Friday 30 May 2014

Motoring Tribes?

I've been pondering on how motorists view cyclists, and how its all too common for cyclists to be lumped in to a presumed homogeneous whole ("cyclists all go through red lights" "cyclists are all irresponsible" "well I don't mean ALL cyclists, but all of the ones I see are..." etc.) and while I and others have blogged extensively on the phenomena of othering and simple stereotyping as it applies to cyclists, I do wonder, ought we be considering whether the same applies among motorists?

I'm not talking about stereotyping of all motorists. Except where we're mocking the way cyclists are treated we don't typically see a motoring collective. I'm talking about how motorists, and indeed cyclists, will ascribe certain characteristics based on how we perceive sub-categories of motorist. And whether its fair.

You all know the sort of thing. Taxi drivers. BMW drivers. Bus drivers. Audi drivers. Boy racers. Flat caps and Sunday drivers. People who drive hairdressers (wtf?) cars. Each is ascribed certain stereotypical behaviours, each is presumed to drive, to act, in a certain way. As in "BMW drivers don't know what their indicators are for", "he's wearing a flat cap, you'll be stuck behind him all the way to Hull". Taxi drivers. Bus drivers. White Van Man. Indeed it seems almost as if motoring is sub-divided into an almost never ending mini-clades ('well of course he's driving like he's got no dick, he's only got a Boxter' - yes, I did hear someone say that - its a Cambridge thing).

One could be tempted to point and laugh at ALL of them - after all, isn't this portrayal of practically every other motorist as somehow lacking due to what or how he drives pretty funny? Actually, yes, it kind of is. But lets take a step back and ask what the smeg its all about. 

Any suggestion of shared identity among all motorists is viewed as offensive. Go on. Try. Next time someone complains about Focus drivers not being able to park try to blame -all- motorists. I await the response with glee - they'll probably start ranting about cyclists.

As I said at the top, I don't want to harp on about the obviousness of how unfair it is that cyclists are all painted with the same brush, like how members of any visible minority are often expected to share collective blame. Thats not the point I'm aiming at here. I just want to ponder what the reality of this motoring tribalism is and whether its got any basis in reality. Very likely, it does not.

Stand by a set of traffic lights at a busy junction - it doesn't matter the make and model of car that can stop at the tail end of a red light or start of a red, it'll go straight through - even if you've stopped at the light on your bike the car behind might still go through, and I've noticed no trends as to what brand of car that might be. Sit out on a bridge over a motorway - all makes and models are there breaking the speed limit. Walk down a street with cars parked on the pavement - who breaks the law about driving on the path isn't based on what they drive, if 29 cars are parked on the pavement on a street the 30th will be parked there too, no matter what kind of car it is. To a very real extent nearly all motorists break the law (more than 80% admit speeding - statistically speaking they're all law breakers), while perversely many seek to portray the other motorists (slow ones, fast ones, foreign lorry ones, delivery ones) as the key problem. 

Implying that its another subset of road users to blame seems to be a key part of denying an individual motorists own faults - which isn't as crazy as it sounds if you compare road-transport based prejudice with any other crazy kind of prejudice. Could it be that, deep down, pretty much all of the motorists who are keen to blame cyclists, BMW drivers, taxi drivers, white van man, flat caps, hairdressers car drivers (I still can't work out that that means), moped drivers, delivey drivers and any other sub-category under the sun are basically assuaging their own guilt? For most individual motorists, is knowledge that they themselves are frequently law-breakers reason for being so keen to blame everyone and everything else? And is blaming other 'tribes' of road users just a way of excluding ourselves from being worthy of blame?

What is needed is a wake up call - individual responsibility cannot be expressed by blaming others who are no worse than you are. Until that sinks in to the psyche of British motorists, our roads will never be pleasant.

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