Last month, a conflict happened involving a truck driver and a road cyclist in Singapore.
To me, it seems almost inevitable that such an incident would take place sooner or later because of the ongoing tensions (and misunderstandings) between motorists and cyclists.
Many motorists don’t welcome cyclists to share the roads, considering them as hindrances to speed.
Many cyclists do their best to stay alive whenever they cycle on the roads, by attempting to not get in the way of vehicles while taking care to not stay too close to the kerb to avoid hitting it.
Most of the time, it works fine when both parties practise tolerance and patience.
But when either or both parties happen to want the right of way, then it takes an extraordinary amount of self-control and understanding to maintain peace and safety.
Otherwise, anything can happen in the heat of the moment.
We are all complex psychological beings capable of repressing emotions to function with a certain level of temperance in society.
But if we don’t process our hurts and pains in a safe space, our repressed anger and resentment can erupt when we least expect it.
I believe this is what happened during that fateful road incident.
How it might have happened
1. Illusion of time and relativity of speed
In the days leading up to that incident, I have been observing as a cyclist myself that some motorists seem to have become more impatient.
These drivers have been honking at other vehicles at the slightest inconvenience or provocation.
Sometimes, I think to myself that the motorists have forgotten how blessed they are to be able to drive because they can travel much faster than pedestrians, cyclists and even commuters taking public transport.
Hence, if the motorists aren’t able to appreciate the fact that they are already moving faster than most people, why then the hurry to get somewhere?
But this is also a reminder to myself because I sometimes find myself cycling as quickly as possible to reach my destination, even though I am already moving faster than if I were to walk.
Technically speaking, by cycling quickly, I can run my errands faster or deliver more orders to customers in less time, but is it really worth the haste?
So then, speed is relative because even if we are moving fast, the illusion of time in this matrix world is so real that we desire to move even faster, in order to feel as if we are accomplishing something greater.
Likewise, that truck driver might have felt a similar pressure to drive quickly at that time, and ended up honking at the cyclist in front of him.
This leads us to the next point.
2. The crude language of the horn
It is rather unfortunate that honking has very limited vocabulary.
Regardless of the type of vehicles a horn belongs to, all honking sounds have only one flat note.
Whether it is a blaring honk of a truck or a high-pitched beep of a car, it sounds monotonous and often irritating.
Perhaps it depends on the intention of the driver using the horn.
It seems that a number of motorists use the horn to tell other road users to get out of their way, rather than warning them to stay in their lanes to avoid hitting them when overtaking them, or for some other reasons.
Cyclists, for the most part, have been bearing the brunt of being honked at by motorists because they are seen as hindrances.
More significantly, cyclists often get honked at because they are the weaker parties, therefore more easily bullied by motorists who drive bigger vehicles that are capable of harming them.
Hence, it is unsurprising if the cyclist was irked by the loud honks of the truck, which he would have heard umpteen times in all his experiences of cycling on the road.
The unfolding events may have built up to the boiling point when he decided to vent his anger by hitting the truck’s side mirror in retaliation, instead of quietly submitting to a (perceived) road bully.
This leads us to the final point.
3. Entitlement or equal rights?
Perhaps the biggest question behind the incident is:
Was the cyclist justified in taking the left lane (and thus blocking the truck behind him) or was he merely feeling entitled to ride as if he owned the road?
Existing road rules do allow cyclists to ride in pairs abreast along the leftmost lane of a road.
But the rules also state that cyclists should not hog the road (especially when there is considerable amount of traffic).
Then again, it is a fairly common experience for cyclists to be overtaken by large vehicles at uncomfortably close range if they had kept close to the roadside, and their bicycles might risk hitting the kerb.
If that cyclist had moved to the left to allow the truck to overtake him, he could not be assured that the driver would give much space to manuerve his bike safely (though in this case, the left lane doesn’t really look that narrow).
The cyclist might also be counting on the fact that his road bike could match the speed of a truck at 40-50 km/h, and wanted to get up to speed after crossing the traffic junction.
But in all fairness, there are errant cyclists who blatantly flout traffic rules and pose a risk to themselves and others by cycling erratically or dangerously on the road.
Then again in this case, it seems to me that the cyclist wasn’t wilfully breaking traffic rules.
Even though he did commit an offence by damaging the truck’s side mirror, he did so only after having been honked at and probably thinking that he was bullied by a bigger vehicle.
Regardless of his intentions, the way the cyclist responded in anger is inappropriate, and so is the truck driver’s subsequent act of swerving into the cyclist.
It seems that the cyclist has become the scapegoat of the town because after the incident, he has been mocked by the society at large.
Nevertheless, I believe that all things work together for good because the news and the discussions that follow help create a better awareness of road safety and etiquette for motorists and cyclists.
In fact, a day after the incident, I could hardly hear any honking while I was cycling on the road doing food delivery.
In retrospect, cyclists have all along been marginalised in society because they are neither welcomed by many pedestrians on the footpaths nor by many motorists on the roads.
They are often treated like outcasts, and when they stand up for their right to be on the road, they are seen as entitled and selfish by many other road users.
But cyclists must continually find ways to speak up and make known their concerns and challenges because no one else truly understands their struggles.
They also need a safe space to talk about and process their experiences in dealing with road bullies, so that they can manage how they deal with challenges better when cycling.
Having said that, it is important for cyclists to exercise care and responsibility, not only for their own safety and well-being, but also for others’ at all times.