Admittedly, I’m the first to accuse car drivers of being the guilty party when it comes to sharing the road. Especially when they, rather dangerously, get too close for comfort to those of us on two wheels.
Cyclists vs. drivers, us vs. them - the war of the road rages on.
However, it only takes me to drive my Hiyacar back from band practice on a Monday night to realise that some cyclists are not actually visible, or driving safely. I have to bite my tongue to avoid raging about how “all cyclists are so dangerous” because I, too, am one of them…
As a cyclist, I know how annoying (and scary) it can be when a car speeds up beside you, eager to overtake. That’s why I try to drive patiently and wait for the right opportunity to pass a cyclist, despite other motorists getting progressively frustrated behind me. Experiencing the road through the eyes of a driver and of a cyclist, has led me to adjust both my cycling (always using bike lights and reflective stripes) and my driving, to be more mindful of, and empathetic towards, all other road users, regardless of their means of transport.
I’m not the only one to have experienced this conscious, conscientious change in my road sharing behaviour. In 2018, Ford released a Virtual reality technology experience called WheelSwap, where cyclists could experience being a car driver on the road, and car drivers had the chance to see the road through the eyes of a cyclist. In the UK alone, 80% of drivers who tried WheelSwap changed their driving behaviour within two weeks1.
In Brazil, an educational program was set up by SEST (the Social Transport Service) and SENAT (the National Transport Training Service) to give bus drivers an idea of what it’s like to be on a bicycle when a bus falls foul of the 1.5m distance rule2. No need for a fancy VR kit here - the bus drivers sat on stationary bikes while another colleague quite literally drove a bus too close beside them…take a look at the video!
Still the best way to make bus drivers alert to their impact on cyclists.— Cycling Professor (@fietsprofessor) July 4, 2021
~Cariacica, Brazil pic.twitter.com/pMCfrktX4f
While these two methods might be different in terms of the technology involved, they have the same core idea: if you experience what it’s like to be the ‘other’, you will become better and more empathetic when sharing the road. When you encounter a road user that is riding or driving a different type of vehicle, you will be able to put yourself in their shoes and adjust your driving accordingly.
Car sharing is just one more way to build empathy on our roads. 30% of car club members use a bicycle 2-3 times a week according to the latest CoMoUK survey. The same research has consistently found that car club members tend to have a higher use of sustainable modes of transport in general, than national averages. In the last six months, 56-60% (dependent on the region) of respondents have walked three times a week, and 25-30% have used a bicycle as frequently3. This means that car club members are more likely to be empathetic and considerate drivers when it comes to other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, because they themselves are cyclists and pedestrians.
So. Councils. Hear me out. I know Low-Traffic-Neighborhoods (LTNs) are all the rage right now as they are a way to improve road safety and reduce congestion. While this is true, and believe me, I love cycling and walking through the Hackney LTNs, I’d also advise to let more car clubs in if you are serious about improving road safety. This may seem counterintuitive, allowing more cars to be parked within your borough, but research shows year after year that car club cars are the best predator for individually owned cars - a car club car gets 18.5 cars off the road in Britain and 23 in London according to the 2020 CoMoUK survey.
Competition is also the best driver to improve car club services. Better services means more car club members, and more car club members means more individuals who are likely to be more empathetic and considerate road users.
A note to individuals
If you also think that London boroughs need more car clubs, please contact your councillors. We’ve recently started asking our Hackney members to put pressure on their council, but we need your help throughout the UK! Hiyacar only operates with car club permits in Islington, Tower Hamlets and Bristol, despite being an CoMoUK accredited car club. If you want to help Hiyacar and other car clubs get permits to operate more sustainably in your borough, please send a letter to your councillors via WriteToThem.com and ask them to move away from being a single car club operator.
Thanks to Catherine Elliott for proofreading and editing this article.