While broadcaster Matt Cooper supported the Ireland edition of The Times’ minimum passing distance campaign, Cooper’s coverage of cycling on the Last Word radio show on the Last Word continues to be a mixed bag at best.
Cooper isn’t as bluntly bad as George Hook or Ivan Yeats, but he’s the radio equivalent of the driver that nearly hits you and defends themselves by saying “I’m a cyclist too”.
Even when the items he covers aren’t too bad, he then starts reading out daft text messages from listeners, like “cyclists think they own the roads”.
What exactly is the point in reading out a reader message like that without having the time to explore where those feelings come from and what’s the other side of the story?
The same texter said insurance should be mandatory and we got an ear full of other anecdotes, like bicycles running into cars, buses and pedestrians. Texts into radio shows are like the gutter Facebook comments of news websites but are idolised by radio producers (that’ll probably be justified by saying there’s worse left unread).
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At this point we should say that the idem being covered on The Last Word was the ineffectiveness of the Italian high-visibility law — but as usually it went off into tangents.
This is in stark contrast to the show’s weekly motoring spot which is usually focused on one topic and the motoring correspondent (who I agree with on many things) is allowed to repeatedly talk about the “hard pressed motorist” and make unchallenged claims over a number of weeks about electric cars being clean and perfect for city transport, when air quality experts have clearly stated otherwise.
Matt and the show’s producer Mary Carroll could do worse than read an excellent article published this week in the Irish Independent. The Road Safety Authority used its weekly column in the newspaper to highlight how people need to stop seeing cyclists and start seeing people on bicycles:
“When we have a fixed idea of a person in our head based on one of their external attributes, we risk dehumanising them…
“We no longer see them as people, just like us. When you see a cyclist as just another obstacle, hazard or ‘thing’, that’s when one of our most vulnerable road users tends to get hurt.”
The reading out the nonsensical messages with no proper discussion on the range of issues raised has to have an effect — if the radio stations claim otherwise, do they think the same is true of radio advertising?
Another reader message said “helmets are a life saver”, and that’s a fact, despite the evidence that helmets can’t help with concussions.
Helmet pushing is something Cooper strongly agreed with yesterday and on previous shows. Cooper seems obsessed with helmets (you could fairly say I am too).
Cyclehelmets.org — which is clearly a helmet sceptical website — has a good page of discussion of why the “A helmet saved my life” argument is flawed.
Loads of people doing household tasks and things like using the shower get more head injuries than people cycling — yet there’s also no commonly told epidemic of those head injuries. And other head injuries don’t feature on radio every few weeks or months.
This points strongly to the idea that a helmet most likely didn’t save anybody’s life. Most likely at best it saved them from some bruising… and some people will say that that’s justification enough for people cycling to wear helmets. If that’s so, why isn’t it justification enough to use helmets doing other tasks which feature higher in the head injury rankings?
Yesterday evening Cooper gave his own version of how helmets can save you even when motorists aren’t involved, ie when you just fall off your bicycle.
Enter stage left: a small country about 1,000km away of about 17 million residents, the bulk of whom cycle at least some of the time and the helmet wearing rate is less than 1%. Yes, it’s Netherlands.
Now, I know some readers will say ‘but Dutch cycling is segregated from motorists’… indeed, but the argument from Cooper and others is where there’s no cars involved. Where a person falls off their bike — this happens all the time in the Netherlands as they cycle in all conditions from sunny to extreme wind and snow and ice.
IMAGE: Chart by Toole Design Group.
Where helmets were made mandatory in Australia, the numbers of people cycling declined. Meanwhile, Malta — the only EU country with mandatory helmets –is revoking its helmet law because it’s viewed as stifling cycling and bicycle share.
The problem is that helmets are a distraction. As Chris Boardman said: “Helmets not even in top 10 of things that keep cycling safe”.
Wear a helmet if you want — especially wear one if you’re prone to falling while cycling. But the support isn’t there for helmets to be rammed down our throats by the state or by broadcasters.
You can’t promote cycling helmets and high-vis for all and also promote mass cycling and all of its benefits — it’s impossible. It can’t be done. The choice is promote questionable “safety” gear or get down to promoting “sustainable safety” (ie follow the Netherlands).
This is linear choice — the evidence is clear: promotion of gear massively restricts cycling’s potential (forget about most teenagers for starters) and distracts from proven solutions.