So what’s this summer’s sport?

  • Tennis? (Wimbledon: Scottish lad done good)
  • Cycling? (Tour de France: Kenyan / South African lad done good)
  • Cricket? (Ashes: Australian lads done good enough not to win)

No. It’s bashing. If you don’t know what Nicewaycode is, it’s a road safety campaign funded from Scotland’s sustainable transport budget, that’s all about mutual respect on the roads:

“If we all make just a bit more of an effort to get along, maybe there wouldn’t be a war on Scotland’s roads any more”, or some such.

There are lots and lots and lots of criticisms of it. Personally I’d blame incompetence rather than conspiracy. So my feeling is that the whole thing’s one giant cockup, starting with a poorly defined brief from the funders, and compounded by some pretty lazy, unimaginative, pandering-to-stereotypes implementation by the ad agency responsible.

Have a look at the two TV ads they’ve produced. We’ll start with the Don’t Jump Red Lights one:

It’s not even worth wasting your time to read what I think of this. On second thoughts, I will.

Let’s just say that it actually achieves the exact opposite of what it claims and reaffirms people’s prejudices that ALL cyclists jump ALL lights ALL the time.

The truth is that some cyclists (16%) do, and most (84%) don’tjust like motorists.

In fact the split of who is responsible for accidents collisions and injuries at red lights broadly follows the split in modal share – 4% are caused by cyclists, and 84% by cars & motorbikes (presumably the balance is busses and lorries?). These figures are for London, which I’ve never found to be a hotbed of Highway Code conformance, and I would expect other UK cities to have lower figures on this lawlessness. Let me know if you have the numbers!

The thing is though, when someone rides a bike through a red light it’s largely their own life they’re gambling with. When someone drives a car through a red light, it’s the people around them who’re more likely to experience the consequences.

So a campaign for motorists to re-enforce the message what an AMBER light means would probably have a bigger impact on overall road safety, since there are more motorists and the consequences of their actions are much higher. From the Highway Code (with a slight addition from me):


…If the amber light appears you may go on only if you have already crossed the stop line or are so close to it that to stop might cause a collision. It doesn’t mean “Floor it!”, and once the light is actually red, you absolutely must stop. Claiming that it only went red as your front wheels crossed the line just isn’t good enough – this isn’t a photo finish for the 100m, and you had the whole of the amber phase to prepare to stop.

Maybe something like this:

Anyway, Nicewaycode’s second ad is considerably less controversial:

Or is it?

At first glance, it seems to make sense. Horse riders get a whole lot more respect from drivers, don’t they? We all slow down, wait ’till it’s really safe to pass, and then give them every inch of space that there is. Well, I do anyway. A spooked horse means over 500kg of iron-shod lunatic jumping on your bonnet, and is probably best avoided.

Yet more horses are killed on our roads than people – over 3,000 in 2010. OK, we’ll ignore the fact that if YOU get injured at the roadside, the paramedics are called, while for a horse, it’ll be a vet with a gun.

It’s still an absolutely shocking figure.

I used to have a client whose business was racehorse injury rehabilitation. After surgery, or physiotherapy, he’d get them fit enough to start proper training again. For a horsey person, I suppose it was the perfect job – lots of short trots and gallops, grooming, sugar lumps and shovelling shit.

Anyway, part of his routine was to take the horses to a nearby field for extended gallops to work on their endurance. This involved riding up a short section (200 yds?) of a relatively obscure A-road to get to his field, and he did this several times a day.

At least once a week some impatient eejit would overtake where there wasn’t room; ignore oncoming vehicles; not bother with the whole slowing down bit; sound the horn; or just pass far too close. On several occasions, he had the horse’s stirrup clipped by a passing car’s wing mirror, and on one of these, the driver stopped to engage in some shouty victim blaming.

The thing is, race horses are not like the ponies you get to ride at the summer fair. They’re highly strung alpha-horses. The male ones are just a hair’s breadth away from being red-eyed, foaming at the mouth, soaked in sweat, steeds of the Four Horsemen. Jumping on a car, or just giving it and its driver a damned good kicking Because They Can, is probably more or less on their “minds” most of the time.

And yet still a minority of drivers take chances with them.

So my client eventually decided he’d had enough. He now loads the horses into the back of a lorry, and drives them to one of our Northumbrian beaches. They can get their exercise in a safe, traffic-free environment, and he no-longer needs to worry about the minority of drivers who lose all sense of empathy when they get behind the wheel.

This probably sounds familiar:

Given the thoughtlessness, impatience and hostility of a small minority of drivers, is it any wonder that for many people, this is how they do cycling? Load the bikes onto the back of the 4×4, drive to somewhere nice and safe, and then go for a ride on completely traffic-free trails. We see this in country parks, the local network of Waggonways, and at events like the Skyrides.

So we can either try to persuade this minority of drivers not to drive like dicks, or start building the infrastructure to make these drivers irrelevant for what many people plainly want to do: ride in safety.

Given that we’ve had decades of the former with near-zero success, I’d suggest it’s time for the latter.

But in the meantime, or if you’re persuaded by the “See cyclist, think horse” message, you may find this useful. It’s official Nicewaycode-approved cycling safety wear, which has an even stronger magical field than either cycle helmets or hi-viz:

“This’ll definitely keep us safe, boys and girls”


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Posted in Bike Culture
One comment on “Pantomime
  1. I was also wondering if the horse analogy is counterproductive in a different sense. Most horses on the road are probably ridden for leisure, out in the country, and riders will generally want to avoid busy roads. Cycling, on the other hand, is a daily activity for commuting, shopping, getting about in more urban settings.

    Comparing cyclists to horses will therefore reinforce the stereotype that cyclists are just doing it for sport and fun, whereas serious people who have to earn their living need the car, so why give space to somebody’s hobby?

    What is needed is to increase understanding that people on bikes are like everybody else, going about their daily life, getting to work, and that the cyclists a car driver sees could be their daughter, their boss, their friendly neighbour, their elderly uncle.

    The advert also isn’t helpful in practice. Passing a horse on a country road is very different from passing a person on a bike on a narrow urban street, where it might not be possible to give so much space. Those drivers who give horses enough space will probably find the adverts not very helpful and will say “but a bike isn’t a horse and in a city there is less space, so we just have to live with closer passes.” The advice then, of course should be: stay behind and don’t overtake – but the ads don’t suggest that at all.

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