To continue talking about cycling for a moment, I remember feeling a moment of surprise when a friend pointed out that if a car has only one person in it, as is often the case, the driver has no more right to “room on the road” than a cyclist, who is also only one person. The impatience car drivers feel when “stuck” behind cyclists who are going slower than them and “taking up all the space” is based on entirely fallacious assumptions. There is the assumption, for instance, that because a car is much much bigger than a bike its driver has somehow got more right to the road than does the cyclist who is in her way. And in that phrase “in her way” lies another fallacious assumption, that the road exists for motor vehicles, and a third fallacious assumption, that the fastest road user has the greatest right to the road.
These are all assumptions which the individuals concerned rarely challenge in themselves. And why would they? The whole system, the road structure, the way cars are built and marketed, the way we approach and romanticise driving, are all set up to foster in drivers the erroneous belief that they are kings of the road. The way that roads have become “no go” areas for anything except motor vehicles, with cyclists and pedestrians only allowed on them in sufferance and within strictly controlled areas and time-frames, for instance.
The way that cars are marketed, with “0 to 60” speeds quoted – why? None of us is Lewis Hamilton, and for all practical purposes how quickly a car can go from 0 to 60 is entirely irrelevant. The adverts showing cars being driven fast along winding stretches of Scottish coastline in glorious weather to pull up by a surfing beach right where the driver and passengers can run down to the sea over the sand. Or nippy little cars whizzing round old stone cities past balconies filled with flowers to park up in front of a charming cafe in a beautiful square buzzing with pedestrians but with no other cars in sight. Hands up everyone who’s ever had either of those experiences? No, me neither. And yet we continue to swallow them as they’re pumped into us as though that’s what driving really should be like.