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The cycling lobby’s war on motorists is misguided 

More victim blaming is going on in Ireland. There seems to be a pandemic of it in the country in recent year. TD Ciaran Cannon is the latest to highlight this cowardly tactic. The guilty party? The Road Safety Authority.
What did they do? They had gall to recommend to cyclists to remember to wear their hi-vis when they are out on the road. Dangerous stuff.

In fairness to Deputy Cannon, he suffered a very severe accident on his bike last July when he was hit by a car, so it is understandable that he might feel somehow that this RSA tweet was directed unfairly at him – blaming him for the accident in which he was very badly injured.

But what did the RSA tweet say?

“Cycling safety. Wear high visibility clothing. Keep bicycle lights in good working order. Signal in plenty of time. Don’t ever ride or attempt to ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

Anyone who reads that with a modicum of common sense and reasonableness knows that there was no intention of victim-blaming. It is practical advice on how to stay safe on the road. Something mothers have been telling their children for decades.

Indeed, I myself was fined €150 for having no front light and an additional €150 for having no back light cycling in Dublin a few years ago. It was twilight. Darkness descended slowly as I cycled home from work, caught short like a drunkard looking for a toilet on the long walk home after a heap of pints.

Taking the logic of Deputy Cannon, and I wish I had known his point of view when I appealed in court, I was a victim and was being blamed by the courts and the Gardai. Deputy Cannon could have been my first witness to call to the stand.

He told Independent.ie that there is a culture in Ireland, “engrained from childhood”, where a “hierarchy” on Irish roads places motorists at the top and cyclists and pedestrians at the bottom. His argument continued with the logic that encouraging cyclist to wear reflective gear the RSA is “hardwiring the culture that it is your obligation to wear the hi-viz, not the obligation of the motorists to be more vigilant and more careful”.

I don’t agree. The idea of calling out practical advice as victim blaming is divisive, and leads to an unhelpful narrative of them and us.

Presenting cyclists as innocents and paragons of virtue and motorists as the opposite is both a sweeping generalization and divorced from the reality of anyone who encounters either of these animals on the Irish roads.

Yes, some motorists drive recklessly. But so do some cyclists.

As someone who drives from time to time, cycles daily, runs almost daily and walks quite frequently, I am on both sides of the argument and I experience the ‘hierarchy’ from all perspectives. On average, aside from the users of e-scooters, the most obnoxious, reckless and dangerous road users are cyclists. Not drivers.

Drivers have a particular responsibility to other road users, given that they can kill a cyclist or a pedestrian very, very easily. They can hurt and they can maim. That is why the vast majority of RSA advice is directed at motorists.
But yes, there is a hierarchy. A hierarchy of lethality. You cannot enter a shared public space such as a road without appreciating that. A cyclist has a responsibility to light up and be seen. This is a responsibility to themselves and to other road users. It is a responsibility to motorists who are required to exert more than reasonable care towards cyclists (the law is framed this way) but for the common space to function, cyclists have to play their part as well.

Very often they don’t. Many cycle recklessly. You encounter them in particular on city streets. They run red lights.They cycle on footpaths. Especially those who have pimped their bikes to be e-bikes. Driving is stressful and cyclists have to play their part in minimizing that stress for their own safety and that of others. Causing a motor accident by reckless cycling can have serious repercussions for the cyclist but also for the motorist – if not physically, the emotional and psychological scars of knocking down a fellow road user are huge. Sometimes the physical victim can be the one at fault. It is silly to pretend otherwise.

Creating a them and us creates only competition for the shared public space; it foster resentment and entitlement; it creates anger and frustration. All these emotions heighten the tension on the roads which are a dangerous place for all. It is a space that requires calm and reasonable minds rather than a Darwinian melting pot.

In the bigger scheme of things, Deputy Cannon should be able to see that the RSA tweet was not directed at him personally, not related to his personal experience, but directed toward the common good of all, practical reasonableness and physical reality.

 


 

David Reynolds

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