Common Sense Laws and the Letter of the Law


We need rules to govern the roads. Before, speed limits and other regulations, the fatality rate on the roads was significantly higher. Before the 1930s, the roads were left to the freedom of people who used them and they were death traps.
Whilst laws are generally very good, the problem is that they can only go so far, and sometimes a rigid interpretation can conflict with common sense.

I’m not trying to say we should breaking laws. I just feel that sometimes not enough attention is focused on those aspects of road use which actually cause the fatalities.

One Way Streets

One way street with counter flow for cyclists (Dublin)

In the UK it is illegal to cycle the wrong way down a one way street. In the US it is legal. Common sense would dictate that if the one way street is wide enough, cyclists should be able to ride against the traffic. It is lazy legislation to just ban cycling in one way streets. After all, it is not bikes taking up most of the space.
Max Speed Limits.

The problem with maximum speed limits is that some motorists can see this as a target speed (or even target speed plus add on 10mph). But, there are many country roads which have a 50mph speed limit, yet, common sense dictates the maximum speed limit should be 40mph. As a cyclist you certainly feel the vulnerability and danger of cars passing at 50mph+ on tight narrow twisting roads. It is hardly surprising that this rural roads have the highest fatality rates.

Compare that to driving on a motorway, people exceeding the speed limit by driving 80mph are breaking the law; but, the danger to other road users is much less than driving 1mph over a 50 limit on rural roads.

I’d be happy for motorway limit to be raised to 80mph, but, limit for many rural roads should be reduced from 50 to 40mph. The point is speed limits are not  a perfect guide to how fast to travel. And I wouldn’t want to waste time writing articles in national newspapers denouncing all the irresponsible motorists who  break the law exceeding motorway limit.

Visibility of Bad Road Use
Also, some of the most dangerous driving practices are not breaking an obvious law. When a car squeezes past me, leaving a gap of a few inches, it is not exactly clear which law they are breaking. I’m sure many motorists drive dangerously without ever being aware of the danger they put other road users in. Yet, cycle through a pedestrian light when it is red and it is a very obvious infringement of a traffic law. But, if we take the common sense approach we would be much more concerned about dangerous manoeuvres such as driving tired,  driving aggressively, breaking speed limits, cycling without lights e.t.c than with a rigid pursuit of law infringements.
Red Lights and Red Lights
Red lights were introduced to help improve traffic flows. If you are at a pedestrian light and no one is there, you could cycle through and break the law. But, there is a huge difference between doing that and going through a red light at a T junction which interferes with other traffic flows and causes cars to have to brake e.t.c.
In Glass Houses Throw Stones.
Sometimes, you see people get worked up into an apoplexy of self-righteous indignation. – How dare that person cycle 10 metres on a pavement at walking speed to get from one cycle path to another. It’s against the law! But, these  people are probably the same who exceed speed limits or drive with a mobile phone e.t.c. You could call it the Jeremy Clarkson syndrome – have a go at cyclists, but, then ignore your own set of traffic laws such as paying no attention to speed limits. I’d be happy for Jeremy Clarkson to berate cyclists to his heart’s content if he promised to stick to all speed limits on the road. But, of course, he wouldn’t because he might try to argue it is not common sense to stick at 70 mph on motorways.

It is not just motorists who abandon common sense. Cyclists are just as prone to bouts of irrationality. I read in Cycling Weekly last week that the  CTC once had a position that cyclists shouldn’t be made to use lights in the dark – the responsibility should be for motorists to pick out dark cyclists in the pitch black and not run over them. Now, that’s the kind of lack of common sense which really doesn’t help anyone.


2 Responses to Common Sense Laws and the Letter of the Law

  1. Anon December 6, 2009 at 5:17 am #

    What makes you think it’s legal for bikes to travel wrong way in US? There are sometimes “wrong way” bike lanes with signs such as “No Entry Except Bicycles” and so on, but I believe it is still illegal to cycle wrong way (even though you may be suggesting that in the US this would never actually be enforced vs. potentially strict enforcement in the UK).

  2. Patrick December 2, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    Great post Tejvan, good to see these issues discussed in a simple and rational way.

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