Motorists, take heed: the road belongs to all of us who use it
Published 14/10/2015 | 02:30
Just who is King of the Road? Earlier this year, a Mayo farmer driving his tractor was catapulted to fame when it emerged in court that he had caused a seven-mile tailback with almost 100 cars trapped behind him.
The judge ordered the farmer to pay €300 in fines and banned him from driving for a year.
The farmer had argued that he had pulled over earlier to allow cars to pass and did not realise the extent of the tailback. There was not a lot of sympathy for him.
What is also pretty incredible was that a local Garda patrol car managed to overtake all the cars in order to get to the root of the 'convoy' and its 20-mile-an-hour leader. For anyone driving in a rural area, the presence of tractors is a frustrating problem: they are too slow to sit behind, too wide to easily pass and often their drivers are too reluctant to let motorists pass safely.
In recent years, the popularity of cyclists and cycling clubs has created a new tractor-like logjam.
Most weekends, travel any part of the country and you are bound to come across groups of cyclists, strapped into lycra and wearing those 'go faster' helmets. They cycle in formation, looking like shoals of fish, and again these groups are just too wide to be overtaken unless on the straight.
I have argued with friendly MAMILS (middle-aged men in lycra) that it might be better if they strung out in single file, but I have been assured that is more dangerous. Nevertheless, it can be extremely frustrating waiting for the straight and hoping the outer cyclists will bunch in, just a little.
Cyclists in cities tend to fare better - if there is sufficient civil planning.
In the Netherlands, there are, on average, 1.1 bicycles per adult and the country's cycling infrastructure ensures it is the cycling capital of the world. In Ireland, cyclists compete with pedestrians and buses for much-desired road space and then thumb their noses at their combustion-engined competitors as they snake through red lights and over footpaths.
And then there are horses using the public roads. Often two abreast, these large animals are voracious occupiers of road space and can be temperamental.
In August, the Road Safety Authority published a handbook on how to treat horses on public roads. Motorists are advised not to blow the horn or flash their lights, as they might frighten the animals. Often the riders will assist in the overtaking, using arm signals to ask the traffic to slow down or to indicate it is safe to overtake. One positive element of the lack of speed of most horses and their riders is to make it easier to overtake.
Even walkers can cause delays on country roads where paths do not exist. The old adage is to face the traffic - walking towards the motorists, so that they are seen, and cross alternatively at blind corners.
In cities, motorists can be surprised at busy crossings when impatient pedestrians cross before they have been given permission - or jaywalk, as our American friends term it.
In fact, it would appear that everyone is against the humble motorist, who only wants to get from A to B in the quickest time possible. Everyone else who uses the public roads is judged in accordance with how they affect the private motorist. But this is actually counterintuitive and inaccurate. As, too, is the cry that motorists pay their road tax and horse riders or walkers do not.
In fact, many of the non-motorist users of our public roads pay as much road tax as the drivers who complain about them, if not more.
And, moreover, the motorist is actually the cuckoo in the nest. Public roads, like common ground, are owned by the public.
Before the private motor vehicle gained dominance, the public highway was an open space in which people walked, stalls were erected and children and animals played.
It was an open area, as much to do with accommodating people as it was to providing passage to another location.
Consider the old-fashioned horse and carriage making its way through a crowded thoroughfare, with the driver cracking his whip and scattering urchins - the carriage was very much the villain. In short, the private vehicle is 'overgrazing' on our common, public roads.
Once we understand just who is King of the Road, then we can make laws and spaces appropriate to all the users - not just the ones with the loudest horn.