Understanding Why Drivers Hate Cyclists

Over the last couple of days there’s been a story going around in the UK about a motorist who knocked a cyclist off their bike, and boasted on twitter about it.

Quite apart from the stupidity of this young woman in revealing on twitter that she was responsible for a hit-and-run road traffic incident (and the subsequent repercussions from the involvement of the police, her employer, and a sizeable number of twittering cyclists), it’s also quite disturbing the amount of contempt and lack of remorse she displayed towards the person she ran off the road.

emmaway1-300x109In her tweet she says: “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier – I have right of way he doesn’t even pay road tax” #bloodycyclists”.

She seems quite pleased with her actions, and seems to imply that the cyclist somehow deserved to be knocked down. And this attitude toward cyclists is by no means restricted to this one person. The Dublin roads have their fair share of drivers that act aggressively to cyclists, and so I thought I might explore the question: Why do so many drivers hate cyclists?  And why did TD Finian McGrath use Dail time recently to rant about lawbreaking cyclists?

Our roads are governed by a number of written and unwritten rules. There are the formal motoring laws, as laid out in the Rules of the Road, and there is also an informal ‘moral’ code about how we are expected to behave, which has been built up by generations of drivers – things such as thanking another driver if they give way to you.

It is deeply ingrained within people that without these rules and moral code there would be chaos on the roads. And so, when someone is seen to break the rules, it is at odds with our innate sense of right and wrong. We feel that an injustice has been done, and that some restitution is required against the rule-breaker.

When it comes to cyclists, motorists project the same set of moral values as they would for other roads users. And when some cyclists are seen to break these rules – such as running red lights, or riding on the pavement – it can lead to frustration and anger in some drivers. They feel it as very unfair that these cyclists are able to break the rules, and seemingly get away with it.

But the problem is not just restricted to cyclists that break the law. Perfectly legal actions – such as overtaking a queue of traffic, cycling two a-breast, or travelling along below the speed limit – can niggle at someone’s sense of right or wrong, as they challenge the norm (or moral order) on the road. By skipping to the front of a queue, a cyclist can be seen as gaining an unfair advantage over everyone else, as they haven’t waited their turn.

The same feelings of moral outrage are often felt because cyclists aren’t required to pay Motor Tax (often wrongly called Road Tax) or display number plates. To some this feels unfair because cyclists seem to be getting all the benefits of road usage without paying for them. This argument is, however, deeply flawed as Motor Tax isn’t ring-fenced for road maintenance – and even if it were, many cyclists are also car owners and therefore do pay.

So what can we do about angry drivers? Well, an improvement of education and dialogue between all road users can’t hurt. It’s important that both cyclists and drivers display a little more empathy and understanding towards each other, and try to comprehend the frustrations that both face.

After all, cyclists don’t set out to enrage drivers – they’re just trying to get from A to B, just like every other road user.

Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

One thought on “Understanding Why Drivers Hate Cyclists

  • 28 June, 2013 at 8:29 am

    I thought only drivers in my country are that stupid.


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