motorism is…

3 Oct

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Motorism as an ‘addiction to or practice of motoring‘. I, along with other sustainable transport activists prefer the definition first proposed in 2010 on the Green Bristol Blog, which defines it as ‘a deep rooted prejudice in favour of motorised traffic at the expense even of the safety, let alone the convenience, of those that dare to travel on foot or bicycle‘. As it happens I wrote an article on what I called ‘institutional motoristism’ in July 2012. The ‘As easy as riding a bike’ blog echoed the theme in a piece on the subject in March 2013. There is also an  ‘Anti-motorism’ Facebook group which describes itself as ‘a resource for those interested in recovering from the addiction to the automobile. There are alternatives‘. This Cambridge blog has also picked up the theme.

I suggest that it might be worth exploring if it is appropriate to think of motorism as another ‘ism’ like racism, classism, sexism etc, possibly with institutional, and internalised elements.

So.. what is motorism here in the UK?

Motorism is…

Where an average of 25% of vehicles, rising to 60% in dense urban areas, are left on the highway over-night even though there is ‘no legal right for anyone to park on a public road or outside their property‘.

Where motorists vigorously defend their right to park on the highway for free. By way of example, Philip Green responded to a proposal from Westminster Council who dared to suggest charging for parking in the borough saying ‘people who come to London know they have got to find a place to park. Charging people on a Sunday is just outrageous behaviour‘.

Where motorists are allowed park on pavements if ‘they have to’, even if this results in pedestrians having little on no space to walk and even if it is illegal. Are there parallels with the way that black people ‘had to move’ to make enough space for white people to sit down on the buses in Montgommery? (black people had to stay behind a movable ‘whites only’ sign which was moved back at busy to make enough space for any white people to sit). See ‘I did not want to be mistreated’.

Where respected broadcasters fail to even recognise that pedestrians exist, as with the BBC’s documentary, ‘ending all fatalities from car crashes‘, which was in fact only about ending deaths of vehicle occupants. It was previewed on their website in an article that talked of a ‘motoring miracle’ with ‘fatal smashes eliminated’. Unfortunately, it failed to mention non-car occupants, fatalities of non-car occupants, anything to make it safer for non-car occupants or indeed even that pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists exist at all.

Where vehicles with ‘dire’ rating for pedestrian safety are still allowed to be sold and driven in urban areas. The Range Rover, Jaguar X-type and Vauxhall Frontera all scored only 6% for pedestrian safety back in 2002, but are still being sold and used. Even the AA, RAC and DfT say the situation is unacceptable.

Where motorists routinely drive past children at speeds where they would almost certainly kill or permanently maim a child who unexpectedly step off the pavement confidence in the knowledge that they would not be held liable unless it was proven in court that they were. Strict Liability would reverse the burden of proof, and in the case of the death of a child the motorist would always be held liable. See ‘Danger from the strangers behind the wheel‘ from the New Statesman.

Where 44% of motorists believe that they ‘own’ the road outside their house.

Where major retail companies roll out a new home-delivery services that require their drivers to break the law dozens of times a day. Tesco for one assured me on the phone that they expect all their drivers to obey all laws while in their employment, but then totally ignore all my evidence that their staff are routinely driving on the pavement virtually every time they make a delivery. They clearly need help!

Where the police refuse to use laws that could easily be used to discourage pavement parking saying that it is not in the public interest to do so.

Where the police have a policy of allowing vehicles to travel very significantly higher that the speed limit without risk of prosecution (+10% + 2mph), meaning that motorists can confidently do 35mph in a 30 limit and 46mph in a 40 limit.

Where the police have explained to parliament that they ‘don’t enforce 20 mph speed limits‘.

Where commercial vehicles are fitted with mandatory speed limiters, but cars are not. However.. I have just noticed that the EU is evidently now proposing that just such speed limiters should be fitted to cars. Needless to say our Transport Minister ‘erupted’ when the proposals landed on his desk and he has told his officials to block the move!

Where school-child are expected to walk along the side of rural roads with no pavements, where speed limits are set at 60 mph.

Where a father is threatened with arrest for driving behind his son who wants to walk to school along such a road, rather than insist that motorists drive in a legal and safe manner. See ‘Archie wants to walk to school’.

Where the police tell parents that a children’s a jumper used as a goal-post is an causing an obstruction in the road, but then ignore vehicles parked on the pavement in the same road.

Where councils act to remove items such as rocks, DIY bollards used by residents to stop drivers parking on verges outside their houses on the grounds that it is an ‘offence to place unlawful items on the public highway‘, but ignore the fact that on the same page the same council explains that motorists have no legal right to park vehicles anywhere on the highway in the first place!

Where a law to ban pavement parking received Royal Assent in 1974, was not enabled for 37 years, before being dumped!

Where road-works signs, used  to inform motorists of diversions or obstructions, are left across the pavement where they obstruct pedestrians  and no one even seems to notice the irony.

Where a blind man is arrested and locking-up for threatening to let down the car-tyres of some of the vehicles in desperation, having failed to get the local police to deal with the vehicles which regularly obstruct the pavement.

Where a bicycle parked on an unusable pavement outside a London hotel is treated as a ‘health and safety risk’ but three Range Rovers, also up on the pavement, outside the same hotel are not!

Where motorists intimidate or threaten violence towards those employed to enforce the law. See ‘Parents stone traffic wardens‘ for an extreme example of this.

Where motorists consider it to be a mandatory courtesy towards other motorists to park with two wheels up on the pavement, without any consideration of the inconvenience this causes the pedestrians, even when there would be no inconvenience to other motorists if they parked on the road.

Where motorists are genuinely amazed and affronted if someone challenges them for driving onto or parking on the pavement, but then feel that it is completely acceptable for them complain about cyclists riding on the pavement.

Where motorists intimidate pedestrians who dare to attempt to walk in the road to get past parked cars blocking the pavement.

Where enough motorists will respond rudely, abusively, or violently to any pedestrian who challenges any aspect of motorism.

Where policy-makers confuse the terms ‘traffic’ and ‘cars’ implying that all road-users are motorists.

Where motorists believe that they have more rights to road-space that other road users because ‘they pay road-tax’ (they don’t, its called Vehicle excise duty or vehicle tax, road-tax disappeared in 1937).

Where drivers drive along pavements to pass other traffic rather than wait for a gap on roads where parking makes it impossible for vehicles to pass each other on the carriageway.

Where governments proposes to ban councils from using CCTV technology to enforce parking regulations, insisting that regulations should only use expensive, and less effective patrols.

Where motorists use the speed or size of their vehicles to intimidate other road users.

Where pedestrians are a risk of charged with criminal damage should they scratch or damage a vehicle parked up on the pavement while trying to get past, not that it stops many pedestrians doing just that it seems.

Where pedestrians passively accept all of the above as being either totally normal and something that is unchallengeable.

Any more? Do please make suggestions in the comments section and I will add them.

11 Responses to “motorism is…”

  1. Andy in Germany October 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    When drivers seem to think it is acceptable to rev their engine at/pass closely/carve up/honk horn at/swear at a cyclist riding at the speed limit in a residential street.

    When it is acceptable for cars to completely block the pavement, but when pedestrians walk onto the road to get around them, they get verbally abused by drivers.

    When it is apparently not only acceptable for cars to drive on pavements to get around oncoming traffic (itelf getting around parked cars) but also to act aggresuvely and use their horn to force pedestrians on the pavement to ge tout of the way.

    • Peter Miller October 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      Thanks for that. I have added my interpretation of your suggestions. I have also added a item about the government wanting to ban councils from using CCTV cameras to enforce parking regulations.

  2. Jim Moore October 8, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    Excellent post. When I’m out walking or cycling I usually see one at least one of these cases of motorism, however I just didn’t realise how long the list of offences was.

  3. Graham Martin-Royle October 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    I think you’ve covered most things. I’ve been trying to think of something to add to the list but can’t come up with anything. How sad is it that our society is so in thrall to the motor vehicle that anyone who even suggests that others might have some rights is looked upon as weird?

    • Peter Miller October 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      So.. possibly another entry should be: ‘Where anyone who challenges any of the above is looked upon as being weird?

      • Graham Martin-Royle October 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm #


  4. greg March 7, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    Where over 70% of the carriageway has been tarmacked and handed over to cars squeezing pedestrians prams and bikes onto the edges. I see no reason not to have all city roads as one way with wider pavements and cycle tracks. (On a side note I don’t see why a new section of traffic police to enforce speed limits and other traffic laws could not be funded by the fines collected. Zero tolerance would generate large revenues. I would source these officers from pedestrians, and cyclists.)

    • Peter Miller March 18, 2014 at 1:23 am #

      In some place, notably Cambridge, roads are made one way allowing more people to park and this could be done in more places should the councils wish to go to the expense. Regarding fines, the motoring organisations, and regretably also the current government, seem to think that it is completely unfair to fine motorists for breaking parking laws.

  5. rdrf June 26, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    This is similar to the concept of “car supremacism” I discuss in my book “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” which was published in 1993. it is downloadable here:

    • Peter Miller June 27, 2014 at 1:32 am #

      Hi there. I think we both know Prof John Parkin, who I met at UWE about two weeks ago and who showed me his copy of the book you are referring to.

      I do agree that this is what we are dealing with. I challenge therefor is to create the conditions where there are more votes for MPs who are tough on anti-social motoring than who are weak. What I found so reassuring by the government response to this recent consultation on banning CCTV enforcement cars was the view it gave that the anti-social motorists were already in a minority. For sure they are an aggressive and vocal minority, but a minority all the same.

      I wasn’t aware that I could download your book. I will do that now!


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