The Great British Bike-Off FAQs: Why don’t cyclists …?
Today is National
#CycleToWorkDay. When the government recently announced measures to crack down on motorists who drive too close to cyclists, social platforms lit up with comments and reactions about the introduction of the minimum distance of 1.5m and £100 fines and three penalty points for drivers caught ignoring it.
So we thought we’d clear up a couple of myths about cyclists on the road which kept coming up in the comments. In fact, did you know most cyclists are drivers too? Statistics released by the Department for Transport show that 80% of cyclists also hold a driving license.
Looking at Google’s search query suggestions, these are also some of the most frequently asked questions regarding cyclists too …
Why don’t cyclists pay insurance?
While there have been frequent calls for cyclists to have to pay some form of insurance, one online petition going so far as to get 32,000 signatures in 2016, it is not a legal requirement for a cyclist to have insurance.
Which isn’t to say that all don’t. Some cyclists could be covered via home insurance for example if the damaged party wishes to make a claim, as some home insurance policies cover first party property and third party liability claims.
Aside from that, many cyclists might also have cover through a membership organisation. Cycling UK members pay an annual fee of £45 and are insured if they are liable as a result of an accident on top of receiving £10m third party liability insurance.
The fact remains though that cyclists don’t need to be insured as in the majority of cases they are most likely to be worse off than any vehicle they come into contact with.
Why don’t cyclists pay road tax?
The most searched for cyclist-related question on Google also shows how misunderstood people are around the whole issue… because there’s no such thing as road tax and there hasn’t been since 1937.
The tax motorists actually pay is called Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and, shock horror, it doesn’t actually go towards solely paying for the roads. All the money raised from VED goes to the Treasury which is then trickled to all sorts from the NHS and police to welfare and infrastructure.
“Alright smart ass, why don’t cyclists pay VED then?” I hear you cry. No doubt you’ll know that electric vehicles don’t pay any VED, whereas your most polluting vehicle can find itself paying upward of £500, and the reason for that is because VED is calculated based on vehicle emissions. So if cyclists were blanket-included in VED, they still wouldn’t have to pay anything.
But guess what? As a large majority of cyclists also have access to a car, chances are the cyclist you’re annoyed at is paying up anyway. It’s a lose-lose argument to make.
Why don’t cyclists use cycle paths?
Another complaint levelled at cyclists is why don’t cyclists use cycle paths. The answer to this is simple. Although it can be annoying, it’s not compulsory. Much like when motorists don’t use their indicators. It’s a breach of the Highway Code not to let other people know of your intention to turn, but it’s not a criminal act.
Rule 63 of the Highway Code states that cyclists should use cycle lanes “when practicable” and “the use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills” so while them not using a shiny new cycle lane might be a nuisance, it’s not a requirement. Add into this fact that the cycle lane could be obstructed by parked cars, skips, or just be too narrow due to poor council planning.
Similarly, believe it or not, but cycle paths can sometimes be unsafe. This is particularly true where a cycle lane is parallel to traffic waiting to turn left at a junction which is why you will frequently see cyclists move out ahead of traffic to avoid left-turning drivers possibly hitting them if they don’t spot them.
Why don’t cyclists ride in single file?
You know the scenario. You’re having a nice Sunday drive across some winding, twisting, B-road when all of a sudden you come across a sight which makes your heart sink. A legion of cyclists on the road, sometimes two-abreast, pretty much taking over the whole lane.
You may see this as rude, dangerous or even illegal, but there are very legitimate reasons you will see cyclists riding two abreast.
Though no rule states they can or can’t ride two abreast, with Rule 66 of the Highway Code simply stating cyclists should ride in single file “on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”, it is predominantly done for safety on the cyclists part so that drivers give them enough room when overtaking. Aside from this, a group of cyclists riding two abreast is easier for a driver to see and means they’re less likely to be hit from behind.
Believe it or not it’s also more convenient for motorists too, as a group of ten riders in single file would extend to 20 metres leading to a prolonged overtake which would be frustrating and dangerous on a country road. Overtaking a group two abreast halves the length needed to overtake, meaning it works out somewhat safer … if you have a clear view of the road ahead.
Why don’t all cyclists wear helmets?
Like many of the other questions here, this one also comes down to legality. Yes, believe it or not, cyclists are not required by law to wear a helmet.
But the whole debate is a very contentious one. Famous Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman does not promote high-vis clothing or helmets, instead preferring to focus on the cause of accidents, not dealing with the effect of them. He cites the cycle-friendly city of Utrecht in the Netherlands as an example, where helmet use is less than 0.5%, there isn’t a high-vis in sight, and yet it has some of the lowest casualty rate of anywhere in the world. But Utrecht isn’t London, or Manchester.
Meanwhile, writing for the Guardian, Nick Hussey, the founder of a British cycle clothing company Vulpine, recently drew a parallel to the helmet debate with a hypothetical tale of marching into a bar and snatching a third or fourth pint of beer from a random drinker’s lips, yelling: “Stop drinking or you will die!”
“That’s more or less what the infamous helmet debate has become … Shouty strangers shouting at other shouty strangers for choices that don’t affect the first shouty stranger’s life. It’s a bit weird, definitely a waste of energy, and not a fun place for cyclists to share space in.”
From this side of the argument, people will point to research that says drivers naturally give less room to cyclists wearing helmets, or that by wearing one a cyclist feels more protected and is therefore likely to take greater risks in traffic.
That may be true, but it does miss the simple common sense point that if someone’s unprotected head strikes a solid surface they can sustain devastating head and brain injuries whereas wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of that. Mandatory helmet laws exist in Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden, which seems like a list of sensible countries to me.
But either way, in the UK at the moment, wearing a helmet is a personal choice, not a legal one.
Why can’t we all just get along?
One Facebook comment that stood out among the insult-slinging and blame game from both sides was this one. Let’s all be more Tim.