It’s assault… Some think drivers have a right to move at whatever speed they want and “robbing” them of that is an affront to their human rights

Comment & Analysis: This story begins a long time ago when, in my wasted youth, I started dating a young man who presented as a goofy farm boy driving his dad’s old, beaten-up, once-white pickup truck. We initially had loads of fun together, leaning into the fact that we were both broke youngsters. Whenever someone tailgated the labouring old pickup, trying somehow make it magically able to go faster, he’d do this trick with alternating clutch and accelerator pedals to make smoke bombs belch from the tailpipe.

Fast forward 32 years to a much older, wiser me. I almost never think of the long-ago boyfriend any more, except to occasionally appreciate the bullet — more like a cannonball, actually — that I had dodged when I broke off the relationship.

...I'm sorry to disrupt you while you're reading this article, but without messages like this, IrishCycle.com's reader-funded journalism won't survive. With nearly 1/2 million views and 300k readers so-far this year, it's not just people who are dedicated to cycling that this website reaches. However, the number of subscribers is around 0.6% of readers. While having a large gap between readers/subscribers is standard for non-paywall reader-supported journalism, IrishCycle's journalism needs more support. Don't delay, support monthly or yearly today. Now, back to the article...

One morning, the man I married a few years later and I are walking our dog, as we do every morning. There is a ninety-degree bend in the road on the other side of the bridge we’re heading towards. The speed at which people drive here usually irritates me, but today, there’s something not quite right. I turn to my husband. “Something’s wrong.”

People are indeed speeding across the bridge and on up the hill to the next bend as always, but they’re going faster than usual, and their movements are different. There’s a hint of aggression in the way they steer their exoskeletons. We’re halfway across the bridge when it all makes sense. A cyclist comes pedalling around the sharp bend. We’re on the right-hand side, so he’s coming towards us on the same side of the road.

A driver who had been following behind him, waiting for a chance to overtake, gets that chance just as the cyclist passes us. And as the driver overtakes, on the bridge, a cloud of thick, black smoke belches from the tailpile of his car. It is disgusting, so thick you can feel it. We slow instinctively because you can barely see where you’re going. It lingers, heavy on the air, and I cover my nose and mouth with my gloved hand to try and filter out the taste of it.

“That,” my husband says tersely, “is assault.”

“If that guy were to stop somewhere up there,” he waves his hand towards the village centre that the driver headed towards, “and I walked up and punched him in the face, it would be a no more blatant act than what he just did.”

From the tone of his voice, I think he would not pass up the opportunity to do just that if it came his way.

There are three interesting parts to this experience. Firstly, I have long been intrigued by the way people can use their cars as tools of communication, literally expressing anger through driving. It is so interesting how I could tell something was up purely by observing the way people drove on a straight stretch of road.

Secondly, this is yet another example of a core problem that I think may play a significant part in the alarming road death toll in Ireland. People have a core belief that is as solid as rock: that drivers have a right to move at whatever speed they want.

Anything that “robs” them of that is viewed as an affront to a basic human right. I believe that leads to dangerous overtaking and other high-risk behaviour being viewed as justified. Waiting behind a slower vehicle for even a few minutes is seen as an unbearable burden, and the risk taken to relieve the driver of that burden is seen as understandable and justified.

Thirdly, it is another example of drivers feeling they have a moral right to punish cyclists for any perceived slight, such as, you know, existing. It is consistent with an overpowering message coming from everywhere that roads are the rightful territory and property of drivers. All other road users are intruders, tolerated to varying degrees.

A final observation: The only thing that is going to bring the road death toll down is enforcement. As long as people can drive however they like with impunity, they will take risks that will only result in the worst outcome for a very tiny minority. The thing is, when you have almost 3 million vehicles on the road a few hundred fatalities is a miniscule percentage. That means the vast majority of dangerous drivers never see direct consequences for their actions. The attitude displayed by this driver would be much less common if that core belief that they own the road and they can do what they like on it was combated.

Those tending towards dangerous driving are not going to be put off by stories of what happened to others, because they may have been behaving as they do for years and be perfectly fine. It’s also pointless to try to explain to dangerous drivers how their behaviour slowly kills us all due to the more complex effects on transport choices.

Until this behaviour is smacked down hard, with severe consequences being likely rather than a once-a-lifetime occurrence, nothing will change.


...That's the end of the article. Keep scrolling if you want to the comments, but IrishCycle.com *NEEDS* readers like you to keep it that way. It only requires a small percentage of readers to give a bit each month or every year to keep IrishCycle.com's journalism open to all. Thank you.


2 comments

  1. Nicely put Nadia.

    This issue is the key one that neither The Road Safety Authority nor An Garda Siochana seem willing to confront: “Thirdly, it is another example of drivers feeling they have a moral right to punish cyclists for any perceived slight, such as, you know, existing. It is consistent with an overpowering message coming from everywhere that roads are the rightful territory and property of drivers. All other road users are intruders, tolerated to varying degrees”.
    It is why I will keep calling out both safety agencies for failing bike users and pedestrians. They are clueless about this road violence.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.