COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Yesterday two TDs announced that they want to target dangerous overtaking by setting a passing distance of bicycles into law, but the irrational level of reaction to the proposed measure was extreme in the volume and strength.
There was huffing and puffing from George Hook and others who openly hate cyclists. Just how irrational the reaction was is best viewed by listening to the RTE Radio One presenter Sean O’Rourke’s interview with Fine Gael TD Ciaran Cannon, one of the proposers of the law.
Why I am picking on Sean O’Rourke? Because I respect him as one of the best current affairs presenters on Irish radio. He’s usually fair and balanced. I can’t recall anytime he was so starkly unbalanced, unfair and uncompassionate about human life.
When Cannon outlines how he was cycling in a cycle lane outside the Old Wesley Rugby Club the other day when a bus passed him too closely and Cannon said it was “very close, almost touching my elbow”, O’Rourke’s reaction was that “Maybe the basic wisdom is that you don’t argue with a bus”.
Cannon was cycling in a cycle lane going straight and a bus overtakes him… how is that arguing with a bus?
Cannon tried outlining how cyclists are fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. He also outlined how the majority of motorists, especially in rural Ireland, do give enough space, and the problem is a notable minority of drivers (that’s generally this writers view too — so we’re not saying car driver = bad, ok?).
O’Rourke then reads out a text message asking for “fines for the cyclists coming too near to a car” — as if this was some kind of reasonable comparison. Maybe it is comparable in some alternative universe where our laws of physics and risk of bodily harm don’t apply.
Concern was expressed by people texting or emailing into the show by about cyclists breaking red lights and cycling on footpaths. Clearly cyclists should not be doing these things. But in the context of a proposal for a safety measure, this is classic whataboutery — a firmer requirement for motorists to safely overtake has nothing to do with cyclists breaking red lights.
The reasoning that people on bicycles don’t deserve protection because some of them break the law is bonkers. It would be like saying some car drivers misbehave, so truck drivers should be free to overtake them as close as they want.
Cannon tried to reason with O’Rourke and outline how it’s about road safety and putting responsibility onto the person driving the 1.5 ton plus vehicles at speeds of 60km/h and above. But O’Rourke’s reply that the passing distance law would be a “charter to turn cyclists into road-hogs”.
O’Rourke only got worse as it went on. He said on a rural road, with a solid white line down the middle of it, you might “have to maybe wait five minutes before you could pass a cyclist”, because you can’t cross the white line. This description sounds like a narrow rural road — and he seems to be suggesting without the passing law it’s ok to pass a cyclist without crossing the white line.
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This is how people driving end up killing other people who are cycling. A large percentage of cycling deaths in the last few years relates to where motorist passed too closely on such rural roads.
Cannon said it will end up like drink drinking laws where there was little public support at first, but the culture changes. O’Rourke then goes on to ask about a potential “trade-off” including increased fines for not using lights or a new law on mandtory high-vis clothing and then “everybody gains” — the message here isn’t safety, it’s to do something to appease motorists.
While covering the passing distance item and later on in the show as O’Rourke read out messages from the public and expressed how large the public reaction was, he seemed spurred on by mob who have grievances with cyclists. It was like Liveline or Newstalk, not Today with Sean O’Rourke.
The idea that reasonable motorists should not wait behind a cyclist until its safe to pass is a dangerous one, it encourages all motorists to take extra risk for fear of upsetting the motorist behind them.
It is all irrational. Like the irrationality of the motorists who often used to overtake me dangerously where the wide section of the Phibsborough Road ends, just to rush a mere second or two ahead to a traffic light or congested traffic in the middle of Phibsborough. This is the “must overtake cyclist” logic — the same thing applies for some drivers on rural roads or those who overtake when there’s traffic coming the other way.
This irrationality is hateful, it lacks respect for human life and it has no place on our airwaves, especially not on programmes hosted by respected journalists.