If you open the pages of many newspapers, head online at their digital offerings or tune into the six-o-clock news you'd get the impression that it was open season on cyclists and that riding a bike was the most dangerous thing you can do on wheels.
Sure, it can be dangerous to ride a bike in some instances, but media coverage often doesn't meet with the statistical reality, as Rick Vosper observes in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
"The constant and overwhelming media message is simple:Every trip by bike is a potential trip to the graveyard. Of course, that’s nonsense, and a review of the actual figures exposes that media-induced hysteria for the cynical fraud it is. But who cares? Via consistent (drip) repetition (drip) over time (drip), that cycling = death message has become engrained in the public perception. And in the business of marketing, the business of public relations, the business that sets the national agenda about how people spend their time and money, that perception has already become reality."
And that's exactly how its framed here too in Australia, with practically no blame ever assigned to motorists for death or injury in many news articles.
Here’s how it works: “The cyclist, who was not wearing a helmet…” implies not only that a helmet would have saved the cyclist’s life, but that the cyclist was therefore somehow culpable in their own death. The rider in question could have been struck by a drunk driver, flattened by a runaway train, or obliterated by a falling comet. It doesn’t matter. If the cyclist is not wearing a helmet, their death is no one’s fault but their own.
Vosper ends his commentary this way:
The problem is not bikes. It’s not cycling. The problem is that bikes and cycling are being unfairly characterized as a deadly pastime. And that, by doing nothing to stop it, we’ve allowed that demonization to happen.
But there is also another aspect to this I'd like to touch on. Here at Cycling Central I've always taken the editorial view to not focus too deeply on rider casualities or incidents where injury occurs and avoid much of the drumbeat around those.
The reason? A constant focus on how bad it can be on our roads (too often done by well meaning cycling advocates and organisations themselves) only serves to reinforce perceptions of danger to other cyclists, potential cyclists and the wider public, while breeding a siege mentality in the community.
I'm not asking that we bury bad news but that we be more discerning in how we ourselves frame it. Well publicised incidents aside, cycling is a largely fun and safe activity in Australia - don't let unflattering headlines inform you of the opposite and lets not add to the noise.