UK WRITER ALEX ROBBINS ENCOUNTERS CYCLE RAGE ON LONDON’S BUSY ROADS
It happened this morning. I’d been wondering idly when it would come just the other day, and finally, today, it did.
I upset a London cyclist so much with my driving that he banged on the window of the car and shouted rather nasty things at me.
“It was probably your fault, then,” is, I imagine, your entirely justified response.
I agree, to an extent.
Mind you, there was also a morsel of fault to be laid at the cyclist’s door.
The oncoming bus wasn’t exactly blameless, either, and nor was the illegally parked van at the side of the road.
Yes, okay, I’ll stop being cryptic and explain more fully.
Having spotted said van parked a little way ahead at the side of the road, I pulled out to pass the cyclist, early enough that I’d be able to pass before arriving at the van, thus giving the cyclist a clear road into which to pull out behind me.
However, the cyclist wanted to pull out far earlier than I expected, and swung his bike over to the right as my nose passed his rear wheel. Correspondingly, I swerved further to the right to avoid him, still keeping to my side of the road, but only just.
Space is at a premium on London’s roads.
As I did so, however, the oncoming bus had decided to swing out to his right, to avoid a queue of traffic on that side of the road, it being one of those two-lane bits of London road that isn’t really wide enough for two lanes.
I braked and adjusted my line to my left, conscious of the cyclist who was now alongside my rear quarter, and also of the van that we were by now passing. I knew I’d left enough space — not much, but enough for us both — which is why I was surprised by the slap on the window.
At the next set of lights, I wound down my window to say sorry — not wanting to inflame the situation further — and was met with a volley of abuse before the cyclist pedalled off.
As I pulled away, I felt indignant. What on Earth was this cretin doing, slapping my car and shouting at me? Couldn’t he see I’d had to avoid the bus? And what was he doing pulling out without warning like that anyway? I’d extended an olive branch by apologising, too — didn’t that mean anything?
Of course, once I’d calmed down a bit, and pondered further, I worked out that there was more to this than met my, rather overly aggrieved, eye.
Yes, the bus should have kept to its side of the road. And yes, the cyclist could have left it later, and should have checked over his shoulder and signalled before pulling out.
But the van shouldn’t have been there in the first place, as it was parked on “no stopping” double red lines, which are generally there for a reason.
And of course, for my part, I should have driven more defensively, braking and waiting to pass the cyclist beyond the van in anticipation of any problems. Should the cyclist have banged on my window?
Well, it would have been nice if he hadn’t, but he had no way of knowing I knew he was there, so he probably saw it as the only way to alert me to his presence. And I get that, without the luxury of a metal shell, mortal danger is far more at the forefront of one’s mind.
Should he have shouted at me? Again, not really, but then again I understand that a cyclist in London who sees a driver winding down their window is probably expecting to receive an earful, rather than an apology.
In short, everything that had so irritated me early on turned to be explicable or understandable on some level, and blame was attributable to all parties involved. In motorsport, they call this sort of thing a “racing incident”. All the drivers involved could have been a little more circumspect, but you can see why they chose the courses of action they did.
And while, in the heat of the moment, all parties will think they were in the right and the other(s) wrong, once they all get back to the paddock, watch the replay and have a think about it, they’ll generally accept that there was blame on all sides, and make up.
Crucially, that third-person view will give them a chance to understand why what happened, happened.
Do we do the same on the road? Do we heck.
Granted, we don’t have the benefit of an instant replay, but even then, whether we’re in a car, bus, van, or on a bike, we rarely try to see the other side. I speak from experience, because I’m guilty of it, too. I was this morning.
But I’ve also seen friends, family, and colleagues in just these scenarios ranting about the other person’s failings all the way home.
We are quick to throw blame around out on the road. For some reason, driving a car engenders the sort of anger and defensiveness that you don’t get anywhere else. If you narrowly avoid bumping into someone while walking along a busy pavement, you (hopefully) dodge around them with a polite “sorry” and think no more about it. However, in a car, teeth are bared and chests drummed, and fingers are always pointed — quite frequently, middle ones, seemingly indicating the location of the sky.
Have we really become so self-obsessed and insecure that we’re blind to our own faults, and unable to tolerate, or even attempt to understand, others’? I hope not.
Which is why I think it’s essential to retain that sense of perspective during these driving incidents. And it’s why I’m going to redouble my efforts henceforth to see the other side.
I think we all should.
Because it’s all too easy to give in to temptation; to attempt to remove the splinters from our fellow road users’ eyes without first removing the planks from our own.
Apologies for the sanctimony, but I feel this is important. As our roads get more and more choked, and we all have to get up close and personal, we’re all going to get increasingly bitter, too — spending our journeys seething quietly behind the wheel, lashing out at precisely the wrong moment and causing our own embarrassing “caught on camera” road rage moments.
Unless, that is, we try to remember that sometimes — not always, but sometimes — these things just happen.