The majority of motorists are considerate of other road users, however three points regarding motorists are quite apparent from interactions with them whilst using a bicycle.
- Some motorists are not fully aware of the specific vulnerabilities of cyclists
- A small percentage of motorists infringe the safety of cyclists unintentionally and accidentally.
- A smaller percentage of motorists are recklessly endanger cyclists on purpose.
Point 3 specifically deals with what are commonly known as punishment passes. It is important to understand that this is a real thing and totally separate from a miscalculated manoeuvre. Although both are dangerous in equal terms, it is important to recognise and accept that there is contingent within the motoring community that drive with malicious intent and there are reasons for this.
A punishment pass in it’s essence is where the driver deliberately misses you by mere inches, usually revving their engine.
It is incredibly dangerous. There is a real chance the cyclist will look around and in so doing swerve a few inches onto a bonnet – this could have utterly absolutely catastrophic and disastrous consequences.
Here is my theory and I draw some inspiration from the BBC article on Altruistic Punishment from 2013. If you take it as a given that it is in the human DNA to hate cheaters and liars. We are urged from an early age to act morally, responsibly and strive to do the right thing according to out own moral compass. So, from a motorists point of view cyclists are perceived as cheaters from the get-go and they stand no chance on being looked on favourably. It’s almost the same perception as when old people are seen behind the wheel. They are seen as menaces. Likewise younger drivers are perceived as maniacs. Science and statistics have proved otherwise but still these are popular if not unfair perceptions. Cyclists come prepackaged with their own prejudices.
Motorists according to themselves have, to a degree at least, earn their place on the countries roads. Perhaps this is due to the several hoops that they must pass through before they are deemed road-worthy.
- They study and complete a multiple choice theory test
- They participate in 12 driving mandatory lessons irrespective of their driving experience
- They do a practical test over the course of an hour with a stranger
- They shell out huge sums on Motor Tax (
Road Tax) and insurance
- The cost of the motor vehicle they choose to drive
- The list is endless…
It can be an arduous process for a few and involve many repeat attempts the driving test on multiple times. You can imagine the feeling of satisfaction that follows once the final hurdle has been accomplished after perhaps many failures. To get over the line must be one of the best feelings in the world. So how does a once joyful individual go to being filled full of hate?
In contrast to a motor vehicle, there is no license or test to ride a bicycle on the roads. Just owning or having the use of a bicycle gives you access to the roads. You can appreciate that the motorist now feels dismayed and betrayed by the system. What was hard earned is gifted to Cyclists. They are given a pass to seemingly ride easy and without fear of impunity on the roads.
Anti-Cyclist sentiment can be furthered by the popular media and their reporting of cyclist fatalities. It provides irritated drivers exactly what they need to affirm in their minds that a cyclist entitled legally to use the road is somehow the baddie. Just for the virtue of being on a bicycle they have ear marked themselves as a target of despise and hatred.
Some motorists have an overwhelming feeling to right this wrong and this is where altruistic punishment enters the fray. Altruistic punishment, refers to a phenomenon in which a person or party is punished for violation of perceived rules by an outside observer who is not directly affected by the violation. In this case it could be a cyclist taking the lane to remain safe but on the other hand being perceived to “hold up traffic”. The once even-tempered driver feels incensed by even the spectacle of the cyclist and flies into an uncontrollable rage. What results is a punishment pass. A driver is acutely aware of the consequences of potentially injuring someone but does it anyway. It’s over in a few seconds and the drive drives away unscathed feeling that a wrong has somehow been righted. The same cannot be said for the cyclist left in a state of trembling fear on the roadside.
Research says that the car when it comes to it is in fact the perfect vehicle to facilitate this sort of behaviour. It offers a snug self-enclosed bubble of protection by it’s locked doors. Psychologists claim that certain kinds of people develop a sense of anonymity and detachment when behind the wheel of their vehicle. Imagine what you get when you mix all of these things together in that bubble: Entitlement, Anonymity, Power, Anger, Resentment, Ignorance, Narcissism – all the ingredients to a punishment pass.