The Most Basic Respect

Although I read a lot of news articles about injury and death on the road, many involving “cyclists” (they’re people who happen to be on bicycles, but the “cyclist” generalisation is pertinent to this article), I very rarely read or even see the comments.

But sometimes, I do read them.

Thus far, I’ve managed to resist ever posting a comment myself.

This post is hopefully the one comment I will ever need to make.

A representative comment

The comments I read today were beneath a story about Tracy Squire, whose son Daniel was killed by a van last month. Tracy is seeking to confront the attitude of some people to “cyclists” and, with depressingly predictable irony, the comments serve to illustrate the root of the issue.

I’m only going to use one as an example. It’s wholly representative both of the comments that regularly appear on these articles and of the attitude that is so deeply problematic:

Whilst this is not aimed at this particular cyclist in any way as I do not know the facts, and nobody deserves what happened, respect has to be earned. That wont happen all the time a large proportion of cyclists simply regard road laws as inapplicable to them. Jumping red lights, up onto the pavement, between lines of traffic switching from one side to the other, not using supplied cycle paths (happens all the time on Watling St/Sovereign Boulevard in Gillingham) No, not all cyclists by any means, and most ‘serious’ cyclists are all to aware of the dangers, but definitely a big enough proportion to give the rest a bad name.

Respect

Let’s get one thing, perhaps the purest essence of the problem, very straight right here and now:

Respect does not have to be earned.

You can walk out into the street, see hundreds of people whom you’ve never met before in your life, and you can respect them. You can let them do what they’re doing, wear what they’re wearing, say what they’re saying. It’s perfectly normal and natural and – by and large – everyone does this. It’s basic respect that we all have for each other by default.

Yet, somehow, many people seem to have a philosophical problem with extending this to the idea of driving in such a way as to simply ensure that these people stay alive.

Earned by whom?

I’m going to bet a pile of cash that Daniel Squires was not known by the van driver that hit him ; nor by the commenter who – despite his “I’m not a racist, but…” style preamble – diminished his worth.

If they’d never met, how can the driver have determined whether Squires had or had not “earned” sufficient respect for him to be permitted to not be killed that day? (What is the threshold level, anyway? At what point do people earn the right to stay alive and pass out of the “perfectly justified to make their families never see them again” zone?)

If the idea of earning respect is ludicrous, the idea that it should be earned by others on a victim’s behalf is sheer lunacy.

If a teenager was stabbed to death in the street, would people comment to the effect that some other teenagers are rude and noisy, and teenagers need to earn respect?

If a woman was violently raped, would people comment to the effect that some other women are flirty and wear too few clothes, and women need to earn respect?

If a driver was fatally injured in a road rage attack, would people comment to the effect that some other drivers regularly exceed the speed limit, jump red lights, use mobile phones, tailgate, read the newspaper, fail to ensure their tyres are legal, are distracted by satnavs or park illegally, and drivers need to earn respect?

I suspect not, despite regular press releases and news articles (1, 2, 3, 4… there are many more) which make it clear that is actually the overwhelming majority of drivers who do at least one of those things.

Yet the death of a teenager, a woman or a driver who happens to be on a bicycle at the time can be hideously rationalised by some as unimportant, on the basis that some other people jump lights. Not even them – as if that might justify killing or injuring – but people who have nothing to do with them.

How hard is it not to kill someone?

When behind the wheel of the car, contrary to what many would believe, people do know deep down what their vehicle can do when things go wrong. Consciously or not, they know it can easily kill: we all have the same basic instinct for the physics of life-threateningly fast and heavy objects and we’ve all been taught as children that you don’t step in front of a car because it will kill you. But, for whatever reason, people blank this out when they get behind the wheel. They don’t make the very easy and simple choice of bringing it to the front of their mind.

All it really takes to make people safe is to decide never to kill someone.

All it takes is to think about how you would feel if you did. To think about how you would feel if someone else killed your son, or your wife, or anyone for whom you cared deeply. All it takes is to think about that whenever you turn the ignition key.

Yes, for reasons I’ve yet to fathom, many people are reluctant to adopt this frame of mind. How hard is it to simply decide that the most important aspect of driving is not to kill?

Respect is a choice

Respect is not earned. Respect can – should - be voluntarily given, not least because those who need it may not have the opportunity to earn it. To respect people is a choice. In most aspects of life people choose to do so unquestioningly. Yet not on the road.

To use this excuse to diminish the value of lives lost on the road is cheap and morally bankrupt, and is a cover for a baffling reluctance to make just one decision: that not killing someone is the most important thing you will do today.

The most basic respect of all is surely to respect someone’s mere existence.

If you feel that such a fundamental level of respect needs to be earned, then you are a deeply dangerous human being.

About these ads

42 thoughts on “The Most Basic Respect”

  1. I agree with most of what you’ve written with such insight and clarity. But as both a regular driver and cyclist, I feel I have to point out that …

    “All it really takes to make people safe is to decide never to kill someone.”

    Driving is absurdly difficult. To do so safely and successfully requires the coordination of multiple arm and leg movements together with simultaneous awareness of a large number of objects, many small, many moving at very high speed, not only in your direct vision but also peripheral and mirror-based vision too. This is *hard*. In many way it’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents.

    Cyclists in traffic are extremely agile, and it’s very easy to blink, and miss the fact that there’s someone riding up the inside or outside of your car who wasn’t there a moment ago. And in that moment, you have the potential to kill someone. I’ve never had an accident, but I’ve been both perpetrator and victim in incidents that could easily have lead to one.

    Accidents are accidental – that’s why they’re called accidents. And the attitude that some drivers have to other road users is inexcusable. But to say that everyone would be safe, if only drivers would actively decide not to kill someone is dangerous nonsense.

    1. Yes, at face value, the statement that a change of mindset is “all that’s required” is over-simplistic.

      But that change of mindset – the recognition that whatever you do, it mustn’t kill anyone – really is all that’s required to start down a path of driving safely.

      Once you adopt that approach, you know that people can be missed, so you always look again. You know that some people on bicycles are idiots, so you let them get on with being idiots without driving into them. You know that people are moving around you, so you look behind you and alongside you. You know that people can be forced to swerve, so you leave them space.

      You respect people you’ve never met, you don’t gamble with their lives, because you’ve decided that whatever you do, it’s important that you don’t kill.

      Accidents may have no malicious intent, but to imply that they are – mechanical failures aside – unavoidable is to give up on safe driving and to give up on the lives of fellow people and the wellbeing of their families.

      Vehicles can be driven in a way that dramatically minimises risk to others, particularly those who don’t have a ton of steel and airbags around them.

      And simply deciding to never kill anyone is the key to doing that.

    2. Oh dear. They are not called accidents any more. They are ‘incidents’ or ‘collisions’, you will never see the police or other emergency services refer to a traffic incident as an accident. Categorically there will be fault. The classics I skidded on ice, the other car just stopped suddenly or any other ‘excuse’ you can create all comes back to an error on the drivers part. The ice? well you were driving too fast for the conditions. The car stoping? you were too close. Even in extreme cases, my wheel just fell off – when did you last have them checked? Justify it to yourself however you like, but there is no such thing as an accident. An accident implies it was pure chance that could not be avoided. It might not be your fault but it will be someones. This is a great thought provoking blog and part of the thought process encouraged by it is to think about what YOU need to do to prevent you being the reason for the ‘accident’

      1. Actually, I’ve seen Hampshire Road Police refer to them as “accidents” on more than one occasion recently. Which surprised me – I thought all forces had adopted “incident” – but there you go.

        Anyway, “accident” still doesn’t mean inevitability or lack of fault.

    3. “Driving is absurdly difficult. To do so safely and successfully requires the coordination of multiple arm and leg movements together with simultaneous awareness of a large number of objects, many small, many moving at very high speed, not only in your direct vision but also peripheral and mirror-based vision too. This is *hard*.”

      I agree with this aspect of what you’ve written. However, I do not believe that the majority of drivers agree with you. If they did you would expect that they wouldn’t exacerbate the difficulty by looking at their phone while driving, or talking to a passenger, or having a sandwich. You would think that they would stick to the speed limit, obey traffic signs and signals, not overtake on blind corners, drive to weather conditions, and all the other things that indicate that you realise you’re doing a difficult thing and could get it wrong.

      The problem is that the nation at large thinks that driving is so easy that you can pass a test in it once at 17 and never need to learn anything else about it for 5+ decades of driving.

      1. +1. I wasn’t attempting to defend the shocking behaviour that’s practiced regularly by a minority of drivers. I’ve long believed that driving licences shouldn’t just be earned, but maintained.

    4. “Driving is absurdly difficult”. Add to that “killing someone with a car us absurdly easy” and you have the two reasons most people shouldn’t be driving. Very few are up to the challenges all the time, most aren’t any of the time.

      As for your excuse that it’s because cyclists “appear” – the times I’ve been put in danger by drivers that would only be true if their distant focal point were about 2 metres. I suppose it may be, but then they really shouldn’t be driving.

      Yesterday, for example, I was cycling through a nearby village, under street lights, wearing hivis and with a good headlight. A man in an SUV simply pulled out into my path from a side street. Perfect sight lines, I saw him coming and stopped, he just sailed straight out. Did I mysteriously “appear”? Only if he’s mostly blind. Was it accidental? I’d say not. I think the truth is that some (most) drivers know find where the risk of harm lies , and simply assume I’ll take the necessary action to avoid dying.

      Actually I think what it really takes is to separate cars and bikes, but in the interim by all means appeal for drivers to decide not to kill, but also campaign for proper punishment, including lifetime bans, for those who damage through arrogance, inadequacy or lack of thought.

    5. Nah – driving is not absurdly difficult. Driving is easy. Not killing someone is easy. There are no accidents. plenty crashes but no accidents. As soon as people stop making excuses and just take responsibility for looking out for each other on the roads then we’ll see death rates plummet.

  2. Yes – He shouldn’t have been there/wasn’t there a moment ago/was in my blind spot aren’t excuses. If you are responsible for a piece of potentially lethal machinery it is your absolute responsibility to make sure it doesn’t kill,maim, or injure others, irrspective of whether they were fully legal/sensible/visible. Same goes for cyclists vs pedestrians.

  3. Bike riders aside: Q. How many cars do you see with scrapes and dents? A. Loads. At least half the drivers of those cars, at least temporarily, are not driving to what I, and many others, would consider to be an acceptable standard. And do they have to learn by hitting other people? No. I point the finger at driving instructors.

    On the respect angle: if drivers think cyclists need to show respect then can I ask for the reciprocation? When I am on my bike I am initially exceedingly courteous, as the principles of bushidou demand, until a driver endangers my life. Then I apply ultra-safe vehicular cycling rigidly. Usually this takes about half an hour. It may delay drivers somewhat. If this strikes you as not showing “respect”, it’s because I am merely reflecting your behaviour. Maybe that’s what other apparently disrespectful cyclists are doing, hmm? After all there’s so many more of you to provide role models. Do you really know otherwise. drivers?

    1. There are certain roads on my ride home where I maintain a very strong primary position, completely blocking the road unless the opposite side of the roadlear to allow motorists behind to overtake. I do this because experience has taught me that if I do otherwise then I will be subject to dangerous pass after dangerous pass.
      It would be lovely t assume that the next driver will treat me with respect and pass me slowly,, cautiously and with care but I am painfully aware that the majority of motorists value a few seconds saved on arriving at the back of the next line of cars over my safety.

  4. The kind of the person who thinks respect has to be “earned” will never ever give respect. It is just their way of excusing and rationalising their own inhumanity and prejudices. It doesn’t usually matter if the person they object to rides a bike, is of a different race or sexuality or sex.

    As you say everyone deserves respect in a civilised society. Increasingly over the last couple of decades, there seems to be an increasing part of Uk society which seems to have developed a massive attitude problem and basically become shallow and feral.

    I’ve worked in a hospital environment for over 20 years and have seen the amount of resources against abuse to healthcare workers increase though necessity, and the selfish “I want attention now” attitude become more prevalent.

    I suspect a lot does seem to have roots in the selfishness culture created back in the 70s and 80s. I’m also not sure if it is getting worse with the advent of social media, or that they have just found an outlet. A lot of the media feeds this culture as it is easy clickbait for them.

    I drive and cycle regularly and find that a proportion of drivers have a terrible attitude and hate and are just frankly dangerous towards anyone else on the roads, regardless of whether they walk, drive, or cycle. That is actually one thing which keeps me sane as it makes me realise that the hatred and impatience is to everyone else, and not just cyclists.

  5. Actually, respect DOES have to be earned – by those with significant potential to hurt or kill others. Namely motorists.

    Once they and their organisations have worked out a way win which their danger can be properly educed and they can be made accountable for their actions, then maybe they can have some from civilised people.

  6. Is cycling so absurdly difficult to do safely? Where is the cycling instruction? Non existent

    You, or anyone for that matter can walk into a your local Halfords and buy an invincibility cloak In fact I have heard the sales patter ,will save your life in an accident …blah blah helmet.

    Coupled with the newly found love of cycling, popularized by some guy on TV winning a race in France, then jumped on by the advertising of a company which aims to maximise sales at teatime, any individual with no common sense can now buy a bicycle and think they are as safe in the Car they went to buy the bike in sans roof rack.

    If you put enough people with enough flaws in their abilities to comprehend road use and safety
    you get collisions

  7. Yes, actually, every time a woman is raped, someone will point out that she probably brought it on herself by going out alone, going out at night, drinking alcohol, wearing certain clothes, not being a virgin etc etc etc repeat ad nauseam. Apart from that, you’re spot on

    1. Excellent article, and interesting comment thread, too.

      I also thought “If a teenager…” well, yes, people do say that kind of thing. “If a woman…” well, yes. “If a driver…” um, no. No, people don’t have that reaction when it’s drivers in question. Why not?

      Well, it’s never a cyclist, or a teenager, or a woman (or at least, not a woman who’d ever go out looking like that!), who makes these generalised ‘justifications’. These comments put the victim into an ‘other’ group, and make the speaker/writer feel safer by thinking, “Those people take terrible risks, but I’m not one of them… I’m not like that so I’m safe.” In this country, almost every adult is a driver, so almost everyone can identify as a member of the group ‘drivers’. Casting ‘drivers’ as risk-taking and vulnerable makes no-one feel safer, so no-one does it.

      None of this undermines (or even addresses) the central point of this post, which I wholeheartedly agree with. If drivers were a little more aware of the lethal weapon they’re in charge of, it might be a little less lethal.

  8. Good analysis as usual. A lot of people say that cycle training should be required before driver training. This might well work, but I cannot see it happening. So how about all driving lessons having a five minute session where the trainee stands at the edge of a pavement, by a fast busy road, with their back to the oncoming traffic. This would illustrate the power and intimidation of motor traffic.

    Should help a bit for new drivers. What about our existing stock of drivers? I think a lot of them are never viscerally exposed to traffic in a vulnerable situation. They do not grasp what a monster they are part of.

    Regards

    Geoff

  9. What lies In the idea that respect “should be earned” is what comes before that. What is the value of the ones that still haven’t earned it? That is the troubling thought. You say that all people should be respected by default. By the words of the other person, she believes the opposite. Maybe she was raised in that kind of environment.
    What I can conclude ( if I may) is that respect should be Learned by the givers, not earned by the takers.

  10. So long as our driving test standards are set so woefully low…(I’m ex Police advanced so I know how much more there is to be learned and I still don’t class myself as any kind of expert) there will be problems. The current test does not even involve motorway driving so you can pass your test on a Monday and go out with a car full of mates that very night and drive at speeds you have never driven at while distracted in a way you have never experienced….and we wonder why things go wrong? Add all the latest distractions courtesy of Bluetooth where you can now hook up your lethal weapon to social media and add a huge dollop of arrogance= recepie for disaster.
    A car is not a washing machine, you don’t just press a button and it happens. You are actually in control of it and need to concentrate properly. Until we all grasp that basic precept nothing is going to change.
    Add the reduction in Traffic Policing on top of that little lot so there is little or no enforcement ( mobile phone usage can’t be enforced by a camera) and the picture just keeps getting worse.

    1. Having recently passed my test on the first go round, I have to agree, as I found it quite easy and I totally agree that there is a scary lack of road policing, a lot of police forces won’t take notice of a complaint made by a cyclist either, as I’ve found out for myself, unless, so it seems, the cyclist is seriously injured or killed, they even ignore it when there is clear video evidence of the drivers dangerous behaviour, I’ve also lost count of how many people I’ve caught on video with my helmet and bike cams, using the phone or doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing while driving.

  11. I buy what you’ve said here. But on the subject of deciding never to kill anyone….

    Of course I don’t want to kill anyone. When I drive I’m acutely concious of the responsibility that goes with being in control of a large heavy fast moving metal box and for that reason I don’t particularly enjoy driving. Like many friends I have a personal policy of never touching a drop of alcohol if I’m due to be driving that day, and if I had the choice I would opt out of driving altogether in the same way – at least most of the time.

    But we live in a culture that makes it very hard to lead a normal life, especially with a young family, without driving. I do cart my two daughters – aged five and one – around town on the bike when safe routes present themselves, but opportunities are rare. Fuel taxes have been frozen for years while public transport costs rocket.

    I don’t think being concious of your responsibility when driving is enough. I would suggest that trying not to kill anyone should extend to taking every possible opportunity to campaign for safe space for modes of transport which are less lethal than the motor vehicles which saturate our towns and country.

  12. “If a woman was violently raped, would people comment to the effect that some women are flirty and wear too few clothes, and women need to earn respect?”

    Yes, people comment like this all time.

  13. I cycle-commute every day in a city, Cambridge, where drivers do give more respect to cyclists than average. But I do stop at red lights and give cars room where it’s safe, out of respect to the drivers. They get reasonably frustrated seeing others breaking rules where they cannot. It breaks an idea of fairness. But your point is correct, the idea that it justifies dangerous or deadly driving is absurd.

    1. “They get reasonably frustrated seeing others breaking rules where they cannot. It breaks an idea of fairness.”
      Bullshit. It is pure envy. They have been sold the snake oil of motor freedom and they are stuck in traffic.
      Most of those complaining, are happy to speed. If they were on a bike, they would probably go through red as well.

      1. In my experience about 1 in 10 drivers are like that here. Those that pull over tight to the kerb when they see you coming along the inside by queuing traffic.

      2. Actually it is a reasonable statement, to say that “They get reasonably frustrated seeing others breaking rules where they cannot. It breaks an idea of fairness.” That really doesn’t stem from envy – if you’re on a bike, and you see a cyclist jumping the red light that you’re waiting at, you’re going to feel the same aggression and disquiet as the motorists queueing around you.

        It’s an innate response that we have to people breaking rules: “Deviance response” is the area of social study. We innately want to see rule-breakers punished.

        The problem is that cyclists are – technically – forbidden from jumping red lights, riding on the pavement, and so on…but unlike motor traffic laws, these rules are rarely enforced. In over 10 years of driving, I’ve observed maybe a handful of cars jump a red light, but I see that number in a single commute when we’re talking about cyclists. So yes, our perception of cyclists is different, because on the whole, cyclists break the rules much more often than motorists, and are not punished for it. Perhaps to change this perception, we either need to enforce the rules we have, or change them so they’re more permissive towards cyclists.

      3. @manarth

        The fatal flaw in your argument is that it makes the unjustified assumption that motorists make an objective judgement about who breaks the rules.

        The reaity is that motorists themselves break the rules on an every-day basis, but they simply don’t notice themselves doing it, because they are the in-group. So the idea that its about justified annoyance at others rule-breaking completely falls down.

        For anyone with eyes to see, just look at the frequency of illegal parking by motorists, or failing to give way when supposed to, or speeding (which is pretty much universal) or, indeed, red light jumping itself. If you include failed amber-gambling (which you should) motorists do it far, far, more often than cyclists do – for every one car that stops at red you usually get one that jumps the amber instead of stopping as the highway code says, and at least one that jumps the actual red.

        The ‘justified annoyance’ line fails completely because motorists fail to get similarly annoyed at their own relentless rule-breaking.

      4. “In over 10 years of driving, I’ve observed maybe a handful of cars jump a red light,”

        Because you’ve trained yourself not to see it! In several decades of being a pedestrian I see it multiple times at most major junctions at every light phase.

        Its gotten worse, I think, as the concept of ‘amber gambling’ appears to have been completely forgotten (they used to have public information films telling you not to do it). Sometimes now at certain junctions the entire green-man phase is taken up with such failed amber-gamblers going through on red.

  14. I see that this is an issue that can be looked at better at the meta level – which is how can we make roads safer for people. I drove when I had no alternative, and that is the rub, bad drivers really have no viable alternative or don’t see it. The automatic self-drive cars may reduce accidents eventually as can some other safety equipment. Aside from technology, then better road design and segregation is an option. Lastly designing our life differently for work and travel leads to solutions. The one thing that cannot be easily designed away is people and how they are.

  15. “because on the whole, cyclists break the rules much more often than motorists, and are not punished for it.” complete tosh….. I ride a bike and drive, only today I set my cruise control on the motorway for 2.5 hours at 70mph (satnav speed) 90% of cars overtook me, at lease half of those were doing 90 plus, and one in ten were on the phone, is that acceptable? Cars seem to make a certain block of educated society oblivious to reality, and feel that they are suddenly expert drivers

  16. Suggest you do not include rape as an example. Rape is likely to get just the response you claim it won’t get FROM A JUDGE IN COURT. Have been raped. No justice. Conviction rate down to 3%. Police refused to take report.

    1. I’m desperately sorry to hear that.

      Evidently this seems to be a contentious analogy. I think, for a start, I perhaps phrased it a little less obviously than I could have. The point I was attempting to allude to was that if someone causes harm to Person X, most people wouldn’t say that it’s justified by some other, completely different people doing something of which they disapprove. Which is a little different to the reasoning behind the (still idiotic, but in fewer ways) justification of it by Person X doing that same thing.

      I realise now that it’s a poor analogy, certainly in comparison to the others, simply because there are apparently still so many people out there who still have a moronic and bigoted view of rape. At best this clouds the point I was trying to make; at worst it invalidates the analogy completely.

      I may edit it out or clarify the phrasing at some point.

  17. Absolutely spot-on.

    The whole ‘earning respect’ ‘giving us a bad name’ rubbish is a classic example of how issues of power and politics get in the way of people’s ability to think rationally. Its utter, utter nonsense from start to finish.

    My only disagreement with this article is to point out that, tragically, some people _do_ adopt the same intellectually-and-morally bankrupt attitude in the case of women being victims of sexual violence, or (though more often with a racial spin) to teenagers being stabbed.

    (Just noticed someone already made this point above – might as well say it again anyway, I guess)

    The point is its a general moral and intellectual fallacy that applies across multiple ‘domains’. It happens anywhere there’s a power imbalance, really.

    1. Yes, unfortunately it’s always hard if not impossible to make decent analogies and I’m always in two minds about trying to do so.

      There are, of course, numerous people who think that a woman in a short skirt drinking alcohol is somehow an eligible target for some form of assault – but my main point is that there are few who would see a woman in trousers and a cardigan in a shop and think her an equally eligible target simply because last night at the pub they saw a different woman in a short skirt.

      The idea that one can justify the conscious choice to endanger or assault someone because of that person’s non-threatening behaviour is abhorrent enough, but to do justify it because of someone else’s behaviour is something quite different.

      1. This is going off on a quite a tangent, but I don’t think there’s as as much of a difference as you imply, though there might be a couple of related issues mixed up together.

        To consider a different example (to try and get away of the distressing topic of sexual violence) – its not unknown for a complaint about racism from a black person, or unfair prejudice from a Muslim, say, to get the response that such complaints aren’t to be taken seriously as long as there exist black people who commit street crime or Muslims who commit terrorist acts. This can happen even if the individual involved has never broken the law in their life.

        There’s a tendency to treat ‘out groups’ as if they are collectively-responsible for everything any member of the group does, while the dominant group is not seen the same way.

        Members of such out-groups are likely to be seen as interchangeable members of a collective. While members of the dominant group are automatically seen as individuals (‘motorists’ being the group here).

        Granted, I’ve yet to hear ‘all cyclists look alike to me’, but I think that’s essentially the mentality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s