As a newly-qualified driver at 18, I recall my biology teacher warning us that being in a car granted us only a false sense of security; in reality, we were just whizzing around in “tin cans”, he said. If roads are dangerous for drivers, then what conclusion can we draw for the road users who are not even protected by “tin cans”, so much as balancing atop steel frames?
This is why petitions like this one make me scoff. In reaction to this video, produced by West Midlands police encouraging drivers to leave the legally required 1.5metres overtaking clearance between their car and bicycles and raising awareness of how drivers might be penalised should they fail to do so, UK-based Owen McDermott created a petition appealing to Theresa May for cyclists to ‘hold insurance to use UK roads’. McDermott writes that ‘public roads are becoming unsafe to use due to one particular community that feel they are eligible to cycle on public UK roads’.
In a way, I do sympathise with McDermott and his petition’s 37,000+ supporters, probably comprised primarily of riled-up motorists sick of cocky cyclists. I do not deny these cyclists’ existence – they irritate me too – but I just don’t think cyclists should have to pay to use a road system that is not tailored to their needs or safety.
The air quality in London is one of the worst in Europe, and causes 10,000 premature deaths a year in London alone, prompting Greenpeace to launch a ‘Clean Air for London’ campaign, proposing five action points (including a ‘mass switch from gas guzzling cars and lorries to cleaner and greener vehicles’). As cyclists, we travel unprotected amongst these dangerous fumes.
Heavy Goods Vehicles represent a particular threat to cyclists – in 2014, 20% of cyclist fatality incidents in London involved a HGV. If your bike weighs 9 kilograms, that’s about 97 times less than a dinky smart car, let alone a van or a bus – besides a helmet, not much else protects us from the weight and force of these vehicles that are heavier and faster and better designed for a crash than us. A few years ago, a friend of mine came off her bike after hitting a pothole and was hospitalised with a head injury. Potholes are caused by adverse weather conditions, combined with the wear and tear of traffic. Considering the immense weight of cars versus bikes, it’s safe to assume the traffic that damages the roads is more that of four wheels than two.
Given that motored vehicles pollute the air cyclists breathe, damage the roads we balance two thin tyres on, and kill us, I’m not sure cyclists should have to pay for the small part of the road we occupy.