred pounds in a detector in the first place. The average distance driven between accidents however was just over 217,000 miles for a user of a detector compared to a little over 143,000 miles for non-uses. This means that the user of a detector is approximately 50% less likely to have an accident in a given journey than a non-user. This has to be in part down to other factors – for example, the users tend to clock up a far higher annual mileage. However, it does fly strongly in the face of the suggestion that detectors make our roads less safe, because either they are making "bad" speeding drivers safer (in this instance we would expect to see a reduction in accidents) or that the users of detectors (who seem to be those who speed more in the first place according to the poll) are actually pretty safe and competent drivers to start with (rubbishing the idea that drivers who speed are the spawn of satan and cause no end of damage on public roads compared to Mr Joe Public).

Either way, the move to ban radar detectors seems to be based on statements related to road safety that are completely contradictory to the evidence that actually, if anything, detectors make our roads safer to be on in the first place. Furthermore, our sterotype preconceptions of road safety and speed, particularly when related to the issue of cameras and detection, are deeply flawed and long overdue for revision. Most of all, the Road Safety Bill requires amendments and fast.

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