…or, Please stop blaming me for what that other person did
I suspect that Hoy’s had enough feedback from this tweet by now. In one sentence he managed to sum up all that’s wrong with “othering” and the pervasive attitude in British society that cycling is different and odd.
So why do I think Hoy is wrong? To illustrate this, I’ll discuss two things: first the way in which drivers are treated when they act criminally and second the accusations levelled at cyclists and the way in which they are held collectively responsible for the behaviour of others, behaviour over which they have no control.
In discussing driver behaviour I’ve looked at my local papers for the last couple of days. So pervasive is adverse driver behaviour that there’s no real need to look any further. Leanne Burnell has just been released from jail after killing a cyclist. She is not allowed anywhere near where the cyclist used to live. Burnell and her boyfriend were racing in a 30mph zone when they killed Amy Hofmeister. But is anyone saying that these two give drivers a bad name through their actions? After all they have basically murdered someone. Are they a small minority that give other drivers a bad rep by being irresponsible? If they are, it doesn’t feature anywhere in the reporting.
This drunk driver isn’t being held up as an example of why people dislike drivers. And then there’s teaching assistant Emma Walker, who decided to travel at twice the speed limit and drive on the wrong side of the road whilst her passengers begged her to stop. Walker got away with it but her three friends variously suffered brain damage, a dislocated hip meaning a shortened leg, a broken neck and a ruptured spleen. So is Walker giving drivers a bad reputation, and if not, why not? To answer this, let’s examine what it is cyclists are blamed for.
So this cyclist is blamed for their own death despite the fact that the actual stats on red light jumping tell a different story. As for outrunning cars, well yes cyclists will filter if cars are going slower, which they generally are in rush hour traffic. The Twit in question had no idea about the details of the accident or who had caused it, they just blamed the cyclist on the grounds that “they” ALL go through red lights.
Now there are multiple problems with this. Road tax was abolished in 1937; VED is a tax on pollutants and bikes would be zero-rated; in the UK roads are public highways we all have a right to use; payment of something doesn’t confer a right to violence because you’re a bit irritated, and so on. But what you can see in that tweet is that cyclists are hated on erroneous grounds. Road tax is a side issue, it’s an excuse to justify a hatred that stems from something else. Nothing I do on a bike, whether stopping at a red light or not, is going to change this person’s prejudices because they aren’t based on facts.
It isn’t for this person to decide whether or not others have a need to be on the road. Driving with a hangover is at best inadvisable. And if your blood-alcohol content is still over the limit, it’s illegal. Again, cyclists doing nothing wrong, driver possibly breaking the law.
And the last one for today:
Again, cycling side by side isn’t actually illegal. Drivers accuse cyclists of doing something wrong even when cyclists are acting within the law. Thus whatever cyclists do, whether they act legally or illegally, this invective will be directed at them. Whereas no matter what drivers do, whether it’s actually killing someone, maiming their friends, or just threatening random violence against strangers, the individual is deemed to be responsible, not the group. So what is going on here?
Essentially driving is seen as a normal activity that almost every adult does. It’s the default option. There’s always an assumption that you’ve travelled by car or that you will travel by car. For evidence just look at invitations you get to events and the instructions for how to get there. Thus the behaviour, because it’s “normal” is disassociated from the person doing it. A person driving badly is an individual doing something normal but doing it wrongly.
In contrast, cycling is something other and different. People will ask you why you cycle, but they will rarely ask you why you drive. Thus if you cycle, you’re not disassociated from the activity, it is assumed to be part of your identity. And as such you’re then identified with everyone else who cycles, because this random abnormal behaviour identifies you and marks you out with “them”. Thus you can be blamed for what someone else does, as if you’re all part of some borg hive mind. And along with the blame comes the punishment – it’s OK to run one cyclist over because once someone saw another cyclist somewhere else doing something wrong.
Cyclists are not disliked for their law breaking. Most of the time they’re not breaking the law and much of the time those accusing them of so doing don’t really know what the law states. Cyclists are disliked for transgressing social boundaries, for not doing what’s “normal”, for questioning a consumerist culture and a lifestyle that relies completely on the motorcar.
Thus in arguing that the actions of a few cyclists taint those of the many, Hoy feeds into a prejudice rather than questioning it. He is validating the assumption that cyclists are other, different, blameworthy. Hoy thinks cyclists should earn respect on the road. Did Emma Walker earn respect for drivers? Did Emma Way, when she knocked down a cyclist and boasted about it? Once you realise that cyclists are a bullied minority, the notion that they should earn respect takes on a rather nastier tone. It’s like telling a bullied school child that the problem lies with them, that if only they would change their behaviour the bullies would go away rather than realising that the problem lies with the stupidity of the bullies. Cyclists shouldn’t have to earn respect any more than any other road group. The shift in attitude needs to come from the idiots who blame all cyclists for the behaviour of one cyclist. We need deeper cultural shifts so that the vulnerable are respected, not mocked and threatened. Shame on you Hoy, for adding to a bullying culture.