In the month that brought us National Cycle to Work Day, solicitor, driver, cyclist and ‘Iron Man’ Tim McArdle provides a different perspective on the proposal that the daily commute is as trouble free as Boris would have us believe.
Offences of ‘Road Rage’
As a Criminal Defence Solicitor, I am often called upon to represent clients accused of offences arising from road traffic incidents involving cyclists. The recent tragedy resulting in the death of Donald Lock in August of this year, believed to have been stabbed in a ‘roadrage’ incident, is a stark reminder of how easily an often trivial altercation can quickly flare up into something far more serious.
Cyclists as the Aggressor
It’s easy to imagine how difficulties arise. All too often, as car drivers, we are caused difficulty by cyclists, weaving in and out of traffic, ignoring red lights and simply delaying our progress. One choice remark from driver to cyclist, or vice versa, can easily result in an exchange of insults which, unsurprisingly might develop into the threat of violence or other public order offence.
Even as a cyclist, it’s not difficult to understand why we cause such annoyance to motorists. We cycle on the main road when there’s a perfectly good cycle lane. We often ride through the middle of queuing traffic, frightening decent car drivers half to death and, all too often, we make inexplicable and dangerous sudden movements towards the centre of the road – oh, and we don’t pay car tax!
Poor Cycle Paths
In fairness to cyclists, I don’t accept that many of us wouldn’t use a decent cycle lane rather the road. The reality is that most ‘cycle lanes’ are anything but. They’re simply paths with a picture of a cycle painted on, littered with street furniture, often with tree roots breaking the surface. Those that edge of the road are littered with grids and broken tarmac – hence the reason for our seemingly inexplicable forays into the middle of the road! Not only does their use risk damage to both bike and rider alike but constant avoidance of obstacles significantly increases the journey to work – my 55 minute journey is twenty minutes longer if I use the cycle lane. By way of example, I have used the cycle lane into Manchester twice in the last two weeks. The first occasion my journey was increased by twenty minutes, the second my tyre punctured, an extra hour forty minutes! How many car drivers would take a route that took longer and resulted in a greater risk of puncture?
Motorists as the Aggressor
Car drivers, on the other hand, are no doubt infuriated by the risks that cyclists take, filtering through the centre of slow moving traffic or overtaking on the outside. From the cyclist’s perspective, it’s the car drivers fault. There is nothing more frustrating than being overtaken by a vehicle to see it then pull in and slow down so close to the kerb that one either has to stop behind it or overtake on the driver’s side. Next time you’re driving and a cyclist overtakes you on the outside, instead of tutting or shouting at him, have a look in your offside wing mirror – you will quickly realise why he’s tutting at you – he thinks it’s you’re fault for making him. Cycling is hard work, losing momentum means more hard work, that’s why he’s overtaking you, he simply wants to keep moving and he can’t get past on the inside. It’s a lot more frightening for the cyclist when a vehicle starts to change lanes as he’s overtaking!
Public Order Act Offences
In fairness to drivers, in my experience, it’s the cyclist who is most likely to be verbally abusive, often prompting a similar response which leads to threatening language and the involvement of the police. Perhaps not the best defence but I do think it’s important to remember that, generally speaking, he or she is hot, sweaty, a bit tired, and in some circumstances has just had a bit of a fright – leading to a sudden rush of adrenalin – it’s perhaps forgivable therefore that they might use some choice language without thinking it through!
I have no doubt lots more could be said in defence of both parties. Whilst the reality is that, in many ways, cyclists and drivers will always blame each other for their respective difficulties, it wouldn’t do either party any harm to at least think a little more about the other’s point of view.
This short clip provies an interesting view.
Tim McArdle regularly advises and successfully represents all types of road user in criminal proceedings arising from ‘roadrage’ incidents. He specialises in the defence of professionals for whom a conviction would have life changing consequences. He is an avid cyclist and triathlete and having trained and subsequently completed the Iron Man earlier this year, has extensive experience of cycling to work.