Was it all for this? Irish Times cycling deaths coverage ends with ranting, victim-blaming editorial

Anybody who cares about cycling road safety should demand that The Irish Times retract or, at least, corrects the misleading and victim blaming editorial published yesterday.

In the last two days we broke down and backed up how the same newspaper has got wrong it while covering cycling deaths and injuries in its news section (here and here). The editorial, however, is a different matter and nothing short of correction should be accepted. A retraction and apology would be better, but even a correction is unlikely.

After we had published our second article detailing the flaws in the news section articles in The Irish Times, our readers pointed out that the newspaper also wrote about cycling it its editorial. The editorial has more flaws than the related news articles and, as the ‘voice of the newspaper’, the contents of the editorial is far more worrying. A link to view the editorial, “Sharing the Road”in full and for free can be found here.

It does not start well:

“The cyclist who breaks red lights and ignores the rules of the road has become a feature of Dublin traffic. Perhaps it was always so. But efforts to popularise cycling through rental and subsidy schemes and the provision of dedicated cycle lanes have focused official attention on this unacceptable behaviour. Now, on-the-spot fines can be imposed by gardai for specific breaches of the law.”

Breaking red lights while cycling is a safety and comfort issue mainly for pedestrians but also for others who cycle and motorists. It should be addressed mainly for pedestrians. It’s for that reason that IrishCycle.com supports obeying red lights, we support the new on-the-spot fines, and agree with the reasoning given by most legislators for the fines. That’s our view, you’re free to disagree with us. The reasoning behind The Irish Times support for the fines is, however, deeply worrying. People cycling and driving should always take care, but traffic lights junctions do not feature highly in data on cycling deaths nationally.

In a national newspaper editoral, the newspaper is using arguments more suited to YouTube or under a TheJournal.ie article. The starting argument is dressed up but it boils down to: Cycling gets nice things like DublinBikes and cycle paths, so the unacceptable behaviour of those who cycle needs to be addressed. That’s a half step away from the recurring internet-troll-like argument that cycle paths should not be provided unless those who cycle behave themselves first — an argument which would never be applied to motorists and roads or motorways.

Directly after mentioning the on-the-spot fines, the newspaper said: “It is not before time. Something had to be done to change behavioural patterns and raise public awareness about the rising number of cyclists being killed and injured, particularly in Dublin.”

There’s two things wrong with this. Saying fines are a solution to cycling deaths is clearly victim blaming in a way which can never be done with all road deaths of any type, at least not by any reasonable person. The “cyclists being killed … Particularly in Dublin” part is just wrong. Dublin accounts for the vast bulk of core commuters who use bicycles; the graph data is from 2011, but there’s no signs that the rest of the country has caught up by any great level:Number of people who mainly cycle to work

 

Yet, Dublin only accounted for 12.8% percent of cycling deaths in the last 5 full years recorded:

cycling deaths by area

Cycling deaths also include leisure and sporting cycling, but these activities are also popular in Dublin, and Dublin also accounts for a disportionate amount of the overall population in the republic.

The editorial goes on to claim “Dublin generating half of all fatalities” — this is completely unsupported by anything in the recent past. Even when the data between 1997-2014 is looked at (the data we have to hand), Dublin still only accounts for 30% of deaths — that’s some distance from half.

Yesterday, a reader, Dermot Ryan, commented:

“The injuries are those reported by Gardaí, and are overwhelmingly minor injuries (e.g. 95% of injuries in 2012, the year of the injury spike).

“The number of serious injuries in 2012 is very similar to two other maxima found over the last ten years, when cycling levels were lower. The number of minor injuries is unprecedented, which is the only genuinely remarkable finding in this report. The rest is as yet indistinguishable from normal swings you get with very small numbers.

“It’s very misleading to talk about a rise in ‘death and injuries’, when your evidence for both is single data points in otherwise downward trends, and when the rise in injuries is predominantly minor injuries.”

It’s unclear how The Irish Times got it so wrong. Their misunderstanding of cycling and cycling data is startling.

The editorial also states: “But while overtaking manoeuvres can be dangerous, most fatal collisions happen at road junctions” …Do they not realise that motorists overtaking bicycles happens at junctions? It’s even in an RSA TV advert, where the script said: “on left turns do not over take a cyclist as you approach a junction, they might be continuing straight ahead.”

People who cycle regularly will be able to tell you that motorists try to overtake on junctions frequently. We get it even when traveling the same directions coming out of a T-junction, regardless of our road positioning. But there’s a larger problem here.

We understand that a draft data set, compiled from RSA and Garda data from over 12 years, seems to show that overtaking features by far as the top incident type. The majority of fatal collisions are also not recorded as happening at junctions.

It seems likely The Irish Times are (1) confusing all ‘driver manoeuvre’ type collisions data, including minor injury data with fatal and (2) not specifying which year the data they are referring to is from. This causes issues: When pooled together, minor collision data mixed with fatal collision data will distort the main motorist manoeuvre type record, and looking at one year may not give a reliable overview of the main locations of deaths (ie deaths at roundabouts could feature far more highly in one year than most).

The editorial continues: “Visual black [blind?] spots on trucks and driver inattention are major contributing factors. But cyclists can do more to protect themselves by wearing high visibility clothing and anticipating the prospect of not being seen. Obeying the rules of the road is a priority.”

This again is a complete misunderstanding of the issues — high visibility clothing cannot be seen if the user is in a blind spot, and high-vis can’t solve drivers’ inattentional blindness. So, The Irish Times has mixed up views on data and is prescribing solutions which can’t work.

The editorial concludes:

“So far this year, five cyclists have died and twelve were killed in 2014. About half of the collisions involved cars and one-third trucks. Built-up areas and junctions off two-way single carriageways are the most dangerous, with Dublin generating half of all fatalities. Cycling can be a healthy, efficient means of transport and its popularity is likely to grow. Motorists must have regard for the growing number of these road users and anticipate their needs, just as cyclists should obey the rules of the road.”

It’s a mix of random facts packed in, the already mentioned made up ‘fact’ about Dublin, and more victim blaming trying to seem balanced. If you just blame victims it comes across as poor form, so the writer of the editorial tried to dress it up. A load of random ‘facts’ and faint praise of cycling is all fluff.

The substance here is “So far this year, five cyclists have died and twelve were killed in 2014… Motorists must have regard for the growing number of these road users and anticipate their needs, just as cyclists should obey the rules of the road.” Of the cycling deaths this year and last, there was one case where the intoxicated and then entering a motorway, but The Irish Times provided no evidence or any supporting analyses which supports significant numbers of those killed being at fault themselves.

Even if The Irish Times wants to deny that it has engaged in victim blaming at a high level, it has also clearly errored in fact in a very significant way. It would be more forgiving if this was an isolated editorial. But it’s after two days of wrong or misleading coverage, which now seems to be a trend with the newspaper with unbalanced articles or headlines negatively focusing on cycle routes.

Changing roads and streets to make them safer for cycling is proven as effective, why does The Irish Times not support such moves?

12 Comments

  1. Much of what is in the Irish times coverage seems to come from this RSA “report”

    http://rsa.ie/Documents/Road%20Safety/Crash%20Stats/Review_of_Cyclist_Injuries_2012.pdf

    And this is the big story that Carl O’Brien and the Irish Times managed to miss. The language in the RSA report strongly suggests that the RSA have a limited understanding of terms like “risk”. “risk analysis” and how to analyse and classify crashes.

    It contains this kind of thing

    “Almost half of cyclists injured in 2012 were injured at junctions, with T-junctions representing the most dangerous type of junction.”

    T-junctions – to point out the obvious – are the most common type of junction. You can’t call them the most “dangerous” unless you relate the number of crashes, and severity of outcomes, back to some measure of exposure.

    Probably what the RSA mean is that in their dataset T-junctions were the junction type at which the largest proportion of junction collisions occurred.

    The BIG story here is that the Governments chief advisers on road safety have little idea how to analyse or interpret crash data. Thjs is what the Irish Times managed to completely miss. Sad day for Irish journalism.

  2. Well said, Shane! This editorial was a travesty of what is really happening on our roads with traffic management or mis-management. You only have to look at freethecyclelanes.vool.ie to see the extent of discretionary policing ‘protecting’ motorised drivers who deliberately park illegally in cycle tracks during their period of operation. This alone should be a reference to the Garda Inspectorate for action.

  3. “Their misunderstanding of cycling and cycling data is startlingly.”

    Startlingly what?

  4. Startlingly what?

    A startlingly misunderstanding.

  5. A “startlingly misunderstanding” is not a thing. ha.

  6. Ok, thanks for that.

  7. It’s like saying it was a “happily occasion”. Just kill the ‘ly’ and you’ll be fine.

  8. Thanks Chris! Fixed now, I had misunderstood the error you had been pointing out.

  9. No worries – I was trying to be nudge and wink; I should’ve been more direct :)

  10. This is just another sad day for Irish journalism, another in a long line of sad days. It is shocking to see not just an article, but an editorial so full of anti cycling rhetoric. Oh how the mighty have fallen! Are we are living in the last days of true professionalism in the field of journalism? It was bad enough when the writers of Property supplements were lauded as “journalists” we now have the Motor Industry’s glee club masquerading as journalists too. I am sure Fintan O’Toole, Eamonn McCann, Noel Whelan and their ilk must be cringing with embarrassment. This is just lazy journalism. I have grown accustomed to laziness from the likes of the Independent, but I am shocked to see it in the Times. This is truly “the end of days” for Irish Print News.

  11. I am fed up of windscreen-view journalism. and legislation. Irish times shame on you and your bias. At a time when this country needs to make a major shift in attitude about traffic, mobility, motoring & cycling, I find IT on the populist side of the debate. (most likely)Seeking advertising revenue from the motoring sector. ugh.

  12. Totally agree with Marie Power. Talk about “elephant in the room”. It’s all about the money! Sellouts!

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