The images are horrific: Two elderly cyclists on the pavement approach a zebra crossing, the one in front raises his right hand to indicate he intends to ride across the zebra crossing, which is on his left. The view from the dashboard camera is from the car on the left side of the two-lane slip road, which stops. As the first cyclist passes in front of the car, another one emerges on its right and barrels into the cyclist, sending the elderly man and his bicycle flying.
Whose fault was it? Netizens blaming the driver of the car accuse him of not stopping, or even slowing down. Some also suggest he was speeding. Those blaming the cyclist meanwhile say he should have dismounted and pushed the bicycle, instead of cycling, across the zebra crossing – his raising his hand before doing so notwithstanding.
The fact is, with the traffic police on the case, my opinion on the incident is as useless as yours, unless you are the investigating officer. Besides, I am much less concerned about who to blame than I am with how the elderly man is, and the question we really need to ask – specific to this instance – is how we can prevent another incident like that from happening.
So what are the rules? Is a cyclist supposed to dismount from his bicycle at a pedestrian crossing?
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The authorities appear to be in conflict on this matter. The Land Transport Authority says that cyclists are not required to dismount at traffic crossings, citing feedback from public consultation which indicates that it is impractical to do so. The traffic police, on the other hand, states on its webpage: Do not cycle across pedestrian crossings and overhead bridges. But this is in a section called Road Safety Tips for Cyclists, so it is not explicitly clear whether this is the law.
While more clarity on this would be appreciated, perhaps we could work it out ourselves using a little graciousness, and consideration for other road users.
I don’t cycle. Not on the road anyway.
As a driver, it sometimes irks me when cyclists ride across zebra crossings, but only when their doing so forces me to brake abruptly. Consider this: When you approach a zebra crossing on a slip road while you’re driving, you look across your windscreen to look out for pedestrians, then check your the blindspot on your left to see that there are no cyclists or motorbikes trying to squeeze into that narrow space between the left side of your car and the kerb.
It is, however, not quite so easy to notice a cyclist who is riding on the footpath alongside the road. Sometimes, they’d race to the zebra crossing at high speed, passing you and turning into your path just as you reach it, forcing you to slam on your brakes to avoid slamming into them.
It has happened to me a few times, when only my reflexes and the excellent condition of my car brakes prevented me from dispatching a cyclist to oblivion.
This also happens at traffic lights: The green man is blinking, there’s perhaps one second left on the clock, all the pedestrians have gone across so you start to turn when out of the blue, a speeding bicycle comes into your path on the pedestrian crossing. In each of the three instances I’ve experienced it, I blasted my horn – more out of shock than to indicate my displeasure. The reactions were similar in all: raised middle-finger as the cyclists left me in their recalcitrant wake.
Would I insist on making it mandatory for every cyclist to dismount at crossings? Hell, no. Cycle across, by all means. Just don’t hit any pedestrians while doing so. And make sure motorists who are turning can see you before you get onto the road. Stop, if you have to. Wait until approaching cars slow down. It will delay you by less than three seconds. Try it, if you don’t believe me. It could also save you from loads of pain, perhaps even death.
If, like me, you’re a driver, it would be helpful to consider that cyclists are human, too, so there is no need to treat them like enemies. There are some who cycle as a recreational activity, but for many, it is their main mode of transport. Like you, they need to travel, so let them be. If you find one in your path ahead of you, don’t run them off the road. Slow down and give them a wide enough berth, or switch lanes safely. Their presence will delay you by only three seconds. Try it, if you don’t believe me.
Conflicts on our roads extend beyond the flashpoint of cyclist versus motorist, of course. There’s pedestrian v motorist, too.
I sometimes use the road as a pedestrian, and whenever I’m at a zebra crossing, I make sure any oncoming car notices my presence before I begin to cross the road. While I may be within my rights to step onto the road and expect a speeding car to stop for me, I’ve long decided that some rights are just not worth dying for.
Some pedestrians, especially children, raise their hands as they cross the road so drivers can see them better. I don’t do it, not because I find it very twee, but because I’m 1.83m tall so a driver has to be blind to miss me. But I would raise a hand to thank the driver for stopping as I stride briskly across the road. I’ve noticed them waving back in acknowledgement, though it really doesn’t bother me if they didn’t. Try it. It won’t cause you any delay and you’ll look a lot friendlier.
As a driver, the thing that annoys me most at traffic crossings is when pedestrians deliberately take their own sweet time to cross, looking at their mobile phones, perhaps even typing messages, as they do so. How about some consideration for the drivers who are waiting for you to cross? Sure, you’re within your rights to use your phone while crossing the road but as for me, in the interest of safety, I make sure my phone is safely in my pocket.
That’s because I’d like to be able to avoid an errant driver and there isn’t an app on my phone that can bring me back to life if I get killed by one. It would give me great pleasure, though, if the ban on the use of mobile phones is extended to include all road users, including pedestrians.
Which wouldn’t be necessary if we were a little more gracious and considerate to other road users.
If you’re a driver, like me, and you signalled your intention to cut into my lane, I would slow down so you can change lanes safely. It’s not because I am the most patient of drivers. It’s just that your coming in front of me will delay me for less than
three seconds. Try it yourself, if you don’t believe me.
There are a myriad of other scenarios involving road users of all types, but none of these have to make us upset, angry, injured or dead. All it takes is a little graciousness and consideration. If anything, most of these delays will slow you down by less than three seconds. It will also save you from hours of frustration afterwards.
Try it, if you don’t believe me.