Why I support the use of “die-ins” to push for cycling safety

COMMENT & ANALYSES: On Tuesday this week a number of Irish cycling campaign groups gathered together to stage their first “die-in” protest outside the Dail, there have been some concerns expressed since it was distasteful or otherwise inappropriate.

The backdrop is that more people were killed on their bicycles this year than any year in the last decade. The 14 deaths recorded this year also all include collisions with motorists (some other years involved one or two cyclists falling off their bikes).

A die-in involves protesters laying down on the road, usually with their bicycles, for a short time. It was used decades ago in the Netherlands and more recently by cycling campaigners in London.

It is unfortunate that not all relatives of victims who were cycling when they were killed in road collisions in Ireland were not supportive of the die-in tactic. However, it’s hard to see how you could give relatives or non-fatal collision victims a veto on tactics — getting a consensus from individuals on such issues is rare.

There’s an argument that the victim’s families are the ones most hurting and it’s very hard to argue with that. I won’t.

However, it will tragically be the current people who cycle that will be the next victims and another family will be the next ones that will hear the bad news that a loved one was killed on our roads.

As long as the protest is legal, people have every right to decide themselves what’s appropriate in making roads safer for themselves, their families and friends.

There’s also some disquiet that the brand of ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’, which was used for the protest, implies that motorists are to blame. But this is not the case.

International evidence points to motorists being mainly at fault in the majority of cycling/motoring collisions, and, in recent years, a majority of fatal collisions involving people cycling included motorists overtaking the bicycle (the person overtaking has the largest duty of care).

But — regardless of all of that — the words kill or killing do not involve intent. Murder involves intent but a killing can be unintentional. Kill is also also attached to inanimate objects (“smoking is a killer”) and we still often say things like “he was killed on the road” when a person dies in a single-vehicle collision.

But why die-ins?

Too many people simply aren’t getting the message clear enough and those in power at a local and national level aren’t acting fast enough.

One of the main reactions when people say there’s a lack of action is that “cyclists get everything” — something I find worrying to hear when there isn’t a continuous protected cycle route between any suburb and city or town centre in Ireland. Not a single one.

There’s maybe one or two segregated routes that go some of the way before people cycling are dumped out onto roads with heavy traffic. Most cycle routes have designs which are both sub-standard and unsafe.

High-quality, Dutch-like protected cycle routes is what is proven to make cycling both safe and attractive to people of all ages and abilities. The benefits in terms of safety is strong on its own but the benefits also extend to better health for users, better health for others due to lower air and noise pollution, a reduction in costs for the health service, extra low-cost transport capacity, low carbon emissions and better mobility for younger and older people.

Now we reach the question posed by interviewers — most bluntly asked this week by shameless radio show host Niall Boylan — …will you pay for it?

Let’s be clear here: The protest was about saving lifes and radio and TV hosts think its ok to ask people to pay not to be killed. Cycling numbers are already increasing and thats in line with national policy, agreed by all major political parties.

Interviewees need to stop accepting nonsensical questions about a bicycle tax. The typical and understandable reply is that such a tax is unworkable and motor tax is there because motoring costs society and motor tax doesn’t even cover the full cost of motoring.

That’s only part of the story — why would you tax something which the government is trying to promote? Why don’t we also slap VAT on fruit and vegetables? Why not a pedestrian tax? A bicycle tax is not only unworkable, it’s counter to policy aims so it’s illogical and just downright daft.

It’s like saying: “I don’t like apples… there’s some bad apples and I don’t even like fresh ones. I don’t care if apples are good for society. I’m annoyed with them, so, let’s tax them.”

Radio show hosts also might be in disbelief that the evidence shows more motorists run red lights and, across many junctions in Ireland, a minority of people cycling run red lights. In any case, the vast majority of collisions are away from traffic lights.

People should follow the law, but there’s also no evidence that law braking by people cycling is a notable factor in cycling deaths. Thus, blaming cycling deaths on such behaviours is generally victim blaming.

Much like upping the game on protesting, people who cycle need to up there game and not letting radio show hosts and other ill-informed people away with nonsense not backed by facts.

Replying to a demand to stop killing cyclists with payment or testing of the group of which 14 people have died this year should be seen as outrageous.

As a father of children on bicycles, as a husband who’s wife cycle and as a friend to others who cycle, I support die-ins. It unfortunately still needs to made clear to too many people that cycling safety needs to be addressed with proven measures. If we want to safe life, the main focus can’t be on pet hates.

IMAGE: Thanks to Simon Smyth.

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for that Cian. The interviewer of Mariead Forsythe (Love30.ie campaign) on Ireland AM on TV3 the other morning used the tactic of asking Mairead to support a tax on people who cycle in order to pay for safer infrastructure and traffic management. Quite outrageous but then print and broadcast media in Ireland are heavily dependent on taking advertising from motor distributors, particularly at this time of year.
    One car manufacturer is the title-sponsor of a programme.
    Motordom is assured on programmes with sponsorship like this.

  2. Cian – I agree with every word written here!
    The deluge of negative comments in the comments section after the RTE piece was truly depressing. The usual compulsory helmets/ ‘road’ tax/ Insurance/ Breaking red lights etc etc
    I posted evidence based links under quite a number of these comments – not one of them replied or admitted that they didn’t know about that evidence…..
    I’m thoroughly disheartened at the moment – those who primarily drive seem unable (unwilling) so see anything but the ‘windscreen’ view of the world :( Many seem to believe Motor tax bestows them ownership of the road to the exclusion of others.
    I have NO faith in the majority of our political parties (you can now add the Social Democrats to that long list) to do the right thing.
    And meanwhile people die and I worry as we set out on our bikes each day that we too may meet an impatient or inattentive driver.

  3. Dear Cian, very bright and fair explanation about the (unfortunate) need for the (first) “die-in” protest in Dublin. Thank you for that!

  4. Personally I think we should use the moniker ‘stop killing people’ or ‘stop road killings’ or some variant of. Road safety is about safety for all, and whilst we specifically are concerned about cycling, I think the name should be more all-inclusive to get more people on-side. The name stop killing cyclists might give some the excuse to ignore the issue as something that only affects ‘cyclists’. The term cyclist is in itself troublesome, as we all know.

    Regarding some family members of some victims saying that they’re upset by the protests; I would suggest to them that their anger is misplaced. Be angry at those who drive dangerously. Be angry at those in power that turn a blind eye to dangerous behavior on our roads. Be angry at those who just accept the status quo. Be angry at those in power who don’t have the vision or gumption to do what’s needed to reclaim our cities and make them livable once again. Don’t be angry at those of us who are trying to make our cities and towns and environment safer for everyone. These protests are to try to keep everyone safe, and to try to prevent any more people losing loved ones.

    I’m a victim of road violence, and without going into a lengthy description of all the injuries I’ve suffered, my life has been completely changed because of the violence heaped upon me. Those of you that know me from attending on-street protests might not even know that I suffer every day from the effects, but I do, and as a victim of road violence I’m very strongly in favor of these protests. Family members of those killed on our roads don’t get to have a veto on what’s acceptable or not. As long as what we do is legal, then we have every right to do what we do. My opinion doesn’t have any more weight than anyone else’s, but it is equal to anyone else’s. And I say we NEED to have these protests.

  5. Cian. Thanx for a really cogent and well presented article on this tragic issue and how to counter standard arguments on national media. I am sure that all cyclists will use some of this material at some stage!

  6. Cian, you know we are well aligned in our views. I thank you for describing it so well in this piece.

    Citizen Wolf, I respect you for the information that you are volunteering here to back the position adopted by the cycling community.

  7. Agreed. I am aware of the negative comments from a relative of one person who died while using a bike. No disrespect to their feelings but those of us who have been at this for a while have many many more deaths on our minds. Once someone dies while cycling we also have ownership of their memories as do their families. There is no monopoly.

  8. As a further observation I would note that, with the assistance of the Irish “media”, entities like Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, Headway and certain sections of the medical profession are often quite happy to exploit deaths and injuries among bicycle users for their own purposes. Outrageous, unsupportable and profoundly cynical claims are made for polystyrene head gear – grieving relatives are told “if only she had worn a hat” and nobody is supposed to bat an eyelid? But concerned bicycle users who want to make are roads safer and prevent crashes are being insensitive for highlighting the causes of death and injury? Sorry but I don’t think that should be entertained for a second – very strong smell of hypocrisy in my view.

  9. Well said Cian ,totally agree with you.If motorists are concerned about who will pay for road safety maybe we should agree to an increase in tax on fuel and that it should be extended to all road users including cyclists. After all it is in the interest of everyone that there be fewer road deaths and injuries which everyone pays for ,including cyclists.

  10. Very well written piece. A powerful symbol used in protest, better this than waiting for kindermuder (unless the obesity epidemic counts). One thing that occurred to me while reading is a need for one of the stakeholders in cycling safety to please collect in one place the evidence that refutes the usual anti-cyclist comments and advertise a link to same. Short lay person styled comments with reference to the science. A single fact based voice then counters the trolls as highlighted above. Same for “media” voices spouting the same rubbish.

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