Drivers and Cyclists. How to Share the Road Safely – and Politely

Steering Clear’s well-mannered guide to dealing with that age-old tug of war: Drivers vs. Cyclists. How to avoid exasperation, confrontation and aggravation on the roads.

How do you feel about this?  Is it a Mexican Stand Off?  It could be. Cyclists despair of us drivers.  And, we’re all driven to despair (pun intended) by cyclists’ casual disregard for the rules of the road.

We’re sure that you’ve got some tales to tell.  Did you know, for example, that the Road Traffic Act of 1991 imposed dangerous and careless driving offences on cyclists behaving recklessly? In effect, cyclists were told to act as though they were another vehicle on the road.  Just like drivers, of course.

However, to be strictly fair, cyclists have been on the receiving end of some dangerous behaviour from people behind the wheel. We know.  As driving instructors, we see it every day.

Let’s get serious for a moment.

The fact is, there’s more to this situation than the odd whinge about our two-wheeled “adversaries” in the pub to your friends.  It goes further.  Despite the laws in place designed to keep both parties in check, over 100 cyclists are killed on UK roads every year.  Something is going wrong, and sadly, the statistics don’t lie:  you’re fifteen times more likely to have an accident if you cycle, than if you drive a car.

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What’s more, it’s not just cyclists who flout the law (ignoring red lights is a Thing)  Drivers do, too.  Here at Steering Clear, we’ve noticed drivers:

  • Failing to signal before changing lanes
  • Speeding
  • Making illegal U-turns, and, incredibly…STILL
  • Using a mobile behind the wheel

Let’s Respect Each Other

Drivers don’t own the roads and we’re as guilty as the next person when it comes to carelessness.  OK, so is there a solution? Yes, there is.  Here’s a few pointers to help and, we hope, start an important conversation.

This article is aimed at you, the driver, by the way.  We ARE a driving school, after all.

1. Recognise that cyclists DO pay for the roads

Let’s start with perceptions.

This is a major fault in our thinking, and one that we’re happy to correct here and now. Road tax, which cyclists don’t pay of course, doesn’t fund our roads. These are paid for out of general and local taxes, which we all pay. Including cyclists.

Cyclists have as much right to use the roads as you do, our four-wheeled friend.

2. Understand that cyclists are meant to be ride away from the kerb

If you see cyclists in the middle of a cycle lane, or a little further out on a normal road, they’re not doing it on purpose to wind you up. This is a safety issue. In brief, it helps them get from A to B in one piece. Remember, cyclists are “traffic” in the same way that you are, so just be patient and don’t think that you’ll need to squeeze past them.

Also, did you know that cyclists aren’t legally obliged to use cycle lanes? Most of them do, but many of them aren’t in a brilliant state of repair. This explains why some cyclists are on a “normal” road, when there’s a cycle lane right in front of you.

A quick heads-up here: this doesn’t mean that YOU can drive in them. Move over to a cycle lane and look forward to a fine of up to £130 dropping through your letter box.

3. Leave a distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking a cyclist

This is a golden rule.

In comparison to a push-bike, your car is ENORMOUS. And very heavy. The difference between the mass of a car and a bicycle means that if your vehicle comes into contact with a bike, the bike will lose. Good spatial awareness could help us to understand each other on the road – and avoid awkward situations.

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4. Work on Your Observation

How long have we got here? Not long enough! You can NEVER be too observant when it comes to your fellow road users and those around you. Everything about your driving must be on a safety-first principle, not least because cyclists are much more vulnerable than you are.

Look around you before you enter and leave your vehicle, make careful visual checks before moving out, at junctions, roundabouts, when overtaking, stopping – we could go on. It’s mirror-signal-manoeuvre each and every time. OK?

5. Use your Indicators

Cyclists are not telepathic. They don’t have Spidey senses. They won’t instinctively know that you’re turning left, right or where you’re going when you approach a roundabout. Don’t force them to guess.

6. Consider the “Dutch Reach”

Let us explain. Cyclists can be seriously injured or killed through a moment’s inattention when we open our car doors without looking. Cycling UK has called for wider awareness of “car dooring”, and even a solution:

This is a common practice in the Netherlands – hence the name. Why not try opening your car door with your far hand, rather than your near one? Not only does this mean you have to look behind you as you do so, but also that there’s a limit how far you can open the door. Unless you have arms five metres long, do try it. It feels a bit weird, but you’ll get used to it and it’s far safer.

And finally,…

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Know that it’s probably other drivers that slow you down.

What makes you late? In all likelihood it will be sitting stationery in a traffic jam. With other vehicles. A blockage caused by lots of other drivers trying to get through a limited amount of space. Trust us. Waiting 15 seconds to overtake a cyclist won’t make an impact on your journey.

That annoying cyclist who filters past the queue of cars? Well, it’s annoying, but it’s one less vehicle on the road, taking up less space. And, fewer cars mean fewer traffic jams. Just a thought!

So, stay safe on the road. We get how aggravating cyclists can be, but we’re all for peace, love and harmony, and until everyone’s on hoverboards, let’s all get along.