COMMENT & ANALYSIS: An article headlined “Here’s how some busy bee cyclists are bending the rules of the road” was published by the Irish Independent last week, discussing the issue of cyclists breaking red lights. This article, written by an anonymous Road Safety Authority (RSA) expert, compares cyclists to “busy bees” throughout the article, and, at one point, describes us as “swarming masses”.
Dublin cyclists are a thick-skinned bunch, and we’re well used to abuse on the road. But the danger of rhetoric like this coming from the RSA is that it will legitimise dangerous preconceptions held by a small minority of drivers.
In September, there were three separate incidents caught on camera in which taxi drivers used their vehicles as weapons against three different cyclists. In each case, the driver swerved at the cyclist numerous times trying to knock him down or cause him to crash. On the third occasion, the driver chased the cyclist to the wrong side of the road, nearly causing a head on collision with another car in the process.
These three very similar incidents happened within a month of each other, all in Dublin city, but the silence from the RSA was deafening.
The vast majority of people would never dream of chasing and assaulting someone with a knife or some other deadly weapon. Yet, put them in front of the wheel of a car, and put a cyclist in front of them, and a few people are suddenly comfortable with assaulting a complete stranger with potentially lethal force.
This is what happens when you dehumanise cyclists, when you encourage certain drivers to view us not as human beings, but as “swarming masses”. Such ugly language has no place in civil discourse, and the RSA must retract, and apologise for their remarks.
While the language of the article was appalling, its content was little better, and should seriously call into question the knowledge of this “RSA expert”. The writer doesn’t offer any data to back up the claims being made, instead opting for a series of personal anecdotes. Not mentioned in the article is the fact that the vast majority (88%) of cyclists do not break red lights, according to the RSA’s own research.
Nor does the writer tell the reader that red light cameras installed in the city centre by the RPA found that 77.1% of red light jumpers were in cars, vans, or taxis, while just 12% were on bicycles. And these data don’t even include drivers who accelerate into amber lights, which is also illegal and dangerous. When you compare these numbers to the modal shares for the different vehicles types, it becomes clear that drivers break red lights at at least the same rate as cyclists.
This ultimately begs the question, why has this RSA expert never written an incendiary, inaccurate, and frankly dangerous article like this about the behaviour of drivers? Lest we forget, drivers, not cyclists, are the ones who have the capacity to kill with ease on our roads.