A Message to Courteous Motorists

Motorists are often criticised by cyclists and other people for their bad or careless behaviour when driving near cyclists. This criticism is understandable given recent research on the causes of accidents involving bicycles, but we often fail to recognize the many motor drivers who are courteous and careful. It may seem strange to thank someone for just doing what ought to be expected of any sane, decent person, but it does no harm to acknowledge the respect and care you afford me when I am just trying to get to work like you.

In general, I would like to thank you for recognizing that we all have the right to use the roads, which are paid for from the taxes that we all have to contribute (not from the Graduated Vehicle Excise Duty that users of the more heavily polluting vehicles are required to pay), and for recognizing that you have a particular responsibility to be careful when you are in charge of a large, heavy, dangerous piece of machinery.

So, as a courtesy to you, here is an explanation for some of the things that I do even though you are a courteous driver, because I can’t tell until someone does something stupid whether they are courteous or not.

  • Generally, if there is sufficient room in the road, I try to ride in a position that gives you, the courteous motorist, as much space as possible to pass by, but without actually riding in the gutter or in the part of the road that is breaking up due to last year’s frost. Thank you for recognizing that this is a courtesy, not an obligation, and ensuring that you leave enough space for me to be safe when you pass by me, in accordance with highway code rule 163. You may be surprised to hear that there are some motorists who, unlike you, allow less than two feet of clearance when passing me; even as little as an inch or two in some cases and often at high speeds.
  • Sometimes, I may even need to move further out into the road to avoid an obstacle like a big pot-hole, a sunken drain, or load of glass strewn across the carriageway. Thank you, courteous motorist, for ensuring that you do not attempt to overtake until it is safe to do so, in accordance with highway code rule 163, and that you maintain a safe distance.
  • If I do move out to avoid an obstacle, I always try to do it well in advance and with a clear hand signal. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to swerve suddenly and unavoidably because of a hazard that I didn’t see early enough or because of a hazard that has just appeared, such as a pedestrian stepping into the road. Again, thank you for ensuring I always have enough space for this, in accordance with highway code rule 212 and highway code rule 213. There actually are other drivers who, unlike yourself, risk my life and limb by driving in a way that leaves no room for manoeuvre should unexpected things happen.
  • I always try to give clear hand signals before making any manoeuvre, so thank you for paying attention to these. Believe it or not there are some drivers who, unlike you, see my hand signals as a challenge to them to change their own road position or speed to try to prevent me from carrying out my intention. Why they do this I don’t know, and it is very frightening – perhaps they were bullied themselves at school?
  • Much of the time I try to use designated cycle lanes if they are provided, but sometimes you may find me riding out in the shared part of road even when there is a cycle lane present. This is in accordance with highway code rule 63, and I do it because some cycle lanes can be dangerous so I consider it safer to ride out in the road where I can be more easily seen, and also for the reason given in the second item above.
  • When I do use a designated cycle lane thank you for realizing that this does not give you carte-blanche to ignore highway code rule 163. There are some other drivers who think that it is OK to pass me at speed within a few inches in this circumstance, making cycle lanes often more dangerous than if they hadn’t been there.
  • When I am passing parked cars, I will tend to ride at least 1.5 metres away from them. This is because there are some careless people who open car doors without looking properly. I still recall when I was learning to drive my instructor telling me to leave one car door’s width between me and the parked cars; you may remember this from your own lessons as well, but thank you anyway for respecting my need to do this when riding on my bicycle.
  • Sometimes as you approach me you may find that I am riding out into the middle of the lane ahead of you. This is called “claiming the lane”, or “riding in primary position” and is a practice recommended for cyclists by, for example, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, Bikeability, the National Standard for Cycle Training, and the Department for Transport. I will tend to do this in places where the available lane width is fairly narrow because, believe it or not, there are motorists who, unlike you, will risk my life and limb by trying to get through even the smallest gap, often at speed, if I ride closer to the kerb. I may also do this: when passing side roads, when approaching any junction (especially in a lane that is shared by both straight-ahead and left-turning traffic), when approaching a roundabout, when moving across to another lane, or when I see an obstacle up ahead that I will have to go around.
  • You will often find that I ride out in the first lane on a roundabout and signal right to indicate that I am going to continue past the next exit, in accordance with highway code rule 77. You may be surprised that I even take up this position when there is a cycle lane around the perimeter of the roundabout; that is because such cycle lanes are dangerous, as pointed out by the Cycling England Design Portfolio on page 3 of section A.13 Roundabouts . I would like to thank you, courteous motorist, for hanging back to let me pass the exits, as required of you by highway code rule 187. Believe it or not, there are other motorists who will cut across me in such a situation just so that they can exit the roundabout one or two seconds earlier!
  • Talking of cutting across me, I would like to thank all courteous drivers for obeying highway code rule 167 and not risking my life and limb by cutting me up when you want to turn left. You would be amazed how many other drivers there are who, unlike you, will overtake me and then cut across the front of me to make a left turn (sometimes without indicating either).
  • Sometimes, you may find that I pass you on the left or between the lines of traffic when there is a queue, for example at traffic lights or at a roundabout. This is called filtering, and is perfectly legal on the roads in this country as established by highway code rule 163 and acknowledged in highway code rule 160, and I thank you for recognizing this. It is good that you understand that different vehicles have different advantages, yours being the enormous amount of power provided by your engine as well as the protection from the weather that your roof provides; mine being the narrow width and high degree of manoeuvrability of my very light-weight machine. Thank you for recognizing that the safest place for me to be at traffic lights is out at the front of the queue in full view of everyone, and for allowing me to get to that position whenever possible. It may surprise you to know that there are some other selfish drivers who will deliberately change road position to stop me getting past; can you believe that?
  • When you show me courtesy, I will usually try to acknowledge that with a wave. Sometimes, though, I am a bit busy trying to watch out for hazards, avoid pot-holes, signal, change gear, brake, steer and/or pedal hard to minimize the delay I might cause for you and other road users. On those occasions, I may not get round to thanking you, but this does not mean I am ungrateful.
  • When I am going more than a couple of miles, I will generally wear Lycra cycling shorts or leggings, and a flourescent yellow or orange shirt or jacket. This is not because I think I am God’s gift, or Bradley Wiggins, nor even that I think I look good in Lycra (I’m pretty sure I don’t). It is simply that the pants are extremely damn comfortable because they don’t crease under my arse, and the flourescent stuff makes me visible even to those drivers who, unlike you, are too ignorant to notice my existence otherwise. Apparently, there are some other drivers who find this mode of attire annoying (the name Clarkson comes to mind); I don’t know why this is – perhaps it’s just because it reminds them that they are even fatter than I am.

Update:
Dear courteous motorist,
You may also want to read this: http://willcycle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/dear-driver.html

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4 Responses to A Message to Courteous Motorists

  1. EricD says:

    Thanks for pointing me at this.
    There’s a lot to say !

    Reminds me of this letter addressed to his own inquest/jury !
    http://icycleliverpool.co.uk/2012/12/21/on-my-behalf/

    All the best in your retirement, no doubt well-earned.

  2. EricD says:

    Or ‘This is the last testament from a dead man.’
    http://totallycranked.tumblr.com/post/76420893033

  3. EricD says:

    PS Thinking about these, I have tried looking for a similar letter, but to bad drivers.
    None seems to exist. Do you know of any ?
    This is strange – I would have thought we need to communicate more urgently to them !
    We could even carry them pre-printed for distribution.

    Perhaps it’s just an inversion of this, which the reader can do for himself.

    Google did find
    “A letter to the driver who shouted at me” | echo in the city
    http://echointhecity.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/a-letter-to-the-driver-who-shouted-at-me/
    but that’s a different story entirely.

    • MrHappyCyclist says:

      Actually, my own is really addressed to all drivers. The title and the mentions of “courteous driver” are all tongue-in-cheek. Of course, if we were to address a communication to “dear bad driver”, we could be certain that nobody would read it.

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