People reading this in Manchester may have heard about the story in the news at the moment regarding an old woman who died when a bus driver was forced to perform an emergency stop to avoid a guy on a BMX. While I accept that it looks like the guy riding the bike was doing so without due care and attention I fail to see why the news coverage focuses so heavily on this aspect of the story. It is worth remembering that on average 7 other people would have been killed on the same day due to road traffic accidents yet none of those are in the news. I also suspect that if the guy on a BMX had been replaced by someone in a Land Rover Discovery that this wouldn’t have been regarded as newsworthy at all. Part of the reason this story is seen as newsworthy is not the tragic and avoidable death but rather the novelty aspect of the fact that it appears to have been caused by a cyclist. People in cars causing deaths is seen as normal, but because cyclists are responsible for so few of these incidents it ends up in the news.
The other part of the reason why this story is in the news is that it preys on many peoples prejudice towards cyclists, for example if I am at the pub talking to someone who drives a car but does not also ride a bike, the conversation often follows a pattern I’m sure will be familiar to many of you:
Me: I saw an old bike on eBay today, I’m thinking of restoring it for a hobby-project
Motorist: Yeah? You know I saw this guy on a bike go through a red light.
Now, imagine this reversed:
Person: I’m thinking of getting one of those kit-cars to build up in the garage as a bit of a hobby project, it’ll probably take me years to get it done but I enjoy that kind of thing, you know?
Me: Oh yeah? Did you know that on average around 250,000 people are injured or killed on the roads here every year, and almost every single one of those injuries was caused by someone driving a car?
I don’t do that when I talk to people, but people seem to insist on telling me this kind of thing, as if that guy who ran a red has anything to do with me. People who drive but don’t cycle often appear to have a lot of prejudice towards cyclists, and the news media picks up on this in its reporting of news regarding cycling in order to generate interest by feeding these prejudices. Maybe they don’t like people who cycle because they see them as different from themselves, maybe they see cyclists as a reminder that they could more socially responsible and not drive, and this upsets them. Maybe they resent the fact that they aren’t getting the driving experience promised to them by advertisements, instead sitting in their tin boxes idling along at 15-20 km.h-1 in rush hour traffic, and resent the cyclists they see for not falling into the same trap.
Sure there are some bad cyclists and there are some bad motorists, but people and journalists should remember one important thing; a bad motorist can easily kill several people and not die in the process. A bad cyclist has at best a limited chance of killing someone, and will probably die in the process. Maybe we should focus our attention more on motorists who kill thousands of people a year and injure hundreds of thousands more (and that is just on this tiny island of ours) rather than on the occasional freak (and tragic) accident caused by someone on a bike.