The Yates problem: Does cycling have a moral hazard issue?

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Back in January this year, on The Hard Shoulder with Ivan Yates on Newstalk, the presenter put forward the following question in relation to the proposed minimum passing distance law:

“Is there not a kind of moral hazard issue for cyclists, that actually it’s a dangerous thing to do, and that no amount of laws can overcome that?”

In his thoughtful response, the one thing Richie Oakley does not directly address is that cycling is not dangerous. Driving is dangerous.

Driving is dangerous for those in the motor vehicle but especially for those outside of it. If all cyclist deaths on Irish roads that involved a driver are taken out of the count, fatalities fall to near zero.

We think cycling is dangerous because our roads have developed from places for people to places for machines, hostile to people. We often worry about machines taking over the world, not realising they already have. Everything we do, everything we build, is bent around the machines’ needs, and we’re fooled into thinking those needs are ours.

Of course our driving dependence as a society is not simple, and our environment has developed over decades to often make driving the only option. However, we should not make the mistake of forgetting that roads were safe spaces for people until cars arrived.

Only when we recognise this and start thinking of ways to give roads back to people will we be able to apply our human innovation to the problem of car-dependency, and offer people healthier, happier, truly viable alternatives, such as the inherently safe mode of transport called the bicycle.

Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.

6 Comments

  1. Well said Nadia. Your articles are very thoughtful reflections on what its like for cyclists in a motor car environment, where the default position is the requirements of motoring machines, not people.

  2. As a 78 year old cyclist who has ridden his tricycle more than 70 years ago and since then his bicycle around Dublin and London, and particulaly around Berlin and Dusseldorf where the footpath is shared by cyclists and pedestrians is is clear to me that the statement ‘roads were safe spaces for people until cars arrived’ is so so true. I am, by the way, also a car owner and user

  3. Apropos roads being safer for cyclists and pedestrians pre-motor vehicles we should not forget that bolting horses harnessed to carts seriously injured and killed many VRUs in their day!

  4. The researcher in me wants to immediately go and get data on numbers, speed, survivability, psychological impact on road user sense of safety… :D

  5. Driving is clearly dangerous too. Are all those laws about speeding and traffic lights pointless? Anything else? People walking at night knew what they were getting into, no point in all those laws against mugging. The banks knew it was risky when they loaned me all that money, why should the law be on their side when I don’t pay.

  6. Really good article Nadia.

    In 2018, there were 157 fatalities on Irish roads. 71 of these people were non-drivers (cyclists, pedestrians or pedestrians), 86 were either drivers or motorcyclists. So motor vehicles are extremely dangerous for everyone on the roads. That’s why formal driving tests, and licensing is needed. It’s also why drivers need specific insurance, to pay for the cost of the damage caused.

    Incidentally, you also need a license if you want to own a gun or practice medicine. Regulation is a response to the public interest. How effective it is, is another question.

    While it’s true that some cycling behavior can cause damage and injury to others, the scale is tiny by comparison to that for cars. If it was anyway significant, it would have been regulated years ago, across the world.

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