We are still reeling from the news of last Thursday, 3 January 2013. Countrywide, there has been a groundswell of pro-cycle-safety activism, ranging from Burry Stander Memorial Rides in virtually every major centre, to impassioned letters to the newspapers, to unfortunate vitriol on social media sites. Burry’s passing has not gone unnoticed outside the cycling sphere, either. Bafana Bafana has shown respect, Giniel de Villiers is hammering the field at the Dakar rally with a picture of Burry taped inside his car. The minister of sport has even got involved. Which is all wonderful, and testament to the incredible impact he had in a tragically short life.
But now we need to take the momentum that has been gained here and ensure there is some concrete progress made in the ongoing fight for cycle safety. And the challenge is frighteningly immense. Something like 1200 people (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) die on South African roads every month. I wasn’t great at maths back in the day, but I think that means that every 20 minutes, a family loses a loved one. That is insane. Unfathomable.
And, as cyclists, it is not hard to see why. We tend to be more aware of our surroundings than the average motorist, mainly because it is in our best interests to be. And, for every ‘you guys always ride two abreast’ dinner-party argument we hear, we can all hit back with a dozen or more stupid-motorist stories from our most recent ride. A lack of simple civil obedience and common courtesy is what is killing 40 people a day on our roads. 70 in a 60 zone (we know the road, it is safe!), checking messages on our phone, boasting to our mates how we talked our way out of a traffic fine: we are all guilty of it to some extent. It is a national sport.
The much-vaunted 1.5m law that is being pushed through will do a lot to help. Yes, I know you will now ask how it will be policed if they can’t keep up with all the current level of offence, but that is not the point. It is about consequence. With this in place, it will be a simple equation: you hit a cyclist, you have broken the law. Currently, I don’t think the courts have the power needed to prosecute, it is too easy to negotiate your way out of a prosecution, but with this in place, I suspect that will be a lot more challenging. What could be argued away as a mistake, or a lapse in concentration, is now a criminal act.
Now we need the government to push an education plan for motorists, around this ‘new’ piece of legislation. TV, radio, newspapers, the works. As an exercise in preaching tolerance and awreness, I think the entire road-user community will profit from one small law change.
So what can we do now, to make a difference for tomorrow?
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we need to behave impeccably. Beyond reproach, no matter how badly those around us are behaving. Stop at traffic lights and stop streets. Ride single file. Indicate, show intention, interact and be pleasant in the traffic. Ride in smaller groups – keeping single file – that don’t clog the traffic. Ditch the back-up vehicle and this strength-in-numbers fallacy – all we are doing is fighting law-breakers by breaking the law ourselves. (I know this statement will make me unpopular, but that is how I feel…). Two-abreast for ‘safety’ might get you home in one piece, but what about the next rider the motorist you held up comes across? Will he be so lucky, will the tin-can-pilot have clamed down by then?
Even if we are in the right, and a motorist has made a mistake, it really is pointless getting angry and educating old-school. A smile and a thumbs-up is infinitely more powerful than a middle finger and a reference to his mother. The next cyclist he sees, he will probably think a split-second longer about. That is all it might take.