Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Media Attack On Cyclists Justified

Cyclists are like badly behaved toddlers running around the ankles of shoppers, as adults navigate their trolleys around other trolleys in a supermarket.

The bicycle is a vehicle; riders share the road space with a variety of other vehicles. A gruesome recipe of flesh & metal is only avoided because of the compromise and co-operation that is set-out in the Highway Code.

To arrogantly disregard the code, cycle through red lights, harry pedestrians out the way as they try to cross on a green man, make entire journeys on the pavement "’cos it's safer for me" (instead of the road - where vehicles live), and other examples of untrained and inconsiderate cycling, really reveal to me that the recent media onslaught highlighting negative examples from cyclists, is pretty justified.

When surveys are reporting endemic errant cycling, such as 50% of cyclists red-light-jumping, which matches up with my daily experiences, it appears "the cyclist" - the stereotype, is literally goading everybody else, including the "authorities" (as limp and without authority as they are...), showing that cyclists can do what the hell they want, overtly ignore their responsibilities, and generally piss everyone else off who are trying to co-operate and follow the Highway Code.

What this shows, is that human nature left to its own choices opts for the selfish gains, often at the inconvenience of others.

Stealing time by not stopping at red lights, of course has benefits, in the same way stealing a cake from a shop has the advantage of not having to pay for it.

Not only highlighting the failings of cyclists, this current situation I am witnessing, highlights the failure of enforcement. Such widespread and frequent law breaking is so easily available to any cyclist who wishes to make that choice, because there is no deterrent or enforcement of the alternative.

Contrast with the driver who is coerced in to compliance by speed cameras, red-light-jumping cameras, bus lane cameras, parking cameras & wardens, in an Orwellian but effective, big brother style of constant enforcement. It seems cyclists need the same?

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Treadly&Me said...

I consider myself a safe and considerate cyclist, so I share your frustration—but I can't share your conclusion. Media attention on all sorts of unsafe conduct on the roads is welcome. But a "media onslaught" that highlights the bad behaviour of some cyclists is counterproductive. It will not change the opinions or actions of the recalcitrants (some of whom seriously believe that jumping the red light constitutes justifiable civil disobedience!), however it will serve to perpetuate the stereotype that all cyclists are reckless and lawless louts with no respect for the personal safety of themselves or anyone else.

While research and anecdote show that some proportion of cyclists disobey the road rules, research (not to mention the "road toll") also shows that motorists are equally bad at operating within the road rules. For example, a recent survey by the AAMI insurance company showed that in Australia 88% of motorists drive in excess of the speed limit some of the time, 42% admit to driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit, and 18% use mobile phones while driving. All of this shows an equally arrogant disregard for the Highway Code.

Two wrongs don't make a right, but we need to retain some sense of proportion. While all of the offenses you mention could cause inconvenience—and even bodily harm—to others, none are likely to cause serious injury or death to another. However, for all of the offenses listed in the AAMI survey there is a high likelihood of dire and tragic consequences for people other than the driver.

I agree that a negative stereotype persists about cyclists. (What is it about lycra that seems to upset non-cyclists so much?) Stereotypes rarely develop without some supporting evidence (no matter how scanty or invalid), but they are also the product of sweeping generalisations, exaggeration, over-simplification, and prejudice. As such, they should be challenged not perpetuated.

In most industrialised countries there are multiple (often technological) mechanisms aimed at making motorists comply with the law. And that is in proportion with the potentially horrific outcomes of drivers ignoring the Highway Code. Outside of racing, I've never heard of a multiple bicycle pile-up with serious injuries and fatalities (indeed such an event would be so novel that it would be reported widely). Orwellian they may be, but I doubt that these forms of enforcement are really totally effective. Plenty of people still die in car crashes.

There is a need for a change in the way everyone uses the road, not just cyclists. But given both the deadliness and the sheer number of cars on the road, a widespread change in driver attitude would be most fruitful.

To my mind, a media attack on all unsafe road behaviour is far more justified than singling out cyclists for special denigration.

Gattina said...

Have you ever been in Holland ? Only there you can learn about bicycle drivers ! And they are far worse then in England. There are more bikes as population and the bikers are Kings. I wrote about that in my travel blog. I honestly have to say I had never troubles with bikes in London (not the tourist center) Noorwood, Christal palace, Greenwich or Nottingham !

Anonymous said...

Having seen cyclists being pushed off their bikes by pedestrians, and other arguments that could soon get out of hand and one day result in a murder, things have to change.

I am sure that motorists are getting more aggressive as they're told to watch out for bikes, but have to deal with some (sadly the majority in central London) that think they're above the law.

I suspect this will in turn make drivers break the law more (if a cyclist can, why not me?) so in a way I think cyclists ignoring the law and sticking their finger up at authority will bring everyone down to their level. Yes, drivers jump lights - but usually only a second or two after changing but a cyclist will treat the ENTIRE red phase as a green light, with or without people crossing.

Bearing in mind that cyclists are often drivers, and certainly pedestrians, it's a very bizarre situation as you'd expect that they would recognise the problems they cause. Is there something that triggers when you get on two wheels that makes you forget about anyone else??

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