Ok. For many, this may be a bitter pill to swallow. But I believe the best and fastest way for cyclists to shift the negative attitude and aggression that they face from drivers is to change their ways. And in doing so, cyclists will hopefully gain some empathy and acceptance, which should translate to safer riding conditions. Something all cyclists want.
Whilst, improvements in infrastructure, car technology, education and legislation are all contributing to making the roads safer, self-driving cars will simply avoid putting cyclists in danger and this issue simply not be an issue. Unfortunately, that is 10-20 years away. And for some, it will be too late.
So it’s time for a different approach.
The ‘war’ has gone too long. It’s time to end hostility.
And to do this, I think we need to turn to an area in psychology known as behavioural bias. A behavioural bias is “the effect of an information-processing rule, something that the brain uses to produce decisions or judgments”, often against reason. You see, our brains are bombarded with information all the time. To cope with this, it’s developed a few tricks to help sort through the noise. These little short cuts the brain puts into play can be really useful - but they can also have some interesting implications
Hang in there, I promise will make sense soon.
In particular, there is one known as Confirmation Bias. Described in Wikipedia as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. Importantly, “the effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues”
This explains why someone can have a belief that just does not make real sense despite all logic, evidence or reason. And the stronger they believe in an issue, the harder they dig their heels in. We see examples of this every day. People who don’t believe in climate change or think women make poor leaders. The list goes on.
Many drivers believe cyclists are all reckless, law-breaking and aggressive with an inflated sense of entitlement.
It doesn’t matter that cyclists reduce traffic congestion and are better for the environment and the economy. And it explains why campaigns and articles that try to humanise cyclists and educate drivers have had little effect shifting driver attitude. The belief is so strong, it defies logic.
The problem is many cyclists do everything in their power to confirm this bias.
Like there are bad drivers, there are bad cyclists. Unfortunately, though, all cyclists are seen as one - whether you ride the Hell Ride, amble around the Dandenongs on a weekend or commute to town on a single speed. And because of this, we are only as good as our worst behaving representative. One cyclist shoots a red. We all shoot reds. One cyclist yells at a car, we are all aggressive.
So enough theory. It’s time to make a difference. Here are the three things I believe can have the biggest effect right now.
Don’t. Shoot. Red. Lights.
This is a huge one and one I see every day without fail. If you can safely stop. Stop. Not only is it illegal and unsafe to not do so, but for every cyclist that ambles through a red, there are a dozen angry drivers waiting at the light fuming at that cyclist's sense of entitlement.
Don’t be aggressive.
When the inevitable happens as it will on a busy road in busy cities, try not to be aggressive. And yes, it’s hard, cyclists stand to lose more but road rage is road rage and aggression is never the answer. Stupid as it sounds, I have actually smiled at people that have nearly cleaned me up. They generally get it, they know they did the wrong thing. The key here is to break away from the behaviour a driver would expect.
Reward drivers who do the right thing. Thank considerate drivers with a smile or a wave. The car that slows to let you pass before turning across your line. The car that doesn’t come out of the side street. The driver that lets you pass before opening a door. The car that gives you that little bit of space. If we take a proactive approach to change driver belief one driver at a time, we could make a massive difference.
Finally, if you see another rider do something dumb, call them out on it. Explain that their actions hurt all cyclists. Hopefully it will change their behaviour and let drivers see that we are not all the same.
The choices we make as a cyclist reflect on all cyclists, so let make this work to our advantage and make the road a safer place for all.
And did I say don’t shoot reds?