A recent batch of proposed media guidelines drawn up on September 27th by the University of Westminster and the UK National Union of Journalists are urging Britain’s major newspapers to drastically reshape the way they cover road collisions.
According to the Road Collision Reporting Guidelines Council, “news media reporting influences how society tackles the issues it faces, and while guidelines already exist for reporting on suicide, children and refugees, none specifically exist to guide best practice regarding road collisions.”
It remains to be seen whether these changes to the language used in reporting will have an affect on the number of road collisions on British roads, but it should be noted in several Western World countries (such as Australia) the road toll has recently fallen to levels not seen in 90 years or more.
The report lists among it’s authors Laura Laker, the official cycling corespondent for The Guardian, and Adam Tranter, the self styled ‘bicycle mayor for Coventry’. Rachel Aldred, known for her pro cycling University funded studies, has her name at the top of the list.
Under the code, cyclists who claim they’ve been insulted will be able to make formal complaints on the grounds that it ‘provoked hatred’.
Even though every single cyclist in this photo is 'street racing', according to the proposed media guidelines they would continue to enjoy anonymity in an effort to protect vulnerable road users from being 'dehumanised' in a news article.
Prominent cycling campaigner (and former professional cyclist) Chris Boardman offered this assessment. “I can say categorically the reporting of cycling activity has a huge influence on perception. For good or ill, words really do matter, they paint a picture and influence both how we feel about a topic and how seriously we take a crime.
“We very much welcome that this topic is at last being addressed,” he adds. “Guidelines are being crafted to ensure those who are truly responsible for road violence are the ones in the spotlight.”
On it’s face this might seem like a laudable goal, however it fails to address an inconvenient truth regarding cyclists – namely, the vast majority of hospital grade cycling injuries don’t involve a car.
For example, a 2019 report by the Australian Institute of Health investigated 160,000 hospital grade cycling injuries between 1999-2016. The report found 40% of all cycling injury admissions didn’t even occur on the road, and of the 60% which did occur on the road, only 28% involved a motor vehicle.
It’s reasonable to suggest these trend lines would hold true in most developed Western World nations.
Clearly, Chris Boardman has an agenda and fair enough, that is his right. That said, what’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander.
If it’s appropriate in Boardman’s eyes to criticise newspapers for the current state of reporting language, it should also be fair to criticise Boardman for his overly dramatic use of evocative rhetoric like “road violence”. Of course, cyclists are Boardman’s specific audience when he speaks that way.
Cyclists love that sort of language – it allows them to see themselves as permanent victims, incapable of ever causing their own misfortune. And yet, that’s what the report by the Australian Institute of Health discovered. Specifically, cyclists cause the vast majority of their own hospital grade injuries.
The report says cyclists are frustrated by ‘road deaths being portrayed as unavoidable accidents’ rather than as ‘very avoidable criminal behaviour’. How then, are we meant to describe a cyclist causing grievous injuries to a pedestrian?
If you’re a cyclist, it seems language only matters when you’re on the receiving end of an encounter with a motor vehicle. The moment it looks like a cyclist is the ‘at fault’ party, all too often cyclists will create misinformation in an effort to deflect blame from cycling in general.
Consider Ed Hore, President of The Australian Cycling Alliance, and owner of the website Cycle. Known for being so influential he is regularly called on for sound bites by TV News programs, recently both he and his followers aggressively sought to reinvent the story of Danae Lomen, a 24 year old legal secretary who was hit from behind by a cyclist on a shared path in Melbourne.
Ms Lomen suffered life long injuries from the incident. She suffered a fractured palate, multiple fractures to her jaw, four missing teeth, a fractured right arm and various lacerations. She also required multiple blood transfusions due to loss of blood and will endure many future operations.
On the Cycle Facebook Page, in a series of posts which can only be described as disgusting, Ed Hore and his followers speculated Ms Lomen was not hit by a cyclist, but rather, she was a victim of domestic violence and her GoFundMe page (created by her sister to help pay for her injuries) is a fake.
Peter Signorini, arguably Australia’s most ubiquitous and obnoxious online cycling advocate (a guy who uses a fake Facebook account when posting publicly) suggested Ms Lomen was actually a victim of domestic violence. Ed Hore’s son Terance Hore instantly agreed with him.
In another post, Geter Pibson, another offensive cycling advocate blatantly offered that he has zero sympathy for Ms Lomen and that further, in his opinion she only went to the media to advertise her GoFundMe page.
And lastly, this masterpiece of irony. Peter Signorini, the same person who openly opposes Compulsory Single File for cyclists on personal liberties grounds, here spews his venom for pedestrians who cause the same inconvenience for cyclists as cyclists then cause for motorists.