It’s Time To Challenge Media Bias Against Cyclists

We simply cannot allow the media bias against cyclists to go unchallenged. It is costing lives.

In 2015 over 28,000 people were detected by Gardai holding a mobile phone while driving a motor vehicle. That’s an average 76 people every day. You are 4 times more likely to have an accident if holding a phone while driving.

Between January and April last year, the number of arrests for driving under the influence rose by 18% compared to the same period the previous year. The Road Safety Authority (RSA) recently presented provisional results of a survey that indicate that alcohol was a factor in 30% of road traffic collision fatalities in 2013 and 2014.

Depending on what survey you read, between 20% and 50% of drivers admit to speeding. Speeding is considered to be a factor in one third of all fatal road collisions.

But yet, and taking all above into account, if you were to believe the Irish media, the greatest scourge on our roads are cyclists.

As probably the most vulnerable road users, we cannot let this anti-cyclist bias go unchallenged. There is simply no justification for it. It has now reached levels of near hysteria, thanks in no small part to the ill-informed rantings of second rate tabloid hacks like Paul Williams and self-opinionated, self -important windbags like George Hook, (himself a ‘serial offender’ on the roads, according to a judge. Talk about hypocrisy!). After his latest rant, for which we criticised him on here, we offered Paul  Williams the right to reply and clarify his comments, he refused.

“The only thing a bad cyclist makes is a good organ donor,” are the words of Tina Koumarianos, a Z list celebrity blogger, spoken on RTE radio in an interview with Miriam O’Callaghan and left unchallenged by the presenter. The same woman also wrote the following in her blog, addressed towards cyclists, “Anyway, you easy riders out there, give a thought to us mere mortals who pay a fortune to swan around in our little tin boxes; we pay to use the road and although we do try to be polite, it is two way traffic and you are the poor relation”. That’s a threat of physical violence, is it not? How are people allowed to get away with this? Miriam O’Callaghan, by the way, congratulated Tina for her great blog.

And if you think these are the annoying but harmless rantings of a few attention seeking individuals, consider the case of Emma Way. In 2013, Ms Way, a trainee accountant from Norfolk in England, was convicted of failing to stop and failing to report an accident. She was cleared of driving without due care and attention, fined £337 and ordered to pay £300 costs. Her crime? Knocking down a cyclist and driving away. But that’s not all. Here’s what she tweeted when she arrived home following the incident:

Despite the fact that she was obviously so convinced she was doing the world a favour that she boasted about it on Twitter, her tweet was reported to police and she was prosecuted. Where did she get the idea from, that cyclists were somehow legitimate targets? Maybe, if you hear something repeated often enough in the media and elsewhere, it becomes an accepted belief. She later said the tweet was the biggest mistake of her life: not knocking down the cyclist, you notice, but tweeting about it. She’s not alone with this mind-set, there are several examples in the media. Rayhan Qadar, 21, also in the UK, posted this tweet which went viral: “Think I just hit a cyclist. But I’m late for work so had to drive off lol.” He was investigated and cleared of any wrong doing and he said the tweet was a joke.  Maybe it was, but yet again it shows a certain mind-set.

The general trend so far this year for road fatalities is thankfully downwards, but the number of cyclists being killed is bucking this trend. Coincidence, or somehow a result of the constant anti cyclist onslaught in the media?

Obviously I don’t know the cause of each of these particular tragedies and I’m not apportioning blame. But if you are a regular cyclist, you have probably by now experienced “punishment passing,” where a driver deliberately comes too close when overtaking. You might have experienced cars and trucks revving up behind you because you’re delaying them for a couple of minutes. Or you might have experienced worse, like Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who was pursued onto the pavement by an irate driver who intentionally tried to run him over, thankfully missing Froome but destroying his bike.

Chris Froome’s Bike

Are these incidents – which if we are to believe anecdotal evidence are becoming more common – a direct result of the anti-cycling hysteria whipped up by almost all sections of the media?  Cyclists seem to have become de-humanised. We are not seen as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, but rather as pesky cyclists who shouldn’t be on the road in the first place.  Williams, Hook et al need to realise that their words can have a murderous effect and that peoples’ lives are worth more than a few premium rate 30 cent texts to their station.

The misbehaviour of the relatively few cyclists who flout the law does not justify such an attitude. I’m in no way defending those cyclists who break the rules or act in an inconsiderate manner towards other road users, just I as I would not defend the small number of motorists who also do so, and by the way, a study carried out by Wesley Marshall of Colorado University shows that both cyclists and motorists flout the road safety laws, including breaking red lights, at almost exactly the same rates. Even so, we shouldn’t all be blamed for the actions of the tiny few who do cycle irresponsibly.

Too many motorists believe bicycles should have to follow the same rules as cars, as again that’s a message that the ill-informed media commentators keep putting out there. The previously mentioned Ms Koumarianos, in that quote from her blog mentioned earlier, seems to think motorists have more rights on the road than others because they pay for the privilege. Cyclists should pay road tax, should pay for cycle lanes,  should be insured, and  should be better trained, goes the mantra. Driver anger and/or jealousy seems to stem from the mistaken belief that we do none of these things, that we are reaping all the benefits without paying any of the financial costs.

Do these motorists really believe the billions spent on road infrastructure in this country over the past 20 years or so was paid for by the relatively small amounts of motor tax collected from motorists?

Do they think motor tax is enough to cover the environmental damage done by motor vehicles, enough to cover the costs to the health services of people poisoned by the smog of toxic car fumes? To cover the compensation paid by the state to road traffic victims injured by uninsured drivers? To cover the cost of cleaning up and disposing of the tyre mountains and abandoned cars that blight our countryside?

Enough to pay for the speed ramps we need to put in our housing estates because some drivers cannot be trusted to drive in a responsible fashion around children? Enough to cover the cost building car parks in our towns, towns which have already been redesigned to facilitate the increasing numbers of cars on the road?

The tax payers, including some who could never afford a car, have been subsidising motorists for years. Yet in a recent article in the Sunday Independent, motoring correspondent Campbell Spray claimed cyclists were overdoing their sense of entitlement. Oh the irony!

The only people with an over done sense of entitlement are the minority of motorists who expect every town, every city, every rural road to be planned around their needs to the detriment of all other road users and to the detriment of the towns and villages they pass through.

How many Irish towns are dying a slow death because they were bypassed, to meet the ever increasing demands of motorists? This is what society has been doing since the use of motor cars became widespread, and yet you hear the AA and other motoring organisations claiming there is a war against motorists!

Yeah, those pesky cyclists are the biggest problem facing society alright.

So what can we as cyclists do to improve the situation? Reaching for the phone to send a 30 cent text every time Hook or Williams spout their murderous bile towards cyclists defeats the purpose somewhat, as their prime motivation is probably to get you to do just that. But you can send them an email or a tweet.

You can support one of the cycling advocacy groups (I’ve posted a few links below). You can email Shane Ross, Minister for Transport. You can lobby your local TD’s to support the 1.5 minimum passing legislation due to come before the Dail soon, thanks in no small part to the sterling work of Phil Skelton and his ‘Staying Alive at 1.5’ campaign.

You can contact your local counsellors and lobby for improved cycling infrastructure in your area.

The email addresses for public reps are easily found on Google.

It’s time to get real folks, one of us might be next week’s tragic statistic.

staying Alive at 1.5 campaign