When I heard that three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome was “rammed” by a car and the driver failed to stop, I was shocked. But I wasn’t surprised.
Unfortunately, this kind of aggression is a common experience for cyclists. I know because I’m a bike commuter.
Somehow, the simple act of riding my pushie along the side of the road is enough to send some motorists into a violent rage. And by rage I mean wildly gesturing with arms, yelling, tooting and swerving into my path.
This is how cyclists are treated by a minority of motorists every day.
Just got rammed on purpose by an impatient driver who followed me onto the pavement! Thankfully I'm okay 🙏 Bike totaled. Driver kept going! pic.twitter.com/o7FT4iXsAo
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) May 9, 2017
Let me share just two personal experiences to illustrate what I mean.
In the first, I stopped at a red light with a tradesman in a ute behind me. There was no bike lane so I was in front of his car. He revved his engine, impatient, and then moved forward to get his bumper as close to my rear wheel as possible. I stood my ground. I was going straight ahead, he was turning left.
When the light went green I started pedalling through the intersection, but instead of waiting a second or two before turning left behind me, he sped ahead and turned so sharply in front of me I had no time to react. The rear corner of his trailer hit my front wheel, I hit the road in the middle of the intersection, and he disappeared into the distance, arm out the window, middle finger raised.
No other motorist stopped.
Another time, at a barbecue, I was told by a fellow luncher that he “hates cyclists” and drives as close to them as he can, because they annoy him.
“And I don’t wait until I’m past them before swerving back in. I’ve made some crash onto the nature strip,” he said.
Not all drivers holds these extreme views, but even some mild-mannered people lose their temper when they get behind the wheel and encounter a cyclist on the road.
It’s stating the obvious but cyclists routinely lose their lives because of these attitudes and driving decisions.
Like this rider. He was hit by a ute traveling at such high speed that it pushed another car 80 metres down the road when the driver crashed into it, despite it being a 50 km/h zone. The driver fled on foot. The rider was left to die on the roadside.
And this rider. She was travelling through a green light when a truck travelling in the same direction turned left and struck her. Like so many road deaths, hers was another avoidable tragedy.
Some drivers don’t seem to care that there is almost no margin for error around bikes.
According to the 2011 Census, 1.3 per cent of all trips to work in Australia were by bike.
But 2015 data from the federal department of infrastructure shows cyclists make up 3 per cent of all road fatalities and 15 per cent of all road hospitalisations. That’s a disproportionate amount of damage being suffered by cyclists, who are actually making the roads less congested.
That’s not to say riders deserve special treatment – if they break the road rules they should be punished, the same as motorists, who also deserve protection from the often catastrophic consequences of reckless bike riding.
That said, if I was empowered by police to fine motorists who I see talking on their mobile phones, driving through red lights, speeding and failing to indicate when changing lanes or turning corners, I could increase state revenue by thousands of dollars a year.
There are plenty of good ideas for protecting cyclists. Better infrastructure is one. Better driver training is another. But those put the onus on policymakers, state governments, local councils and taxpayers.
There’s a better solution. Drivers must accept that cyclists have a legal right to use the road.
Only when they accept this reality and drive accordingly will riders be protected from the unprovoked aggression that Chris Froome, myself and hundreds of thousands of others endure simply because we ride a bike.
Thomas Hunter is the Editor of The New Daily