Territorial Space on Public Highways: Who Owns the Road?

Roads belong to all and need to be shared by all. However, there’s a long history of some road users believing they have priority over others as a result of humans’ inherited belief in territorial space.

| January 2015

Contrary to popular belief, it was not motorists who advocated for well-paved roads in the United States. In Roads Were Not Built for Cars (Red Kite Publishing, 2014), Carlton Reid shows how cyclists were the first to push for better roads and were also the pioneers of early motor cars. This excerpt, which discusses why cyclists and motorists have difficulty sharing the road, is from Chapter 4, “Who Owns the Roads?”

Territorial Space on Public Highways

Social scientists theorise that humans believe in three kinds of territorial space. One is personal territory, like home. The second involves space that is only temporarily available, such as a gym locker. The third kind is public territory, such as roads.

“Territoriality is hard-wired into our ancestors,” believes Paul Bell, co-author of a study on road rage. “Animals are territorial because it had survival value. If you could keep others away from your hunting groups, you had more game to spear, it becomes part of the biology.”

When they are on the road, some motorists forget they are in public territory because the cues surrounding them – personal music, fluffy dice, protective shells – suggest they are in private space.

“If you are in a vehicle that you identify as primary territory, you would defend that against other people whom you perceive as being disrespectful of your space,” added Bell. “What you ignore is that you are on a public roadway – and you don’t own the road.”

A standard quip from bicycle advocates, aimed at a certain type of mine-all-mine motorist, is “You own a car, not the road.”

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6/30/2017 5:58:50 AM

6/30/2017 5:58:50 AM

2/3/2015 10:50:24 AM

Not exactly pertinent to this article, but I wanted to share. A problem common to canoe enthusiasts is the legality to park on the side of a road near a bridge for the purpose of canoeing the river/creek/lake. Canoeists are often harassed and even threatened while simply trying to enjoy a river that belongs to all of us.

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