Footballer-turned-driving instructor Ashley Neal has divided opinion online after posting a video in which he beeps his car horn at two cyclists while overtaking them.
Neal, the son of European Cup-winning Liverpool full back Phil Neal, regularly posts videos on his website and YouTube channel, which has over 98,000 subscribers, chronicling his experiences as a driver and instructor in the northwest of England.
Neal, who runs his own driving school business, has often been praised for his even-handed approach to cyclists on the roads, and last year posted a video analysing an incident in which a cyclist was knocked off their bike by a motorist, an act the instructor claimed was “done purposefully”.
Last week’s video, titled ‘Cycling 2 Abreast and Overtaking’, caused a stir in the comments of the video itself and on the road.cc forum, after some viewers claimed that Neal was criticising the cyclists riding two-abreast before “unnecessarily” beeping his horn at them as he passed.
As he approaches the cyclists in the video, Neal says: “Do they need to be taking up a primary position and riding two-abreast at the moment? Yes.
“But I think this is going to cause issues with the new updates to the Highway Code. And that’s if some cyclists choose to ignore the other advice which has been updated to say that they should move back to single file to allow faster moving traffic to overtake.”
On the subject of riding two abreast, the revised Highway Code states: “You can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Be aware of drivers behind you and allow them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when you feel it is safe to let them do so.”
Neal then questioned whether the cyclists’ decision to carry on riding two abreast prevented him “from giving them a proper two metres space on this faster speed limit”, before answering “well, it does”.
The Highway Code updates advise that drivers should “leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds”, and only explicitly notes that two metres’ distance should be maintained when passing pedestrians or horses on the road.
“Just because you can ride two abreast,” Neal continued, “doesn’t mean you should be doing it always. You should still appreciate the flow from other people.”
Neal then proceeds to pass the cyclists, doing so at a safe distance in the opposite lane, sounding his horn as he begins the manoeuvre. After the overtake, Neal told his viewers to give cyclists “as much space and care as you would do overtaking a car… A little beep of the horn is key, no problems, do it safely.”
While some viewers took to the YouTube comments section and the road.cc forum to express their disgruntlement at Neal’s preference for the cyclists to have ridden single file (though he acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been able to pass in any case), most of the resulting controversy surrounding the video centred on his use of his horn.
One road.cc reader wrote: “I don't agree with his use of the horn. Imagine if every car that passed you 'warned you of their presence' with a 'friendly' toot.
“In my view, the only reason to warn someone of your presence is when you think they might need to take some evasive action or look like they might cross your path.”
Another said: “I don't know what a ‘friendly’ toot sounds like, I cannot remember the last time I heard one. It might be some quaint throwback to the golden age of motoring, but in my experience it just doesn't happen these days.
“Therefore, any use of the horn will get my hackles and probably my middle finger up. If you're driving behind a cyclist, however you use your horn will make them jump, which doesn't seem advisable to me.”
Some viewers on YouTube agreed:
“I'm not sure on beeping before you overtake. If someone beeps me when I'm cycling I assume they are highly offended by my existence. If you force a cyclist to take their eye off the road ahead and look around, especially if they are alongside someone, there is a chance they will swerve enough to cause an issue.”
“I really disagree with the use of the horn in this situation. I know why Ashley is using it, but there are very few road users who consistently use the horn like he does. When I am cycling and hear a horn being sounded from a car behind me, I generally assume that an accident or near miss is about to occur and take defensive actions.”
However, others were more forgiving of the ‘friendly toot’:
“In my opinion the reason for riding two abreast is to get the cars to slow down before overtaking thus reducing potential damage (to me). Once they slow down I move into single file as soon as I think it's safe to overtake.
“Very occasionally I don't notice the car behind and a friendly toot is much appreciated. I'm ashamed to admit that aggressive use of the horn just winds me up and the move to single file is much delayed as a result.”
“I'm not totally against a friendly horn toot if a driver thinks I may genuinely not be aware of them. However, if I haven't already heard you coming, then even a friendly toot is likely to be alarming.
“So if you're going to do it, I think you need to leave a pause before you then overtake, to account for the cyclist jumping or turning to look – don't toot while you're mid-overtake.”
Neal took to the comments section himself to respond to those criticising him for his horn use, telling one viewer to “go read the Highway Code”.
“The horn in this situation is a simple ‘excuse me’,” he wrote. “It’s no different than a signal with an indicator if I was passing a car. If someone might benefit, it’s needed. It’s really sad that the true use of the horn is lost on so many.”
Rule 112 of the Highway Code states that the car horn should only be used “while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively.”
According to Neal, “due to their poor positioning and not going back to single file, [the use of the horn] was absolutely necessary. It’s only the poor perception of what the horn should be used for that’s the problem.
“It’s a non-aggressive way of saying “excuse me” and so many cyclists have problems with it… These cyclists were just riding for themselves and did nothing to work together as they should.”
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.