Cycling and Hate Speech - Opinion
Cyclists are entitled to the same protection against hate speech as other minority groups, argues Kieran Ryan.
The issue of cyclists’ safety has come into sharp public focus recently, with 2017 being the deadliest year for cycling in almost a decade. So far this year 15* people have been killed while cycling on Irish roads, which is a 50% increase on 2016.
However, as the rate of fatal collisions has increased, so too has the level of hostility faced by people who cycle. Acts of impatience and aggression have become everyday occurrences and contribute to a sense that our roads are becoming less safe.
One factor that adds to this animosity is the hate speech against cyclists that is frequently published and broadcast by various media outlets, without the usual checks and balances that are applied to other minority groups.
Some people might feel that the use of the term “hate speech” is overly dramatic, but I have struggled to find another phrase that accurately describes the vitriol that is hurled at cycling advocates anytime they try to highlight the serious issues facing people who cycle in Ireland.
Hate speech can be defined as anything that incites prejudice or violence towards a targeted group of people. Many media organisations are wantonly publishing articles and opinion pieces about cycling, and cyclists, that meet this definition. Likewise the radio and TV stations whose “shock jock” hosts spout accusations of widespread law-breaking by people on bikes, and gleefully read out tweets and texts to back up their own biased views.
Every time a cycling advocate appears on TV or radio they are bombarded with claims of misbehaviour and deviance. These defamatory assaults would not be directed at, nor accepted by, representatives of any other minority group, so why is it deemed acceptable to direct hate at people who choose to cycle?
At best, cycle-hate is a distraction from the real issues around road safety and transport funding. At worst, it could be considered an incitement to violence and a precursor to actual hate crimes being committed against people on bicycles.
The reality is that most people who cycle are just ordinary men and women getting on with their daily lives. They are trying to do so in a built environment that, for the most part, has been designed to be hostile to their particular mode of transport.
People on bikes have enough problems negotiating deathtrap junction layouts and cycle lanes that resemble obstacle courses. They do not need the further challenge of dealing with otherwise sane drivers being wound up by what they see and hear in the media.
It is time for Irish media organisations to start taking their responsibility on this topic seriously. If they continue to ferment antagonism towards a group of vulnerable road users like cyclists, it is inevitable that they will be at least partly responsible for someone dying or being seriously injured on our roads.
Cycle-hate is potent, dangerous and ultimately futile. It needs to stop.
- *Official Garda figures state that 14 cyclists have been killed this year, but there is some confusion regarding a 15th person, Paul Hannon, who was either on his bike or walking beside it when he was struck and killed on Patrick Street, Dublin. *
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