"Don’t worry if a driver is beeping at you. In fact, it’s good. It means the driver is aware of your presence, and has seen you."
I may not have the wording exactly right, but the above is the essence of what my Bikeability instructor told my group about the importance of riding in the ‘primary position’ – that is, in the path of cars behind you – during our first lesson last week.
A bit of history. The original RoSPA ‘Cycle Proficiency Test’ used to teach that you should cycle at the edge of the road, ensuring the maximum amount of distance between you and a passing car. (I think it is this advice that has led countless drivers to believe that there is a rule that cyclists should be ‘over to the left’ at all times, despite there being no such instruction in the Highway Code.) The ‘Bikeability’ course, which has superseded this ‘Proficiency’ test, has radically changed this advice, largely because, I suspect, motorists were increasingly choosing to pass closer and closer to cyclists. Cycling ‘over to the left’ was fine when the roads were less busy, when there was less street furniture, and when drivers were generally far better behaved towards cyclists (perhaps because roads were less busy, and it was easier to behave better). But unfortunately, that kind of positioning meant that there would always be a nice car-sized gap for a driver to squeeze through, regardless of the situation. And as drivers became more impatient and less aware of how dangerous it is to pass close to cyclists, and as traffic became heavier and street furniture increased, so that ‘keep to the left’ advice came to be seen as something of a liability.
And so arrived ‘assertive cycling’, which grew out of John Forrester’s book Effective Cycling, published perhaps not coincidentally in 1976, a time when traffic volumes were rapidly increasing, along with motorists’ impatience. John Franklin’s Cyclecraft is pretty much a direct adaptation of this advice for the U.K., and has become canonized, official government advice for how children and adults should cycle on the roads.
The argument for more assertive ‘primary’ positioning that lies at the heart of much Cyclecraft advice is that it removes the temptation to overtake a cyclist in places where it would be unsafe – in the face of oncoming traffic, for instance, or at pinch points, or junctions. The cyclist simply prevents the overtake by putting themselves in a position where they would have to be driven over for the motorist to get past.