Monday 15 April 2013

The OTHER rules of the road

I was looking at the lady driving a beamer stopped behind me. I was waiting on my bicycle behind another car that was, like the beamer, illegally in the bus and cycle lane. She liesurely got out her phone to check her texts, carelessly inching forward, before looking up at me and angrily shouting "WHAT?". I got to pondering that there is too little acknowledgement that there are other 'rules' for using our roads that are simply not normally recorded in the normal way. They aren't written down in law, they're not even in the highway code - they're assumed by a minority to be 'consensus' view, i.e. 'everybody knows that'. And where it is observed by this minority that others are breaking those rules, they're all too ready to enforce them.

So, for example, speed limits. Motorists, for the most part, don't believe that speed limits apply to them. You can go further and find many examples of motorists who believe that you should "do the speed limit" or you are somehow breaking the rules - if you're not doing 30mph (or more) then you're 'holding up the traffic' and you're in the wrong somehow. 20mph doesn't apply at all. Heck, speed cameras? They're just for taxing you mate, they're just a con to get money out of us honest otherwise law abiding speeders.

Then there's traffic lights. If you go through amber thats okay - I mean, yes, the highway code says stop if its safe, but I mean if you have to accelerate hard to get through thats fine. And then if the light changes red you're already going fast so thats fine, you can go through after red as long as its only been a couple of seconds and you're going fast. So long as you don't go through slowly and carefully overtaking cars, thats okay. Bloody cyclist stopping at that amber light held be up. And then they've all got the audacity to go through at red.

Mobile phone use? Well if you're only going slowly. Or stopped at the lights. Or just using it for a minute. Whats your problem? Excuse me I'm on the bloody phone, shut up and stop banging on the underside of my car.

The unwritten rules of the road are the ones that don't work when you've got more than one type of road user. The slightly less assertive older driver is the object of scorn, even hate. A cyclist unable to maintain 30mph is seen as the problem, rather than those impatiently refusing to obey the law as it relates to their interraction with vulnerable road users. The driver parking wholly on the road so as not to obstruct the pavement (do any of them actually exist?). The irony of these 'unwritten' rules is that if you're obeying the actual rules to the letter you can still be viewed to be in violation - and worthy of contempt, hatred, scorn or even amateur enforcement by use of the car.

But it doesn't end there - the highway code is littered with things that just aren't real. Did you know according to the highway code you're not meant to go into a bus lane or a cycle lane if you need to overtake/undertake traffic that has stopped to turn? Thats not a real rule though. It doesn't apply to ME. And you can't form a queue in a bus lane just because you really want to turn left into the shopping centre ahead. Well you can, just because its illegal doesn't make it wrong.

Now the problem with this attitude, the fundamental problem with it, is that its bollocks.

These colloquial rules, these assumed shared beliefs, are nothing of the sort. They're fine if everyone is driving a similarly powered vehicle with a similar degree of competence and confidence. But that isn't reality. Even if everyone was in a car, in the same sort of car, it wouldn't work. What we're really saying with these 'rules', what we actually accomplish when the Police simply ignore rule breaking when its endemic rule breaking like this, is that law of the jungle should operate. That those who don't like this systemic 'within our agreed rules' bullying (and it IS bullying) should just get the hell off our roads - its hardly surprising that the UK lags so far behind for walking and cycling.

Crudely speaking, if you don't abide by the unwritten rules of a bullying large minority, and if those rules are not in any way challenged by law enforcers, then you're nobody. Or, legally speaking, you may as well be. Cyclists can obey the written rules of the road or not, it doesn't matter. Lights, red lights, riding on the pavement, none of this makes the slightest difference really - we're not hated for any of those things. We're hated because we break the rules of the road that no one bothered to write down.

And why did no one bother to write them down? Because you, dear moton, dreamed them up.


  1. There's been studies done that show that as soon as we get in a car we irrationally act selfishly. Even if we're told that behaving in this selfish manner does not make our journey easier, faster, or more convenient for us, we still want to behave that way.

    The controlled speed limit in the M42 was the one of the firsts mechanisms that sought to challenge and moderate that behaviour. Rather than have people driving by speeding to the next jam up, they sought to even out average speed. It feels like control, but it also works, and has speeded up the overall average.

    All these "common sense" laws, made up by people with only a singular experience, fits into this irrational selfishness only so well. And once looked at more openly show there's not a lot of "common sense" to them.

  2. Oh, and the "drive at the speed limit" thing is pushed by driving instructors under DfT guidance. You can be marked down for not going fast enough.

    1. While true, it doesn't go on to condone outright aggression to those a shade under it, nor that at all times you must do the speed limit. Fine as a general practice but we have elevated it to dogma.

    2. While true, it doesn't go on to condone outright aggression to those a shade under it, nor that at all times you must do the speed limit. Fine as a general practice but we have elevated it to dogma.

    3. You're right! I'd forgotten how my driving instructor was "constantly" chivvying me up as close to the speed limit as I was comfortable going (which wasn't - I was much happier driving through busy urban areas at c.20mph, even before the current push for that as the law).

    4. The more I think about it, the more I think this business of potentially getting marked down in the driving test for driving well under the speed limit is a huge problem that the DfT needs to address. We're never going to get civilised streets unless motorists feel they have freedom to drive at whatever speed below the limit they feel is desirable and pleasant for them and other road users. The test and training as it is leads to a chivvying-up mentality that engrains itself in the culture of our roads. It's a subtle point, but one we need a campaign on, I think.

    5. Having gone through the phase of helping my kids learn to drive I was horrified at the aggression they faced for driving at the speed limit, let alone below it.

      When I did my Cycling Proficiency Test I seem to remember we had to demonstrate an ability to cycle slowly, maybe drivers should demonstrate the ability to drive slowly, say in a 20mph zone, in order to pass the driving test.