Denmark? Or Iraq?

Some of you may have heard about the road-rage induced pile up in Mascot, Sydney, early yesterday morning, involving several top-level competitive cyclists, as reported in The Age.

From what can be gathered so far, a motorist deliberately slammed his (why is it always ‘his’?) brakes on in front of the bunch, who were travelling at 40-odd km/h. Lots of broken bikes and bruised bodies resulted. It’s no secret that I fancy myself as a bit of a road rider, so this report had particular resonance. At work yesterday I heard rumour of it; in the ride I went on last night, it was the talk of the bunch.

I do a fast ride to Mordialloc and back on a Tuesday after work – on a fine evening in summer we might have a bunch of 80-100, even in the winter dark we get 30-50. We get up to average speeds of 40km/h as well – and you need all your wits about you to stay safe. Homicidal behaviour by motorists is rare, but not unknown. The “Hell Ride” is more notorious in this respect, as has been seen, but not only for the bad behaviour of cyclists, but of the unreported, vastly more dangerous behaviour of motorists. It is rare for someone to be killed by a cyclist, but not rare at all for a cyclist to be killed by a motorist, and there have been more than a few threatening incidents out there on Beach Rd. involving frustrated motorists looking for a convenient cat to kick. However, the situation is improving in Melbourne, as more bikes make motorists think harder about how they behave around them. Not so in Sydney, it seems. This from ‘The Age’s report on the incident:

27-year-old Nick Cooper said “Three female cyclists took the brunt of the accident, careering into the back of the braking vehicle, several of them being thrown into the air landing on the boot and roof of the car.

“Most riders were left with cuts and bruises and at least some damage to bikes, shoes and helmets, including some bikes sustaining thousands of dollars of damage.

“This whole incident really exemplified the escalating road rage towards cyclists happening on Sydney’s roads.

“Road rage seems to occur with or without provocation, and regardless of whether cyclists are riding in a law abiding way, or slowing down traffic.

Motorists jeered

“A perfect example of the enmity were the jeers and taunts of several drivers (more than 3 separate drivers that I noticed) making their way past the aftermath of the accident, despite the fact that a police car and two ambulances were on the scene treating seriously injured people.

“[A] policemen informed us that the back of the group was nearly cleaned up by a semitrailer locking the brakes to avoid the suddenly halting group, with its trailer jack-knifing and sliding towards the group before being skilfully brought under control by the driver, narrowly avoiding potential fatalities,” Mr Cooper said.

The ABC ran a very good video interview with Ben Kersten, former and aspirant Olympian, in their report on the incident. Also featured, an audio interview with Kevin Nichols, Los Angeles Olympian, describing how his daughter, Kate, was injured again after her horrific crash in Germany 3 years ago where her team-mate, Amy Gillett died.

What scares me the most about this latest incident, apart from the psychopathic behaviour of the perpetrator, is the lack of empathy shown by the motorists who saw the injured riders as they passed. What sort of people are they? Have they some nasty and bitter prejudice seated in the back of their mind about the time a cyclist made them late for work? I think this goes to the heart of human nature – that when isolating, selfish and exclusionary technology and stratified/segmented social arrangement is promoted/condoned by government and corporate agencies (the motor car, Nintendo/XBox/Playstation/Second Life, the detached house as an island on a quarter-acre block, housing stratified and geographically segmented along income lines, the rigidly controlled nation state, perhaps) then people cease to communicate effectively and openly, freely and with consideration, building prejudices and coming to hate and/or fear those next to them because they are a little different, and not involved in their own ‘superior’ pursuits. But the trumpeting of one’s superiority always seems to mask a deep, abiding and gnawing doubt about one’s self-worth. A hidden grudge against the world, a hidden fear. The insults mask the fear of the insulter – an attack made in a paranoid defense of something they know is inherently unsustainable. Not even allowing a green, resource-frugal, healthy activity to slow their global-warming-inducing, space-hungry, lethal, heavy and toxic progress even a little. The car is a technology with an end-date in its current and most envisaged future forms – necessarily, whilst the bicycle, similar to the first mammals alongside the dinosaurs, is one day, logically, to inherit the earth again. Not only this incident, but many smaller, less spectacular, less damaging incidents of cars vs. bikes bear this out – I had one yesterday, when some ‘roid-popping, pumped up-dude in a red BMW with ‘Style Tattoos 9394 2249’ on the back window forced me into a parked car whilst passing a tram, and then violently told me off for questioning his driving – that there is some sort of hidden fear amongst motorists that their magic carpet ride will one day come to an end.

As usual, Michael Leunig has the final word:

Thanks, Michael.

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