Disclaimer: this is quite a touchy subject and goes quite beyond an idea simply to be discussed to anyone who has actually lost anyone to a traffic-related incident. I realize this and want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t hold the opinion that anyone killed in any way is less tragic than if they were killed in any other way, in this case, on a bike, or in a car. With that said…
Time to stir the pot a bit.
How’s this for a premise: not all deaths are as important as others. More specifically, the death of someone riding a bike is more shocking, more dismaying, more unnecessary, more saddening, more worthy of a vigil than that of the death of someone driving a car.
How does that sound? Like complete bollocks or like I’m on to something? This idea struck me last week when reading about another community getting together to draw attention to another unnecessary death of a cyclist. Here’s the thing though, any death is unnecessary. It is quite a shame any time a person cycling gets killed by a person driving a car, and it really shouldn’t happen at all, ever. However, it’s quite the same if anyone is killed in any way that isn’t deemed justifiable by the community affected by it (and whether that could ever be the case is another big question of the ages).
Now, it may simply be the case that I am tuned to hear news of the cycling variety and that in reality there is outcry among the motoring community every time a person driving a car is killed. If that’s the case, then I have none here. However, I struggle to imagine that this is so. Even when there is, as happens all the time, a higher death toll on the roads over a particular holiday period and the media reports on “X number of deaths on the road this past weekend”, it pretty much ends there. We move on. Yes, it is tragic, and sad, and most definitely unnecessary, and we would all attest to that, but it doesn’t really affect us. We resume doing whatever mundane task we were doing, or change the channel to something more entertaining.
Is it that we accept the risks of driving a car? With people getting killed all the time in cars, has it just become normal? People certainly acclimatize to things that are common, by and large, so, maybe? That would be a little sick, but could it be true?
Now and then someone will point out that cycling is actually rather safe, and there really aren’t a huge number of people who get killed riding a bike each year. In Australia, in 2014, there were 1,156 deaths on the roads, and 45 of those were cyclists. “That’s too many”, is always the response, and that’s quite right (the percentage of cyclists killed is higher than motorists when you consider the mode share). One is too many, but why isn’t 1,111 too many people being killed in cars?
The public outcry is even worse when a pedestrian gets killed by a cyclist, where that number is either 0 each year, or maybe one, now and then.
While I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t get upset about people being killed while on their bikes – of course we should – why would it be the case that it’s more terrible than people dying in cars? Why is the cycling community more upset about this than the motoring community is?
What might the reasons be? Here are a few possibilities:
Vulnerability. Easily the most prominent element in this situation. Possibly the only one that matters. Motorists have a million times more protection (rough estimate) than cyclists, so it seems pretty obvious that more care needs to be taken when driving a vehicle around them. When this care is not taken, we get upset, and quite rightly. You would feel pretty comfortable playing a little rough with an adult, but you would exercise more care when doing so with a child, or not at all, depending on age/size, and that seems like something that you should just know and accept without having to be told or made to do. It’s the same with vulnerable road users, so when that caution is not taken and the result is someone being killed or injured, cyclists get upset. Makes perfect sense.
Denied Rights? Is there an element of this ever-present threat from cars that contributes to the feeling that cyclists are not wanted on the roads? That we are not welcome? That we are not free to exercise our right to be there?
Self-righteousness? Cars are polluting, noisy, dangerous, and run on finite natural resources, whereas cycling is the answer to all of the worlds problems. That’s how some people feel about it, anyways. There may be a small element of this moral high-ground that can colour the way people feel about cyclists dying as opposed to anyone else. You know – killed while trying to make the world a better place.
Spite? Could spite be an element that makes a dead cyclist harder to swallow than a dead motorist? This would be tied to vulnerability and that cyclists feeling threatened by automobile traffic may make the deaths seem more spiteful. A bit like, “I don’t care enough to be careful enough to be bothered about whether you live or die”.
Lack of consequences? Like vulnerability, this one holds a bit of weight. The law is often not interested in ensuring that this does not happen. There are tons of articles out there about how killing a cyclist in a car is the only legal form of murder (much of this coming from NYC), and it does seem that way all too often. I’m not sure it’s any different when the victim is in a car, but there I think there is definitely something here.
These might all be nothing, or there may be other reasons, but at any rate, it does generally seem to be the case much of the time. Not all deaths are as important as others? I should hardly think so, but as to the feeling that this is the case, I can understand it.
What do you think?
Header image: source