Thursday, 22 September 2011

No Such Thing As Road Tax

Photo by akatori 
Tonight BBC News featured a story about a group of cyclists who were protesting for safer roads. They were calling for 20mph zones to be implemented in London, to slow down traffic and prevent casualties for those on bikes. I have my own thoughts on that - (more in a moment) - but what struck me was the level of bile in the responses coming through to the BBC. All but one viewer had a venomous opinion of cyclists. One person used the term "self righteous cyclists" while another woman complained that cyclists don't pay road tax, and therefore should not even be on the roads. She argued that "the roads are for cars", and only cars should be on them.

Firstly, in regards to the news piece: the idea of slowing down traffic seems to be another case of tackling the symptoms, rather than the root of the problem. The core issue - which few seem to be addressing - is the general attitude of drivers towards cyclists, and in many cases, of cyclists towards drivers. Demanding drivers slow down is only going to exacerbate the problem. I honestly don't think anything will improve unless there is a way to segregate cyclists and drivers with separate paths. In other words, car-free cycle lanes, and bike-free roads. If only this were possible! Instead we must continue to share the road.

As for the anti-cycling BBC viewers and their comments, I have to say one thing.
Road tax was abolished in 1937. Yes, 1937! Winston Churchill did away with it as he figured that "it will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads." It's interesting that despite scrapping the road tax, this is still happening.

These days every taxpayer contributes to the upkeep of public roads. That means cyclists too. Yep, we all pay our share. What drivers pay is actually a vehicle excise duty, which focuses on Co2 emissions. It has nothing to do with roads. Or cyclists. So please stop taking it out on us.

At the end of the day it's important to get the facts right before building a battleground. We all pay for roads, and we all must share them.

Don't believe me? More helpful info here:


  1. I drive to work several times a week and often encounter bad cyclists - those who undercut me on a turn, refuse to wear a helmet or ignore traffic lights.eTher lack of wearing helmets particularly bugs me, especially in adults.Perhaps that lack of respect from some cyclists is what is leading to the self-righteous stereotype?

    That said, there are just as many bad car drivers. But if you have a crash with another car, you're both insured (or at least should be). If you have an accident with a cyclist, it's automatically your fault as they're more vulnarable and they're not insured.

    For obvious reasons we want to encourage people to cycle. But demanding cyclists get insured would act as a deterrent. Your suggestion about different cycle lanes and driving lanes is where we should be going. After all, a lot of other European cities have.

    Rant over :)

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Emma! Yes, there is this overpowering issue of rogue cyclists. I hear this reason mentioned every single time I discuss anything to do with cyclists and drivers. As a cyclist it's so frustrating to have this argument thrown up every time, because I also want these rogue cyclists to stop. I'll admit, sometimes I might think, "if I could go through this red light now, I would feel a lot safer than waiting to accelerate with the traffic", but I will NEVER do it.

    Why? Because there are road rules, and whoever uses the roads needs to obey them. End of story.
    The cyclists who break those rules are making the rest of us look bad. If cyclists want our place on the road to be respected, we have to show respect to the road rules.

    Your idea about cyclist insurance sounds rather sensible. I really wish more such sensible ideas were brought into place, rather than each road-using party demanding the other side change the way they use the roads. It won't get anyone anywhere.

  3. Totally disagree. What next, demand that pedestrians are insured? They make a helluva mess of your car when you run them over, the inconsiderate idiots. And it's automatically your fault when you run them over too I suppose? Total nonsense, and the argument for bikes is no different.

    Also, if someone doesn't wear a helmet - that affects you how exactly? It's a purely personal choice, and the evidence of benefit to the population is completely inconclusive. Sure, there's absolutely no doubt if you come off it'll help, but both cyclists and other road users take a lot less care when the cyclist is 'protected' by a helmet, so figures for deaths etc. are very similar. Human nature is a complex thing!

    Ignorant and intolerant attitudes on both sides are rife, and it's depressing what a *four letter word* many people become when isolated in their car. Everyone should be a bit nicer, a bit more tolerant, and a bit more appreciative that most people are drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at some point.

  4. Thank you Gordon, another great point made. I agree that cycling with a helmet is a personal choice, and I can't see how drivers are affected by whether a cyclist is wearing one or not. Personally, I will always cycle with a helmet as I was brought up in New Zealand where it's the law, and I do not feel comfortable riding without one. That said, I understand the studies and arguments for and against it, and I think if someone wants to cycle without, that's their choice.

    I see too many cyclists taking mighty risks though. Obviously cars and bicycles are completely difference vehicles, and bikes can - and do - go where cars can't. That doesn't mean riding up the inside of a turning bus or truck is a smart move! But drivers take risks as well, with U-turns, cutting into lanes, or speeding. I wish more people would remember that everyone on the road actually behaves quite similarly! I simply think anyone who takes to the road in any way shape or form needs to be careful.

    And completely agree with you; tolerance is what we all need to strive for!

  5. I went on a bike a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in years, and the first time on the road. Currently I live in Malaga, Spain, where the lack of cycling lanes is simply... ridiculous. Nothing, zero, nada. Some, the more "professional" cyclists dare to go on the road, with the mad traffic, they are hard core, legs of steel cyclists. The rest of us, had the beach promenade to cycle, and it's generally accepted that cycling can be done, respectfully (rogue cyclists of course, here too) on the wide pavements, and along parks. It's all very relaxed, and based on a secret agreement of behaving humanely, but it doesn't feel safe.
    I'm going to be moving to London, very likely, very soon, and I intend to become a pro at cycling, as it's cheap, green, kind to every other citizen.

    The solution would be, clearly, the lanes. I as in Berlin this summer, and I was impressed. It made cycling fun, safe, and a strong option when wanting to move around. Not only lanes, but also your own traffic lights, and a very "grown up" approach. If only we could replicate this in London, we need it, and come on London 2012, why the heck not set an example to the rest of the world?

  6. Jessie - first of all, great news about your imminent London move! I hope when you move here you will gain confidence in cycling on the roads, especially as the cycle lanes are not always endless or consistent. They're rarely segregated either. Just remember that you do have the right to be on the road, and as long as you follow the road rules, no one has the right to berate you.

    Also, I love that idea of the Berlin cycle lanes, I will find out more about their system. That sounds like heaven to me!

  7. I would make it law for a cyclist on the road to be wearing a helmet and a cat 3 high vis. I drive on nightshift a lot and am astounded by the number of frankly suicidal cyclists on the road at night without any lights. Frankly they should be stopped fined, and banned on the spot and have their bikes sent to the crusher as they are obviously too stupid to be allowed on the road. Cyclists should also be banned from roads where there is a separate paralell cycle lane. Aberdeen city council spent a load of cash on a seperate cycle lane along Riverside drive but I've lost count of the times I've been held up by a cyclist hogging that road. As for those who undertake my truck at junctions or hang on to the back of it, they deserve that trip to casualty that they will eventually get.

  8. I Prise, your points about cyclists ignoring cycle lanes are fair to a point, but the trouble is many lanes are not fit for purpose. They cross roads, driveways, and numerous other obstacles that all form give ways, meaning progress is tortuous at best. Often they form no real alternative to the road. And although that may not be the case in Aberdeen, never seen it, I bet it is.

    It's a bit like the 20 mile 0.002 mph difference overtake trucks often treat car drivers to. Killing the protagonist would be fair, proportionate and entirely morally justified; ideally we'd mount automated RPGs on bridges to dispatch them. Trouble is, lorryists defend to the hilt their right to do it so they can get to their customer 2 mins faster, and it's the downside of living in a free society that they are allowed to do so.

    That said, fair point about unlit cyclists at night, although you could argue in all the examples you give that it is evolution at work!

  9. I Prise - Thanks for commenting. The whole debate over helmet laws goes quite deep; there are many substantiated arguments which show a helmet does not necessarily mean a cyclist is safer. I’ve yet to decide where I stand, but I choose to wear one. If someone chooses not to, they’re accepting what comes. This shouldn’t actually affect drivers… I mean, does a driver use less caution if someone wears a helmet? I am genuinely curious about that.

    But I agree with you on the high-viz issue. Perhaps a law change in regards to high-viz gear? In France it's illegal to cycle in low light without a high-viz jacket, and I agree that makes a lot of sense. Incidentally, cyclists are everywhere in France – I’ve cycled there - and yet drivers are immeasurably more tolerant. I am yet to work out why this is.

    As for cyclists using roads where there are cycle lanes... Gordon makes a valid point. Most of the cycle lanes I've used are full of potholes, drains and worse, so I can understand why some cyclists would rather take their chances on the (smoother) roads. See, we all pay for the maintenance of roads, yet cyclists get stung with the rough edges! As it stands, cyclists still have a right to use the roads so perhaps more patience and tolerance on the roads from drivers might be required here. Is it really a big deal if your journey takes an extra minute? Would it have been different if it were a car or truck "hogging the road" and slowing you down? Food for thought.