I was watching the Avengers’ Civil War film the other day and I wondered what side I would be on? The team splits along the line of who should decide what they do. Are they a law unto themselves or do they need controlling by the people they protect? I think it is a very clever concept for a story because we can all understand the dilemma. I live in a society that has social norms and laws that on the whole protect and support me. I have a good life but those laws also put boundaries on what I can do; they can control my actions.
I am a cyclist and on the whole I obey the rules of the road as defined by the Highway Code, the same rules that other road users have to legally obey. So for instance I keep to the left hand side of the road, I stop when traffic lights are red, I try to indicate when I am turning. You may have noticed I said try there. There is one particular junction which is on a steep downward slope where I have to use both breaks to slow down, which means both my hands are on the handlebar which in turn means I cannot indicate and be safe. I remember a young man stopping at the roundabout at the bottom on the main road to see what I was going to do. I turned left which meant in theory he didn’t have to stop, this stopping seemed to annoy him because he shouted at me. I presume he shouted because I didn’t indicate but I don’t really know because I didn’t hear what he said, I did note however that he wasn’t indicating either when he went around the roundabout despite crossing the ongoing traffic.
In the UK it is illegal to cycle along pavements. It seems to be okay to break this rule if you are a child but the police will pull you over if you are adult and give you a talking to and possibly fine you. I understand this rule because cyclists do not on the whole moderate their speed, I guess it may be a reason why a lot of people cycle short distances – to get somewhere quicker. Cycling fast along pavements is dangerous because of people and cars. In residential areas, people’s driveways will cross the pavement and as I know from experience, I cannot necessarily see who is walking along the pavement when I drive from my driveway, across the pavement, and onto the road. If I see somebody I will stop and let them past because pedestrians have a higher priority than cars, but sometimes I am not aware a person and I am reliant on them stopping and waiting for me. I try to reverse onto my driveway, and I always drive slowly out of my drive in order to decrease the chances of an accident. It is a quiet pavement and so far I have had no problems, but I can imagine how easy it would be to hit a cyclist going fast down the pavement because I didn’t see them.
Twice recently I have been tempted to break the rules. The first was at a set of traffic lights. Nowadays a lot of traffic lights have motion sensors on top of them so that the main flow of traffic is not unnecessarily interrupted when no one is on the side roads. As a car driver I have benefitted from this system at less busy times of the day (late at night, early in the morning) because my light either stayed green or changed quickly to green when nobody else was around. As a cyclist however, I do not seem to trigger these traffic light sensors. At one four road junction the other day I sat whilst the traffic lights went through their complete sequence three times before I finally cycled across the junction at the end of the fourth sequence when the pedestrian crossings activated. I do not use the pedestrian crossings in this way normally because I am a road vehicle but there seemed little choice at that junction.
The other time was when there were road works on the main road with a contraflow. It wasn’t the height of the rush hour yet, but the queues were already ten minutes long when I arrived. I stayed in the queuing traffic for a good five minutes whilst we inched forward toward the contraflow lights. As I got nearer I notice that the side road I wanted on the left was before the traffic lights and free flowing. After a brief assessment of the situation I decided to cycle slowly along the wide open pavement to get to the side road more quickly. Half way down the pavement a pedestrian came around the side road’s corner and continued walking towards me. There was enough space between the curb and the queuing cars for me to cycle now, so I switched from the pavement to the road and cycled along the inside of the cars, signalled and went into the side road.
I broke the law on both occasions, or did I? I probably broke the letter of the law, the strict interpretation of the law, but maybe I didn’t break the spirit of the law, the reason why the law exists. In both situations I proceeded in a careful and considered manner trying not to confuse or harm anybody around me, I think I did it safely.
Whilst watching Civil War it occurred to me that the disagreement was about taking responsibility. By obeying the law set down by a ruling body, Iron Man absolved himself of the responsibility of other people’s deaths caused by his actions, something that gnawed away at him. Captain America felt that it was up to the superheroes to take responsibility for themselves and not be put in anybody else’s control. I am no Captain America (though I can throw a mean Frisbee) but I do consider myself a law abiding citizen and I am happy to take responsibility for the consequences of my possible law breaking. Good job I bought the limited edition Captain America sleeve for the Blu-ray disk then.