An interesting incident happened to me earlier this evening as I was cycling home from work, and there was an equally interesting response on Twitter when I tweeted about it.
I’ll start off with a matter-of-fact account of what happened. The traffic in Reading has been very heavy over the last couple of days as the bridge over the Thames in Sonning has been shut due to the floods. My cycle home takes me over the Thames via Reading Bridge, across the roundabout at the end of Napier Road (which leads to Tesco) and under the railway bridge. Traffic was very slow at around 5pm as it has been all week. On arrival at the roundabout it was a case of weaving around the cars, buses, vans & lorries in order to make progress. Look at the picture below from Google Street View. Imagine that where the small grey Peugeot is just outside the BMW garage, there is instead a black Ford Transit van. The van is very slowly edging forward but the driver’s window is wound down and he is on his mobile phone. There is enough space for me as a cyclist to pass in front of him but he hasn’t yet seen me. He’s too busy on his mobile. As I am about to cycle past him I say “if you weren’t on your mobile phone you might have a chance of seeing me” (or something very similar, no abuse, just a statement of what I believe to be fact). The driver says something but I don’t hear what it is. The road layout has slightly changed since the picture above was taken and now there is no bus lay-by to the left as you approach the bridge, just one carriageway. There is a lorry in front of me and there is no way past unless I mount the pavement which I’m not willing to do so I too stop and turn around. I make my point (as the driver is still on the phone) by mimicking someone on their phone. This clearly annoys the driver and he starts to shout abuse which includes “f** c***” and “w*****” (the latter comment while moving his hand up and down). To both of these comments I respond by saying “I may be a f** c*** / w***** but it has nothing to do with you being on your phone…”. I still can’t move forward. I have not been aggressive to the driver I have merely reflected back the abuse that was directed at me. I see his door open slightly (I think he wants me to be scared but there are lots of other cars around so I’m at no risk of being assaulted unless he is a very stupid man indeed) but again I stand my ground. I’m not blocking anyone from moving as the traffic itself is not moving and I am about 5 metres away from the front of his van. The door then opens properly and he gets out, approaches me and pushes (very slightly) my shoulder. I do, for the sake of doing so, point out that by touching me he has assaulted me (I don’t actually think a judge would ever agree but it’s simply inappropriate for anyone to touch another person if they don’t want to be touched!) at which point the driver replies “well, I’ll just tell the police what you did“. I have no idea what he is referring to here! The lorry ahead of me is still blocking the road so I make a point of turning around, staring at his number plate and memorising it. After about thirty seconds there is finally a gap between the lorry and the side of the road and I cycle off under the bridge…
I’m not particularly stressed by the incident just annoyed that this is the kind of behaviour that we cyclists have to regularly put up with on the roads from a certain group of motorists. The question is should we just put up with it? Is it worth reporting? The answer is I don’t know. So, what do you do with such a quandary? You tweet it of course so sitting in my favourite cafe in central Reading I summarised the incident in three successive tweets and asked for advice. Here is a summary of the responses that have been received in the last two hours from my followers (who are predominantly cyclists, not drivers of Ford Transits it has to be said!).
72 people responded in a manner which included giving their opinion. 59 people (82%) said I should report it. 8 people (11%) said I shouldn’t report up and 5 people (7%) said that I should perhaps report it.
Those who said I shouldn’t bother to report it made the following comments
- ‘do nothing – it’s what the police will do’
- ‘go home… and get on with life’
- ‘you’ve made him think’
- ‘your word against his’
- ‘nothing will come of it’
- ‘you’ll only be ignored’
So it’s clear that many people (cyclists) are sceptical to say the very least that the police will do anything. Is this true? Are you a police officer? Would you take such an incident further?
Those who said I should report it made the following points;
- even if the police do nothing, it flags the van and the driver up for future reference if needed
- the driver may have ‘previous’
- threatening behaviour is enough to be assault in itself [true?]
- if it was a company van then I should also report him to his employers [it didn’t appear to be as it was just plain black with no markings]
Other comments made by those who said in effect ‘maybe’ were that I should ‘sleep on it’ (always a good piece of advice) or just report it to the company (without getting the police involved).
My own take on the situation is that I did it (and will continue to do it in the future) to make a point. I’d like to think that the guy in the black van will next time reflect for a few more moments before he uses his mobile phone at the wheel again. He may or he may not. I suppose the problem is that the chances are he is not going to change his behaviour just as a result of one incident. Indeed judging by his reaction to me as a cyclist, he probably now considers cyclists as even lower down the pecking order than he did before. If I do report him to the police I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to do anything about that specific incident but I do like to think, as many people pointed out, that the incident gets reported and if the guy is a repeat offender some action is taken. Am I being naive?
Further thoughts are welcome…