When it comes to anyone broadcasting road safety messages to the public about the risks to people on bicycles, there’s a pattern of behaviour that’s been apparent for a long, long time.
I’ve remarked on it before in the context of TV adverts, but today provides a neat little vignette of how it also often pervades law enforcement.
Today, Essex Police launched an appeal for witnesses to “a road rage incident”.
A 60-year-old was pushed off his bike, while on his way home from work, when a car [sic] overtaking overtaking a line of parked vehicles in the opposite direction refused to give way.
The cyclist was forced to stop and the driver edged his car forward until the bumper was touching the rider’s front tyre. A passenger proceeded to jumped [sic] out of the car, grabbed the handlebars and said he would drag the bike out of the road with the rider still in the saddle. During a struggle the rider and his bike fell to the ground.
It’s crucial to note the following additional point from the investigating officer:
The cyclist had the right of way
Leaving aside the semantics of “right of way” vs “priority”, we have here a clear case where one person is behaving entirely lawfully and is assaulted by two others.
But it’s not handled quite that way.
The bear grumbles
First, let’s deal with a comment from the officer which, whilst tangential, is so mind-boggling it’s impossible to let slip by.
Luckily the rider is an experienced cyclist and he was wearing a safety helmet which thankfully protected him from serious injury.
I have genuinely no idea why being “an experienced cyclist” is lucky here. This is a case of assault. Where does cycling experience enter into coping with being assaulted?
This statement appears to contain two implications: that experienced riders wear helmets, and that helmets are a good idea because you might get assaulted by violent morons. One is baseless and the other is, frankly, deranged.
Anyway, the bear is getting restless.
The bear snorts
Quick, let’s placate the bear.
I would urge drivers and cyclists to acknowledge each other’s rights on the road and reducing [sic] this unacceptable behaviour.
This comment has two clear halves to it. Firstly, this:
I would urge drivers to acknowledge cyclists’ rights on the road [to] reduce this unacceptable behaviour.
And secondly, this:
I would urge cyclists to acknowledge drivers’ rights on the road [to] reduce this unacceptable behaviour.
There we go: the tranquiliser dart in the neck. The bear—that irritable, powerful, collective beast of people who travel solely by car—is calm.
A reminder, in case the bit about helmets was a bit too distracting: This was a case where one perfectly law-abiding person was physically assaulted by another. That’s it. Nothing more to it.
Yet there has to be the sop to the bear.
In a case where someone gets out of a car through a false sense of entitlement and attacks someone on a bicycle who has done nothing wrong, the police feel the urge to remind “cyclists” to respect people’s rights.
The comment makes use of an isolated and unilateral act of violence to insidiously shift responsibility towards everyone who happens to share an arbitrary attribute with the blameless victim. It takes impertinence to astronomical levels: the victim in this case appears to have been doing exactly what the police presume to reduce the behaviour to which he was subjected.
Once deconstructed, the statement is clear: for one individual to launch an unprovoked and unjustified assault on another is to some extent justified—in the eyes of the police, no less—by the fact that some completely unrelated people may behave in a certain way.
Well, no, it’s not.
But, whilst people who cycle are few, people who drive are many and vocal, and collectively they loom imposingly over the conversation. The bear will turn on those who blame it. But while the bear sleeps, the person talking is safe.
And so, people continue to tranquilise the bear. It’s too dangerous not to.