“The Invisible Cyclist”, begins Direct Line’s press release (it’s two years old, but it’s doing the rounds again). The Invisible Cyclist.
The body of the text explains:
Using revolutionary eye tracking technology to monitor actual driver behaviour, the study found that drivers failed to notice 22 per cent of cyclists on the road, despite being in clear view of their vehicle.
Wait, I thought they were “invisible”? Turns out they were “in clear view” after all.
Let’s jump back up to the journo-friendly copy-and-pastable bullet points at the top, where we find this.
22 per cent of cyclists are not seen by motorists compared to just 4 per cent of jaywalkers
“22% of cyclists are not seen”, rather than “drivers fail to see 22% of cyclists”. Do people on bikes now have to start apologising because Smidsy becomes “Smiwsby”? (“Sorry mate, I wasn’t seen by you.”)
And “4% of jaywalkers”? What’s a jaywalker? They don’t exist in the UK. They’re a product of the US motor industry. Is Direct Line trying to gradually criminalise people crossing the road in this country? They use the term repeatedly through the press release, with no apparent self-awareness, just as they continue to talk in terms of non-motorists being “invisible” more than they do of motorists failing to observe them.
Direct Line’s spokesperson, Vicky Bristow, offered the following comment:
For the first time we know exactly where people focus their eyes when driving and the results are frightening. UK roads are busy and congested and as a result millions of cyclists are going unseen. Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.
Let’s remind ourselves of the first paragraph of the release: “drivers failed to notice 22 per cent of cyclists on the road, despite being in clear view“.
If you’re on a bike, and you’re “in clear view” of someone else, what exactly is the additional responsibility to be accepted?
The research shows that people in cars are failing to observe things—people—that are clearly visible. Yet, apparently, the very people who are clearly visible should accept responsibility for not being observed.
Truly baffling—unless of course you wanted to believe that it’s in the interests of the motoring industry to restrict the use of non-motorised transport, oppress the people who use it, and minimise any sort of moral or legal responsibility accumulating on the shoulders of those who don’t dilute their consumption of motorised transport. You know, like with the jaywalking thing. Just a thought.
The thing is, of course, that Bristow’s statement is brazenly arse-about-face: “blaming motorists” is anything but the easy option. It’s by far the most difficult option, which is precisely why she’s pushing the narrative as far away as possible from it. If she had any degree of understanding of the issue or any integrity in seeking to address it, she might suggest that driver training should explain ways to deal with saccadic masking and other natural cognitive issues—thus blaming the system perhaps more than the driver, surely not so undiplomatic as suggesting that her customers might like to pay more attention—but she apparently doesn’t, and/or that’s still too much like hard work for drivers.
Blaming cyclists is the easy option. Cyclists are other people, they’re not the ones in cars. They can sort this problem out. It’s in their interests to do it. They can magically solve this issue of people failing to see them and then driving a car into them.
Hands washed, problem offloaded. Easy. Drivers, carry on as you were. It’s the cyclists’ problem. Nothing to do. Easy. It’s for them. Not for us.
But there’s a problem, which is that there is very little “them and us” when it comes to talking about cyclists: 80% of “them” are licensed drivers, including this one.
This one also happens to be a current customer of Direct Line. But Direct Line seems to like cyclists making changes, so perhaps I should adopt their way of thinking and change that.
Their customer service representative gave some sort of response to my request for an explanation, which was that they “removed the story as the study was two years old”. Which makes no sense at all, but I guess they’re reckoning on less PR fallout from a half-hearted attempt at whitewashing than from people repeatedly pointing out the toxicity of the content itself.