Victim blaming is still strong when it comes to road safety

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?

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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.

When it comes to cycling, international evidence points to overwhelming drivers being at fault. Over two thirds one report from London and over 70% in another.

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.

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. 

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  1. Perfectly put Cian! But will anyone in officialdom read it and act on it?
    It’s so facile to preach about hi-vis as if it was some magical force-shield. But that’s the cloak that road authorities (sensu latu) reach for in their insidious victim-blaming in order to hide their training and enforcement failures.
    The onus is on those drivers who are operating high kinetic energy content vehicles to understand the devastating effects of that energy transduced into human flesh and bone when they get it wrong. It’s too late after the event.
    All trainee drivers should have to watch videos of VRUs being impacted at speed by motor vehicles.
    I support Minister Ross’ insistence on a mandatory driving ban for blood ethanol exceedances. The penalties for driving offences as they impact on cyclists are way too low. €80 is no deterrent.

  2. Poor George Hook. He’s been pulling that same crap against cyclists for years, if not decades. How was he to know that hate filled (he literally says he ‘hates cyclists’) victim blaming rants are acceptable to his bosses and listeners when directed at cyclists but not when directed at women.

    The recent story which saw a bunch of newspaper articles about the man who hit and killed a pedestrian is a good example of this victim blaming tarted up as “personal responsiblity”. Since the motorst was going under the limit and had their lights on they have done all they can and the pedestrian is responsible because they weren’t wearing high-viz. I haven’t seen a single journalist ask how a driver who is apparenently going far below the speed limit can fail to see a pedestrian at the side of the road in their headlights.

    I get the impression that fatal collision took place on a straight road which makes the narritive pretty hard to accept. However if it did happen on a bend I don’t see how any amount of high-viz helps you see someohe through a hedge. Should personal responsibility include not only high-viz and torches but also never going near a corner? Should we just accept that walking is too dangerous and anyone that chooses to walk is asking for it?

    How about banning driving after dark? No? I guess that’s crazy, but requiring everyone not in a car or a building to wear high-viz at all times is apparently just common sense.

    The “personal responsiblity” concept is a trap that you’ll find it had to get out of. With enough of a will people will always be able to find a way to blame the victim. They were wearing high-viz but it hadn’t been clearned recently. Just a high-viz jacket? No high-viz leggings? How about some personal responsiblity. Lights too dim? Practically invisible. Lights too bright? Dazzling the poor motorists. No lights just because it is daylight out? You are choosing to be harder to see than you could be. Can’t find anything to quibble with regarding the high-viz or light? Road was too busy for cycling. Road was too narrow for cycling. Road was not really designed for cyclists (shock). Road was in some indefinable way unsuitable. Cyclist shouldn’t have been there at all. In fact that’s it. Simply getting on a bike or daring to walk to your desitnation is irresponsible and everything else is just nit-picking the details.

  3. In Ireland, we are afraid to describe road ‘accidents’ accurately for fear of causing grief to the friends and relatives of the dead.

    It’s time to drop this attitude, or to put it in its proper place. We need to know how each crash happened, exactly how, so that others can be prevented. Sensitivity is misplaced in this case, or rather sensitivity needs to be used in helping prevent death.

  4. I feel the same Crois although Im not sure how you should describe incidents, or when you can start to describe them, the coroners service is so underresourced it takes years for cases to be heard.

    Hook was commenting before trial was complete.


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