Drivers rarely seem to think ahead.

It seems that, in the majority of cases where drivers overtake cycle commuters impatiently and/or dangerously, the cyclist catches up with the vehicle again fairly soon, showing that the overtake was not only dangerous, but completely pointless. The video below shows just one example of this:

I sometimes wonder why it is that they can’t see the pointlessness of this. Given the nature of the business, this driver has probably driven here many times before, so ought to know that he is probably going to have to stop for queues at the traffic lights and that there is almost always a queue for the roundabout further on (even without the road works).

I suspect that a large part of it is the way that drivers set and manage their goals whilst driving. The overall objective of the driver is to get to their next or final destination as quickly as possible but, given the number of different manoeuvres they will undertake during the journey, that is far too much complexity to be dealing with all at once; the big picture is difficult to deal with when making decisions about actions that need to be made immediately. So, the driver breaks the overall objective down into much smaller goals, each of which they believe will help them to achieve that overall objective. To the urban driver, the journey is most easily broken down into a series of short runs from one obstacle to the next, and this makes the decision process much more easily manageable. It also results in many decisions being sub-optimal in relation to the overall journey time, but seeing that requires a certain level of understanding of systems, which the average driver is simply not capable of. The result is that the immediate goal is always to get to the next obstacle as quickly as possible, which encourages an attitude that results in impatience and, in some cases, dangerous actions being taken.

This becomes even more interesting when we think about the overall efficiency of the traffic flows in an urban setting. Drivers generally like to accelerate quite hard from one set of traffic lights so that they can reach the next set as quickly as possible. This is partly because they believe they will “lose their place” in the traffic queue otherwise. To them, each short hop between traffic lights literally is a race, with the current junction as the starting grid. The result of this is that the traffic, or at least the leading cars, will almost always have to stop at the next red light, which has often been phased so that a car travelling at a sensible speed will pass through all of the lights on green; the racing drivers always get to the next light too soon and so have to stop. This means that, when the light does turn to green, the cars have to accelerate from a standing start and so the average speed of traffic going through the junction is lower than it otherwise would be, with the result that fewer vehicles get through the junction on each green phase. This increases the congestion and results in longer journey times for everyone. But, is it possible for most drivers to understand this reasoning? Well experience suggests that it is not.

In the meantime, cyclists and other vulnerable road users are the ones that get caught in the crossfire.

This entry was posted in Article, Road Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.