Fines for cyclists should be welcomed but a bit of perspective is needed

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: “This is NOT anti-cyclist” was a tweet sent by Irish Times journalist Patrick Logue. He was linking to his own article published yesterday that started by claiming “The cycling lobby does itself no favours by engaging in tribal finger-pointing in an effort to excuse bad cycling behaviour.”

First, I should say that before the on-the-spot fines system was extended to cycling, this website took the view that there’s compelling reasons why such fines are a good idea. And I agree with Logue where he said the level of fines — reported as 577 issued for the first six months — is by no means excessive. After all, it’s a rate of just 3.2 fines per day across the whole country that’s not much at all.

It’s even hard not to somewhat agree with the overall point he is trying to make, but, in the process of making his point, it all goes horribly wrong.

Logue refers to Ciarán Cuffe, who was quoted in an Irish Times article covering the amount of fines issued, as the ‘cycling lobby’. But Cuffe is a city councillor, elected to represent people. I’ve never read or heard of a motoring-focused councillor described by the media as part of the ‘motoring lobby’, and, so, it seems strange referring to Cllr Cuffe as part of the ‘cycling lobby’ (even if he is a cycling campaigner, his current main role in this respect is as an elected representative). This may seem to be nitpicking, but I’m getting to a point.

The previous Irish Times article paraphrased what Cllr Cuffe had said: “…cyclists should obey the rules of the road…” but it said “he suggested gardaí would better off pursuing drivers who broke speed limits and parked in cycle lanes.”

According to Logue, this is “engaging in tribal finger-pointing in an effort to excuse bad cycling behaviour.” But it’s hard to figure out how saying “cyclists should obey the rules of the road” is excusing their behaviour.

This is the equivalent of claiming that a councillor who says the main policing focus should be on tackling gun and knife crime is excusing anti-social behaviour. Clearly, it would not be, but why is cycling different?

In the case of road deaths and life-changing injuries, why is it so wrong that an elected representative wants our police force to focus on the main cause of these life-ending and life-changing collisions?

He said the cycling lobby’s arguments are old and tired, even if that’s half-true, at least they are not as flawed as his points.

In one part of his article, Logue agrees with Cuffe that cyclists are “vulnerable road users”, but Logue has more to add. He states it is “…all the more reason for cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road, for their own safety as well as the safety and sanity of others.”

There’s some truth to this, all cyclists should respect other road users who are not harming them. But on the point of cyclists’ “own safety,” it also dives into classic victim blaming — there’s little to support the widely presumed link between cyclists following the rules and their own safety. There’s two equally important parts to this:

  1. Studies, including one from the UK Department of Transport, have found that cyclists disobeying stop signals or wearing dark clothing at night are rarely cited in collisions causing serious injury.
  2. There’s very little to suggest that most or even many of the cycling victims of collisions with motorists were in the wrong. It’s victim blaming to suggest otherwise with anecdotes or nothing to support such arguments.

All logic and fair comparisons then go out the window when Logue compares the 20,000 motorists fined for speeding in the same sentence to 600 cyclists fined. There are vastly more motorists across the country, and detection of speeding is largely automated and mostly in away from urban areas (ie it’s mainly for motorists’ “own safety”).

Adding insult to injury for those victims, he also claims “Irish motorists have played a very large part in slashing road deaths over the past decade, helped by Garda enforcement and high-profile campaigns by the Road Safety Authority.”

While it would be unfair to say no motorists have played their part, it’s more accurate to say education, enforcement and other elements, such as improved national roads and car designs, were not just a help but were key to the lower amount of deaths on our roads.

But where enforcement is at low levels — for example, motorists parking in cycle lanes and footpaths, or speeding in urban areas — offences are at epidemic levels.

Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe without fixed speed cameras and mobile enforcement is rare in most urban areas. Even where speed enforcement happens entering urban areas, it’s often called “shooting fish in a barrel”:

IMAGE: A screen shot from Twitter

These issues are often underplayed. For example, in Ballina, Co Mayo (the home of the Road Safety Authority), councillors were told there is no speeding issue.

Council officials told councillors that the speed detection signs (the ones which just warn motorists to slow down) confirmed the lack of speeding. A freedom of information request showed otherwise — in one case over 50% of motorists were breaking the speed limit on a residential road well within the 50km/h zone, with cycle lanes and a zebra crossing.

There is also a massive ignorance, blindness or acceptance of motorists breaking red lights. When you present people with the point that 2,600 motorists were recorded as breaking red lights in Dublin city centre in under four months and 155 of them at one Luas junction, there’s still disbelief from many people.

IMAGE: Via the Kerry Cycling Campaign : Cyclists account for only 12% of red light jumpers in an area with a high number of cyclists.

Maybe Logue is right in that the leaders or spokespersons of the ‘cycling lobby’ sometimes would be better off keeping quite when it comes cyclists getting fined — because too many people are blinded by their views on cyclists, while wide-spread acceptance or ignorance of motorists speeding.

His suggestion that actions of the cycling lobby could result in “peace and harmony” between road users can only be the result of a lack of understanding or a lack of thinking about issues which are wide-ranging, complex and more than one-sided.
CORRECTION: The above article was edited to reflect the correction by skangerland below on MAY 20, 2016 AT 9:57 PM.

14 Comments

  1. It seems that Logue is the one engaging in the tribal finger wagging. His attempt to blame the victim with the (in no way new or original) idea that if only cyclists obeyed the rules they wouldn’t be hit by cars is disgusting. My following the rules of the road doesn’t stop drivers passing too close, pulling out of side roads or parking spaces without looking or pulling across me to turn left when only the front of their vehicle has passed me.

    The chart makes interesting reading but I can already tell you how the typical victim complex driver will respond. “It’s the percentages that matter”. Not the percentage of offences by vehicle class, or percentage of kills or serious injuries by vehicle class but the percentage of offenders within their class. So using the statistics they inherently know to be accurate the fact that 99% (or so) of drivers obey the rules and 100% of cyclists break them all the time (evidence of their own eyes) proves that cyclists are the worst menace on the roads.

  2. Good article and reflects my thoughts on Patrick Logue’s piece. It was flawed to say the least and adds to the them/us problem rather than improving it.

    A couple typos you might want to fix :-)
    roll/role
    antidote/anecdote
    quite/quiet

  3. Very well put.

  4. Logue “…all the more reason for cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road, for their own safety as well as the safety and sanity of others.”

    In addition to the points you made above on this Cian, there’s also the research that show that in London female cyclists are more likely to be injured compared to males precisely because they obey more of the rules; ie the rules are often dangerous if cyclists adhere to them.

    And just from my own personal point: Mr Logue if I was a rape victim, would you suggest that I’d be more likely to not have been raped if only I’d returned that library book on time. You asshole.

    2.5 years ago a car smashed into me and resulted in multiple injuries. I’m still suffering today. I’m still in pain every single day and will likely now be in pain until the day I die. Just so you know Mr Logue, I was breaking no rules. I was cycling in a law-abiding manner. This made fuck all difference to the inattentive moron that ran me down.

  5. Mike McKillen May 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I wish that my following the Rules of the Road elicited a respectful and reciprocal response from drivers when it comes to (1) dangerous overtaking of me by passing by far too close and fast (2) keep out of the one safety feature designed only for cyclists – cycle tracks blighted by fly-parking.

  6. Well argued and worded, Cian; thank you! HiveMindX puts the canard well, ‘if only cyclists obeyed the rules they wouldn’t be hit by cars’.

  7. ‘Obey the law or we will kill you for minor infractions’ comes to mind.

  8. Adding insult to injury to those victims he also claims “Irish motorists have played a very large part in slashing road deaths over the past decade, helped by Garda enforcement and high-profile campaigns by the Road Safety Authority.” – a large part of this is the reduction in young males, especially those willing to take risks – they most at-risk group – through emigration and as the population ages.

  9. Good article, Cian, but one point of fact caught my eye.

    “2,600 motorists were recorded as breaking red lights at just one Luas junction in under four months”

    Are those figures for the Luas junction right?

    The RTE article from October 2015 says, “More than 2,600 motorists have been caught breaking red lights in Dublin city centre so far this year”. I presume that refers to the whole city centre.

    The specific number the Luas junction seems to refer to those caught by the automated red light camera installed at Blackhall Place in June 2015: “Gardaí also said 155 drivers had been detected breaking the red light at the Luas stop at Blackhall Place in the city.”

    That would seem to make it 155 motorists recorded as breaking red lights at that one Luas junction in under four months.

  10. @skangerland — corrected and noted now, I think I wrote the ‘at one Luas junction’ but while editing.

    Thanks to others also for your comments and corrections.

  11. To add to Colm Moore’s observation on emigration among young males. This country has been through a sustained period of high fuel prices and high unemployment – particularly among the young.

    Both of these factors are independently associated with falls in road deaths and this has been shown across numerous jurisdictions.

    Good forbid that any Irish Times “journalist” would report on that.

  12. Further to “Irish motorists have played a very large part in slashing road deaths over the past decade”, who does he think was killing all those people in the first place?

  13. Irish motorists have played a large part in slashing road deaths in much the same way that criminals that have been locked up have played a role in the fall of burglaries.

  14. To add to the chorus, features such as reduced speed limits, actually enforcing the speed limits via speed cameras, reduction in drink driving limits and actually enforcing these are the same things that are being categorised as a “war on motorists”. You don’t have to look very far to find someone fantasising about destroying speed cameras and being tacitly approved by the peanut gallery.

    Who knows, perhaps we will see motorists applauding the new 30kph city wide limit in Dublin as a great way to increase road safety but I won’t be placing any bets on that.

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