Column: The best way to change driving culture is not through enforcement

Jon Cooper models items from Aldi's cycling range
Jon Cooper models items from Aldi's cycling range

The best starting point for all road-users is respect for each other and that is a two-way street for both cyclists and motorists.

As a keen cyclist, the second requirement to keep riders safe is pot-hole free roads that will allow cyclists to keep closer to the kerb and not force them to make a choice between taking on a hole or swinging out to avoid it and putting themselves in the path of any on-coming traffic from behind. This will mean cyclists can ride safely within a 1.5metre margin between the kerb and any passing vehicle.

Cycle lanes have served as a great guide and should continue to be laid out where possible as a prompt for both cyclists to keep in and motorists to give space. Admittedly, with grates and parking they are not always perfect but in many cases they have been a great help.

Regardless of the Highway Code’s allowance for cyclists to ride two-abreast , common sense and courtesy needs to apply on the part of cyclists given the nature of the road. Singling-up in traffic is an absolute must.

Large bunches of club cyclists should also consider splitting into smaller bunches too so both motorists and riders can safely share the road sensibly and safely. A huge bunch of Tour de France peloton fantasists on open public roads is asking for trouble.

With all these common courtesies in place, the onus for continued safety now falls to the motorists who needs to realise they are wielding several tonnes of metal at speed while cyclists have a polystyrene and plastic helmet for protection.

Getting from A to B in these modern busy times naturally makes all road-users impatient but a new-mind set, a change in culture if you will, is required where the instinct as motorists come across cyclists is to prioritise them. Many motorists already do this with pedestrians, with children and with emergency vehicles.

It needs to click in automatically. This culture exists in France, Holland and Belgium where motorists do not hesitate to put the cyclists’ safety first by cautiously waiting until it is safe to overtake and by cautiously giving space and not overtaking at a breakneck speed so as not to intimidate riders.

If you can imagine several tonnes of HGV breathing down your neck with air brakes blasting and gears grinding while whipping past you only inches away from your handlebars perhaps you can imagine how terrifying this can be on a repeated cycle commute.

Cycling is so popular these days I can’t imagine there are many motorists out there who don’t have children or relatives who ride and a great way for them to instil better driving habits is to imagine that every cyclist they come across could easily be one of their relatives.

Delays caused by cyclists with a careful motorist slowing down, waiting for a good space of 1.5metres to become available and overtaking at a sensible speed can soon be recovered on an open road in less than a minute. I can guarantee that time lost on any journey is mainly caused by the sheer number of cars and lorries as opposed to any common courtesy applied while safely overtaking a cyclist.

So I welcome any campaign to help change the mind-set of motorists and bring in a new culture closer to that of France, Holland and Belgium.

I think it is wonderful that South Yorkshire Police is launching a close-pass scheme but really the best way to change driving culture is not by enforcement but by education and realisation from a young age and from driving tests. Perhaps all road-users should be complete a safe cycle commute where possible as part of driving lessons to create better awareness right from the start.

The police scheme may make some people more aware and that is great but sadly as stated I do feel the issue needs to be addressed educationally and with a culture swing but seeing the police force recognising the problem and taking their own action as well is fabulous. It all helps.

I cannot make a work commute from Sheffield to Chesterfield without at least three near misses. Drivers will come in too close, make the dash to make the pass asap to avoid on-coming traffic instead of checking their path is clear first, and they often cut you up forcing you to brake and worst of all they will overtake and then turn left into a side road just in front of you. Every time your life is in danger.

Even with these problematic motorists, I am happy to say that most riders are considerate and attitudes have improved over the years.

Fortunately, I have never had an accident as a consequence of a motorist but I have pre-empted hundreds of situations which have resulted in near-misses and sadly the risk is always there.

Cyclists constantly need to check the lie of the road and the road surface for dozens of yards ahead and perhaps motorists need to become more aware of the potential hazards before making manoeuvres.

Until recently, Sheffield was a disgrace because pot holes were forcing cyclists away from the kerbs and out into the road but the road surface is greatly improving and making life safer for cyclists and motorists alike.

Cycling infrastructure in Sheffield is not too bad at all and I am always heartened to see the roll-out of more cycle lanes and red safety zones.

A positive, respectful attitude by all road-users to each other is the key with everyone observing the Highway Code.

This will ensure cyclists get home in one piece and no motorists have a death or serious injury on their conscience.