One of my photos

Bikes don’t kill people, cyclists do

August 16th, 2020 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

There are some things that are so obvious and ingrained that you don’t notice them until they are pointed out, after which you can’t not see them again. The difference between how accidents caused by bicycles and accidents caused by car drivers are reported is one of those things.That last sentence might jar a little because it is exactly opposite to how such things are normally referenced. It is never an accident caused by a bicycle, but always an accident caused by a cyclist. Conversely it is never (or very rarely) a driver involved in an accident but nearly always a car or van that is involved. This is so common that we don’t challenge it, because we don’t notice it.

Just today the headlines are about an incident in Wiltshire. “Four young men die as car crashes into house near Chippenham” (BBC), “Four men die in Wiltshire after car crashes into house and catches fire” (Guardian), “Four young men killed after car crashes into house and bursts into flames” (Mirror)

There is no fake news here. All the headlines are accurate: a car did crash into a house. The issue is not the accuracy but the choice of perspective, when any serious accident involving a bicycle is reported as involving a cyclist and not a cycle. It would be equally accurate to say that a man crashed into a house, killing himself and his three passengers, but that is not how it gets reported.

This might seem like nit-picking but it contributes to an unstated assumption that car drivers are far less responsible for their actions than cyclists are. In today’s example it is the car that is to blame and the driver has no agency at all in it. Of course it may be that the driver was driving perfectly and there was a catastrophic failure of the car and we should not pre-judge these things – except that the media do pre-judge these things, possibly unconciously and out of habit, but always in a way that assumes drivers are blameless, until proved otherwise, and even then the headlines will probbaly not reflect that.

A few example headlines:

From Sky News

From the Guardian

From the BBC

Again, these all seem to be accurate, but consistently it is reported that crashes are caused by cyclists or by cars/vans but not by car/van drivers. This is not an anti-car rant. I have a car myself. it is the way that reporting creates an atmosphere where cyclists are villians and drivers are victims.

In reality, in the rare cases where a pedestrian is injured or killed by a bicycle it is the cyclists fault. Even where it is the pedestrian’s fault, a cyclist shares a lot of blame. If someone steps off a pavement without looking and gets hit by a bike you can argue that the cyclist at least shares some blame for not riding with enough anticipation or riding too close to the kerb. No argument about that, but the same applies to cars and their drivers too.

The end result is that the implied guilt of the bad cyclists gets re-inforced and over-stated while any guilt of bad drivers gets ignored. Unless they are a celebrity of course. (George Michael arrested after crashing car into shop – Guardian. But even then the first line of the story is “George Michael has been arrested after the car he was driving crashed into a shop near his home in Hampstead, north London.”)

As it happens I spend a lot more time walking than cycling, driving my car or riding my motorbike or scooter and I am a lot more worried about cars than bikes. I also know that if I actually wanted to kill somebody with my bicycle I would be unlikely to manage it. Even if I deliberately cycled into a pedestrian I would be more likely to die than they would.

My unscientific guess would be that cyclists are much more at risk than enybody else on the roads/pavements. In fact it was quite hard to find the stories quoted above because if you Google for cyclist + accident nearly all the hits are for stories where a cyclist has been hit by a lorry, van or car and came off a lot worse.

So I wouldn’t argue with all those “cyclist hits man” stories, but now whenever I see “van crashes into house” I mentally substitute “van driver smashes their van into house” and feel that I am getting a much more accurate picture as a result.

And don’t get me started on motorbikes! Yes there are some idiots on bikes, but overwhelmingly they are a danger to themselves more than other people

Tags: ·

No Comments so far ↓

Like the collective mind of the Daily Mail, comments are closed.