Last week a driver who knocked a cyclist off his bike in May this year and tweeted “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax! #Bloodycyclists” was convicted of two charges related to the incident. After having been sentenced to a fine and ordered to pay costs, she said: “The tweet was spur of the moment. It was ridiculous and stupid and I apologise to all cyclists.”. She went on to say that “it is the biggest regret of my life so far.”
Just so you know, the reality is that there is no “road tax”. In the U.K. road construction and maintenance is paid for by everyone through general and local taxes. The Vehicle Excise Duty that motorists pay is levied according to engine size or CO2 emissions.
Critics (invariably drivers) miss the point – bicycles don’t emit CO2 and many cyclists also own cars and are paying VED anyway. In the U.S.A. the law in all states stipulates that cyclists are classified as ‘drivers’. Cycling campaigners are calling for a new law in Scotland to make motorists automatically at fault in an accident. The UK is one of only five European countries – Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland being the others – that does not currently have the “strict liability” law, according to BBC journalists Duncan Walker & Tom de Castella.
I’m not going to focus on irresponsible drivers (or cyclists) in this edition, however. What struck me about what Emma Way did – and her reaction to it – was the impulsivity of the act (tweeting her feelings) – and the similarity of how polar bears like me shoot our mouths off and act without considering the consequences, only to regret these things at leisure.
If my family’s reactions are anything to go by, having empathy or sympathy for my irritable outbursts, is much harder than for other equally challenging symptoms, such as depression or even impulsivity. I expect that’s not untypical.
It seems like Emma Way’s offence was expressing her feelings, rather than the act that left a cyclist in a hedge. Irritability, shouting our mouths off, are tell-tale signs of a stress reaction. The thing is, we don’t have the window of reflection that the tweeter has.When I start ‘effing and blinding’ (as my outbursts are fondly known) I don’t need to get my smart phone out, log on, tap a few keys and press ‘send’. I’m not trying to defend the my shouting and swearing – I’m just trying to explain (to use a driving analogy) it’s like putting my foot down hard on the accelerator – with no time or space to pause, slow down. The thing is, I don’t behave like this at work (where I am the model of professionalism and measured reactions and insights.) That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel surges of bile and anger well up, frustration and irritability, but I am able to douse them before it comes hurling out of my mouth.
So why can’t I do that at home?
Break, break, break
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809–1892