Motorist says he pays for “driving surface”; would swerve to hit soft thing rather than hit hard thing

The recent brouhaha over the ESPN sport anchor who said it was “hilarious” to watch two cyclists getting sideswiped by a car on stage 9 of the Tour de France brings into sharp focus whether some motorists view cyclists as fair game.

Cyclists don’t pay for roads, goes the belief (a mistaken one) so shouldn’t be on roads. Should there be a choice between hitting a tree or hitting a cyclist, some drivers may instinctively opt for hitting the cyclist. That’s certainly what happened in the Tour de France. is specific to the UK. Our roads are paid for by income tax and council tax, not ‘road tax’, a tax that was abolished in 1937. The tax we have now is Vehicle Excise Duty, a tax on emissions, not payment for use of the road. In America, roads are mostly paid for by property tax, with a tiny and declining bit from fuel tax.

The ESPN anchor, host of ‘Around the horn,’ twittered that he found it funny to watch two cyclists nearly die. The messages were a follow-up to what was said on his TV show:

“We don’t want bikes on the road with us when we’re going to work…”

Yesterday on, BikeSnobNYC said: “Whether it’s your commute, your training ride, or the Tour de France, too many people in America think if you get hit by a car on your bike then you got what’s coming to you.”

Also yesterday, the Boulder Report’s Joe Lindsey, wrote: “What really galls me, and most people, is the insinuation that hitting people on bikes with a car, in any circumstance, is funny. That’s tantamount to saying it’s OK.”

A day later and a letter to the Houston News by a reader calling himself Blake Brown shows that some motorists clearly have road ownership issues, and this leads them to view cyclists as lesser road users, road users who are “freeloading” and who should therefore not be surprised if they get slammed into should there be a choice between a large obstacle up ahead and a squishy one.

“This is to all the bicycle riders out there who think they have the right to ride on any road – you really do not, except at your own risk.

“I have had people who ride tell me that they pay tax dollars, too, for that road, therefore they should be able to use it. That is wrong. What you (and I) and everybody else pay for is a driving surface – for automobiles.”

He then goes on to articulate what many cyclists have long assumed…

“If it is a choice between hitting a car or hitting a cyclist, the cyclist is gonna be hurting – for several reasons. First, they should not have been using a road with no shoulder; second, the auto may contain a family, and it is better to harm one person than a family; and lastly, to be frank, hitting a cyclist will do way less harm to my truck, and that is a good thing. I don’t have the money for a new truck, but I can limp by with a few dings – you might not.”

In Brown’s world – a worldview shared by way too many motorists, on both sides of the Atlantic – cyclists should not be on roads, period/fullstop.

“Keep to dedicated bicycle paths – that is what they were intended for – not roads,” he wrote.

The disregard for the road rights of cyclists – or perhaps the ignorance we have any at all – can be witnessed daily, sometimes at close quarters. Some motorists think nothing of squeezing in front of cyclists at build-outs, hence the need for (rare) signs such as the one above. Others, on country lanes, will barrel towards you at full speed as though you’re not there, not flesh and blood: get out of the way, or get hit.

What are motorists thinking when they do this? Are they not thinking at all? Or do they genuinely believe cyclists are lesser beings? If so, at least part of this mindset is possibly due to the entitlement complex, the belief that motorists, and only motorists, pay for roads.

+++++++++ is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.