Let's Think

Let’s “Think Bike” – or “Bikers, think!”

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The time might have come for South African motorists to slap a bumper sticker reading something like “Bikers, please think” on their cars. (Read more)

We all know the bumper sticker “Think Bike” on the back of cars reminding us that we should be on the lookout for and considerate to cyclists. In that genre of bumper stickers the cyclists’ appeal is probably only rivalled by the “Baby on board” one.

Over the years pro-cycle lobbyists and interest groups have done their best to persuade the travelling public that cyclists on their expensive two-wheel pedal mobiles are a very special group of people worthy of being pampered like babies. There is plenty of evidence of this to be found on the net. 

The horrific bus accident in the Franschhoek Pass the weekend before last in which three people lost their lives and 26 were rushed to hospital (12 of whom seriously injured), is cause for reflection about cyclists sharing dangerous public roads with other vehicles.

According to a spokesperson of the Western Cape provincial Emergency Services the accident was caused by two cyclists on the pass when one of them had cut a corner. “It appears the cyclist cut corners and the bus had to swerve to miss him but it was obviously too late, the bus rolled, the bus came to land on its roof.” 

Last Monday morning, as I was making my way into Cape Town in the early morning peak traffic under dusky conditions along a narrow road hugging the West Coast I listened to a phone-in program on the radio. The subject under discussion was the experience of motorists with cyclists on public roads in reference to the Franschhoek Pass bus accident.

It became abundantly clear that the almost unanimous experience of other travellers was the same as mine at that very moment.

The road I was travelling along has one lane in either direction with a narrow lane demarcated on both sides with a yellow line. Besides the normal traffic, including delivery trucks, the road is also used by the MyCity bus service.

As always, there was also a good number of early morning cyclists on the road, most of them riding in the narrow side lane. But there were also two riding abreast, one well into the normal traffic lane, chatting away as they were obviously turning the luxury of morning exercise time into a social occasion.

I had to slow down considerably to fall in behind this pair, waiting for a gap in the oncoming traffic to pass them. As I went past I gave them a hoot to remind them they were breaking the law and endangering themselves and others.

And yes, as I looked in the rear-view mirror there was the anticipated rude finger in the air from one and an arrogant wave-off from the other. Some of our pampered cycle babies have become notorious for their anger management problems.

When last have you seen a cyclist giving, as required by law, a hand signal when about to turn left or right or about to stop at a stop sign or traffic light? But then, why would you give a stop signal if you never intend to stop in the first place, but are just giving a quick glance to see if you should speed up or slow down to dodge oncoming traffic?

And yes, you won’t notice if you observe the behaviour of the vast majority of cyclists, bur cyclists are not exempt from the rules and the laws applying to all other road users.

I think it has become time for cyclists to have to qualify for a special “biking licence” at the traffic authorities, like all other road users, before they are allowed on public roads.

It is time to prohibit cyclists from using some roads where the risk to them and other road users is unacceptably high or if dedicated cycle lanes are not available.

It is time to devise some form of special tax ­– maybe via an annual renewable licence – to help pay for more dedicated cycle lanes and/or cycle parks.

And, above all, it is time for traffic authorities to police and prosecute, when appropriate, cyclists who do not obey the laws and regulations of our roads.

The law must run its course with the investigation of the Franschhoek Pass accident. But if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the negligence of a cyclist caused the death of young people at the start of their adult life, he should face a charge of manslaughter, as would have been the case had he been a motorist.

I think it is time that those who behave like “babes on bikes” on our roads to get the message that they are not above the law and will have to face the consequences if they act irresponsibly.

by Piet Coetzer

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