Arrogance not in road rule book

Andrea Burns, Opinion - The West Australian
Montage: Toby Wilkinson

How many cyclists have to die before WA drivers get over their “king of the road” God delusion?

I was shocked at the statistics from Bicycling WA that eight people had been killed cycling last year. It was six the year before, three the year before that. We’re getting worse — so which part of “coexistence” don’t drivers understand?

Or have we reached a new level of self-importance — that a driver’s need to get somewhere first outweighs a cyclist’s right to also use the bitumen safely?

Get over yourself.

Time and again, we hear the same old whinges —“sharing the roads with cyclists can be a pain in the neck. They take up space, slow down traffic and are hard to see if they stop in your blind spot”.

And that can be true.

So can this: “City couriers are the worst. They expect my full attention but offer none in return, zipping between lanes, ignoring the traffic lights.”

But idiot riders being taken to task by idiot drivers will never be a fair fight. You don’t need to be Einstein to work this out.

So how come eight people are dead? And, as was reported in this paper at the weekend, why did 22 riders have life-threatening injuries last year — double the number in 2013?

It’s what happens when you combine driver inattention with a healthy dose of arrogance. Drivers who are incapable of sharing a road shouldn’t be on it.

The average bike weighs about 12kg. The carbon-fibre variety favoured by the enthusiast can weigh substantially less. But whether you’re astride a light treadly that costs thousands or a lumpy $100 Kmart steed, the fact remains that every bike rider is vulnerable.

And a stack-hat isn’t much protection when the average, 1500kg car comes hurtling towards you, driven by someone frustrated that they might be two minutes late for a pilates class.

I recently witnessed a very close call. Perth was still in that post-New Year slumber. The normally busy road outside my house was empty, save for a whirring peloton of MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra).

There were no prizes for guessing what they’d received for Christmas. Shiny wheels spinning, they sported tight, flashy get-ups that left little to the imagination and would have been better observed with sunglasses.

Still, while I pondered whether to gulp down the last fruit mince pie, they were out in the heat, cycling off their Christmas excesses. It wasn’t pretty, but what they lacked in grace, they compensated with in grunt.

Huffing, sweating, the riders approached the hill, signalling their intention to turn left with the big hand gestures of the recent convert.

The bashed-up Datsun came out of nowhere. The driver took the last 10m before the lights as if he was racing at Le Mans. The riders slipped into single file. The car passed them, uncomfortably close.

Despite having plenty of room on the wide street, the fool behind the wheel still felt the need to make his point —“get off the road”.

It was the dopey, small-minded powerplay of a twit and it was just dumb luck that prevented him from hitting anyone.

Shouting abuse as he passed, the driver also ran through his own limited repertoire of hand gestures that started with two fingers and ended with one.

What had the riders done wrong? Nothing. They’d dared to use a public road as is their legal entitlement because there is no cycle lane or shared path on my street.

I think the Police Commissioner would call the driver a “bloody idiot”. I certainly did.

The rules of who’s allowed to travel where aren’t that difficult. WA has hundreds of kilometres of bicycle lanes. By law, if the paths are in reasonable condition, cyclists are required to use them.

However, if there are no bike paths and cyclists use the roads, they must obey the rules just as car drivers must. They must keep left. Heed the traffic lights and stop signs. Ride responsibly. Wear a helmet. Keep one hand on the handle bars at all times. Have working brakes.

If there’s a shared path — the wide ones that usually have pictures of people walking and others cycling painted on the bitumen — yep, cyclists and pedestrians have to share. This means keeping left unless you’re overtaking and cyclists giving pedestrians right of way.

And the only cyclists permitted to ride on footpaths are children under 12.

That’s it.

The Office of Road Safety spent $300,000 on the Share Our Roads advertising campaign last year, yet still we have these awful instances of cars and bikes colliding.

Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren has a Bike Bill before Parliament. If it goes through, it will be mandatory for drivers to leave at least a metre between their vehicle and bike riders.

Ideally, we shouldn’t need to legislate. But eight deaths tells us common sense isn’t working.

As our population gets older and fatter, getting back on the bike can be a cheap and healthy way to get fit. Local governments are racing each other to become the most bike-friendly municipalities in the country. More cyclists means less traffic congestion, less pollution. It’s all good — if it’s safe.

There are idiots on both sides of the driver-cyclist divide. But drivers — do you really need to make your point with a 1500kg weapon?

Pranged cars can be fixed. Pranged people can’t.

Email Andrea Burns