COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Media figures painting all “cyclists” as criminals is like an incitement to hatred which polarises some motorists. This clearly does not add to road safety. It should not be tolerated by any right-thinking person, regardless of what mode of transport they happen to use.
“Everyone hates cyclists. Even cyclists hate cyclists,” writes Sarah Caden, a columnist for the Sunday Independent. This was followed by broadcaster and radio presenter George Hook who, when interviewed on TV3’s Ireland AM last week, repeated that he hated cyclists because he hates criminals.
The idea that only “bad” cyclists are in danger is nonsense. A polarised motorist stuck behind the best-behaved bicycle users on a narrow road or street, or while making a right hand turn etc, will not distinguish between law breaking and law abiding bicycle users.
“I hate cyclists with a passion,” said Hook when on TV3’s Ireland AM. Asked why, he said: “Because I hate criminals, and they break the law routinely.” He claims that bicycles users are a danger — like no other danger — to pedestrians.
On Irish roads last year 42 pedestrians, 79 motorists, 39 passengers of motorists, 23 motorist cyclists, and one motorcyclist passenger were killed. In all of those road killings, there was zero bicycle involvement.
So, why does Hook not hate motorists or pedestrians? Both groups break the law routinely. Pedestrians regularly jawalk and regularly injury people on bicycles by walking onto the road without looking or not caring because it’s not a car or a truck coming.
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Motorists are the road users with the ability to inflict the most harm to themselves and others, yet 80-90%+ of motorist break the law when it suits them. The last RSA ‘free speed’ survey published shows that 82% of car drivers surveyed exceeded the 50km/h limit on urban national roads and other surveys show 90%+ motorists exceeding 30km/h limits.
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Speed detection 93kph in a 60 zone, and just up the road where a young girl lost her life last year. SLOWDOWN please pic.twitter.com/Bq9ke1FZ2E
— An Garda Síochána (@GardaTraffic) June 30, 2015
But it’s not just speeding: Parking in cycle lanes and on footpaths is rampant. Surveys from the AA and other motoring groups regularly have around 50% of respondents admitting holding their phones while driving.
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It’s a this point that that some readers will skip to the comment section below to interject that the mentioning any breaking of the law by other road users amounts to the great Northern Ireland phrase “whataboutery“, which is responding to criticism by accusing one’s opponent of similar or worse faults.
The thing is, I’m not justifying law breaking by people on bicycles. I have no issue with condemning people who break the law: I think people on bicycles should wait at red lights and adults should not be cycling on footpaths. I agree with fines for cycling offences. But some people’s views are a distortion of the problem.
As Matt Cooper said on Ireland AM, by Hook’s own standards, Hook is a criminal. Hook has a string of road traffic road offences for speeding. Hook said he had to pay a fine, as if paying a fine forgives his law breaking. Worse still, when asked by Cooper if he was reformed, Hook said: “I don’t think you reform at 74.”
So, get this: Hook was up in court for speeding before motoring on-the-spot fines came in, he has had an undisclosed number of penalty points since, and he does not believe in reforming his dangerous and illegal behaviour because he is too old to change his ways. And people on bicycles are the criminals?
The self-proclaimed cyclist hating has little or nothing to do with any kind of reason or logic. A answer may come from Dr Ian Walker, a psychologist at Bath University who focuses on traffic research seems to have the answer. In a recent Guardian article he explained: “It’s exactly those things that used to be done about minority ethnic groups and so on – the overgeneralisation of negative traits, under-representation of negative behaviours by one’s own group, that kind of thing. It’s just textbook prejudiced behaviour.”
Back to Sarah Caden, who writes today that “Everyone hates cyclists. Even cyclists hate cyclists.” Caden is pictured with her bicycle which is equipped with a child seat.
She has written before about cyclists being a hazard while she was using a pram in Dublin, and she again mentions it today. However, I also used a pram for 6 months straight in the same city. While cyclists were an annoyance and sometimes dangerous, motorists surpassed this by a long shot. This writer encountered motorists in cars and trucks blocking or edging forward on pedestrian crossings long after they got their red light; footpaths were often impassable because some drivers think it is their god-given right to park where they want to.
Amber to many motorists does not mean stop if you can do so safely, to them it only means go faster. In at least one case a motorist broke an already red light at speed when the pram with my son in it was half way across the road. Rampant speeding — the kind where cars end up on footpaths if they crash — was common place outside rush hour.
Are we all to believe that Caden nevers sees motorists endangering pram users? Or is it a case of blinkers? As Walker points to, it looks like classic textbook prejudiced behaviour. Caden using a bicycle herself may not be enough to get her mindset past this.
Don’t take our word for the non-cycling dangers out there, in this post we’ve included a small sample of examples from the Garda Traffic Twitter account, they have many more.
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We have previously written how when drivers view cycling and motoring as “them vs us” this could be linked back to why inattentional blindness occurs even when the person cycling as has high-vis on and bright lights on their bicycle. It’s part of the same effect we see in overhyped newspaper articles and on radio shows — this feeds into the minds of the drivers who see a “them vs us” split. It’s a vicious circle.
Caden claims that “A more cycle-friendly city has, however, fostered a sense of self-righteousness and aggressive self-entitlement on the part of many cyclists.” This is unsubstantiated nonsense. There has always been some people who self-righteousness and aggressive using all modes of transport. The only things which are changing is that cycling has become more popular and this makes it worse for those who previously overstated the issues. Some objectors also don’t like changes planned for Dublin City.
With more than 90% of motorists breaking urban speed limits, it is clear that there are not a dispositional amount of people on bicycles breaking the law. Everybody needs to stop acting as if there is and the dangerous rhetoric needs to be toned down.
WATCH: Hook vs Cooper on Ireland Am
READ: Terrors on two wheels finally shown red light
READ: High-vis can’t solve drivers’ inattentional blindness and its promotion has failed
READ: Sabotage and hatred: what have people got against cyclists?