COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Radio presenter George Hook Is still in hot water for victim blaming in an alleged case of rape. It still is very high-profile news. But, despite this, the Irish Examiner concluded an editorial on road safety yesterday by stating: “…as in every area of life, accepting personal responsibility for your behaviour is by far the best way to stay safe.”
How far does “as in every area of life” extend to? Does it extend to a woman on a night out? If not, what does “every area of life” mean? Are the media so used to victim blaming on when it comes to deaths and injuries on our roads that this is acceptable?
It should not be. But a large problem when it comes to road safety is that the media and public authorities all too often engage in simplistic narratives.
At the weekend the Sunday Times reported how Department of Transport officials had to warn the Road Safety Authority about a report it compiled on cycling deaths. The department said the report would be viewed as victim blaming because it focused only on cyclists — lacking references to the basic of collision details, for example, to the speed the motorists were traveling at or the age profile of drivers.
In its editorial, the Examiner claimed: “…especially as the darkening winter evenings draw in, we all know that by following pretty basic rules we can dramatically reduce the risk of being involved in a crash or worse again, causing one.”
But regardless of what we all think “we know”, there’s a lack of clear-cut Irish evidence around the causes of collisions.
The perception is that cyclists are a danger to themselves. But as The Guardian reported in 2009: “A tiny proportion of accidents involving cyclists are caused by riders jumping red lights or stop signs, or failing to wear high-visibility clothing and use lights, a government-commissioned study has discovered.”
The perception is that because some cyclists act dangerously, that it’s the same people who end up getting hit by motorists, when often that’s not the case.
Of course people should stay safe when on our roads, and light up when in the dark etc. But the suggestion that the victims can “dramatically reduce the risk of being involved” seems to have little bases in fact. For example, the Examiner referenced collisions where people in cars were killed in the last few days — but the two cases at junctions media reports outlined locals complaing about on-going issues at these junctions and excessive speed on the main road — that points to engineering issues and possibly enforcement.
Cycling deaths are also up this year. People cycling bicycles have little defence against motorists who can’t wait a few seconds or a minute until there’s a safe space to overtake. In fact, the recommendation to stay safe in this situation is to keep out from the kerb and, on rural roads, cycling two abreast is viewed as safer than groups making a long single file — but these are both methods which is not widely understood and often criticised in the media.
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Equally, people walking have no defence against motorists mounting footpaths (which is not as rare as people think) or motorists running red lights (which happens frequently), except running at the last minute if they are lucky enough to be able to.
But motoring hit and runs pass the Irish media by with little comment, while they were exercised recently about a rare UK case where a cyclist killed a pedestrian. George Hook is one of the cheerleaders in conflating cycling misbehavor and collisions which kill all sorts of people who cycle bicycles, even those who obay the law, but he is by far not alone.
Regardless of if the victim is on foot, on a bicycle or in a car, some of the main contributing factors in collisions in Ireland are well known. These include speeding, distracted driving (including using a phone) and drink driving.
Speed detection and display signs (of a non-enforcement type) installed by councils in recent years have shown just how wide-spread speeding is. There are average speed cameras in the Dublin Port Tunnel, however, that doesn’t change the fact that Ireland remains one of the few countries in the development world not to have widespread use of automated fixed speed detection.
Speed detection is billed as “shooting fish in a barrel” while victim blaming is rife and “solutions” like high-vis vests are easy.
When “personal responsibility”, including victims, is billed as the best solution, the proven effective solutions of enforcement and engineering get pushed aside and road safety suffers.