Man bites dog

A story doing the rounds at the moment is the case of Andrej Schipka, who knocked down a man in central London while cycling through a red light, leaving him with a fractured skull. Schipka was found guilty of careless cycling and fined £850, plus £930 costs. The victim, Clive Hyer, is apparently unlikely to be able to return to his old job, which is a tragedy.

His wife had this to say –

I want the whole world to know that cyclists have a duty of care to behave like human beings. It’s about time people stopped worrying about cyclists being killed by lorries if they do not conduct themselves in the right manner. He nearly killed my husband.

The first assertion is obviously entirely reasonable, but the second is not.

A person who happens to have been killed by a lorry while riding a bicycle, entirely blamelessly and innocently, has no necessary connection to another person on a bicycle who might be behaving in a reckless manner. The only thing they have in common, for certain, is the fact that they are both riding bicycles.

This is symptomatic of the persistent failure to treat ‘cyclists’ as individuals. Why should my safety while I happen to ride a bicycle be contingent about the good behaviour of other individuals who happen to be using the same mode of transport? Nobody would claim that we should cease to worry about innocent pedestrians or motorists being killed, because of the widespread foolish and/or dangerous behaviour of a minority of people who happen to be walking or driving about. It is perverse to apply the same logic to cycling as a mode of transport.

Mrs Hyer can be excused, of course, because her husband suffered a dreadful injury at the hands of a person riding a bicycle, which can cloud clarity of thinking.

The same cannot be said for the news media, where the usual suspects have predictably leapt gleefully on a story which serves to confirm all their latent prejudices about dangerous cycling and ‘lycra louts’. Stephen Glover in the Mail writes

In the city where I live, Oxford, cyclists almost uniformly ride through red lights… What is so extraordinary is that if you politely point out their infringement, normally peaceable souls are liable to yell obscenities at you, contorting their habitually placid faces with hate-filled rants. Rather as the internet can turn usually polite people into howling monsters, posting vile or threatening comments or blogs, so bicycles can have a similarly transformative effect on the mild-mannered and law-abiding.

In other words, lawlessness and unpleasantness are presumed to be the exclusive preserve of bicycle-riding, who ‘almost uniformly’ break the law. The fact that these traits probably exist amongst the population of bicycle riders in equal proportion to motorists – indeed anyone else – is ignored.

The  Telegraph has also covered the story prominently. This is quite extraordinary for a paper that has not covered a single other pedestrian injury this year

Let’s put this in perspective. If we consult the accident statistics for last year, we will find that nearly 20,000 pedestrians were hit by cars in 2011, of which nearly 4,000 suffered serious injuries. Doubtless a good proportion of those injuries resulted from incidents in which the motorist may have been entirely blameless, but it is reasonable to suppose that there were at least several thousand serious pedestrian injuries last year caused by motorists. The same will be true for this year.

The Telegraph has covered a couple of pedestrian deaths since January – the case of the student dragged to her death by a bus in north London, and the case of driver who killed a six-year-old boy in a hit and run.

But not a single pedestrian injury, serious or otherwise – out of the hundreds that have doubtless been inflicted this year by motorists – has been reported by the Daily Telegraph. Only Clive Hyer, who happened to have been seriously injured by a man riding a bicycle.

There is a plausible explanation for this extraordinary bias. Pedestrian injuries at the hands of people riding bicycles are rare, and consequently newsworthy. Serious pedestrian injuries inflicted by motorists, on the other hand, are exceedingly common, and consequently not very newsworthy. (Indeed newspapers would be full of little else if every single one was reported).

Man bites dog, in action.

I dare say there was a period, early in the twentieth century, when cars were not very common, when injuries inflicted on pedestrians by people riding bicycles did actually outnumber, considerably, those inflicted by people driving cars; yet it is probable that those latter injuries featured rather more prominently in newspapers than those inflicted by bicycle-users. The car was new, and scary, and the damage it caused was newsworthy, unlike the background of ‘regular’ injuries caused by bicycles.

Is there anything we can do about this latent bias in news reporting? Almost certainly not. The general public’s perception of the danger posed by bicycles will continue to be skewed wildly by the way reporting works. It is sad and ironic, nonetheless, that the great rarity of injuries inflicted by bicycle riders on pedestrians is itself the reason for the disproportionate reporting of those few incidents that do take place.

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23 Responses to Man bites dog

  1. Tom Chance says:

    Another explanation for the coverage is availability bias. By and large journalists live in London or some of the commuter belt cities. You don’t see many motorists routinely and very obviously breaking the rules, unless you’re the sort who notices them creeping over stop lines and going at 30mph in a 20mph zone. But you will, particularly in central London, see huge numbers of people on bikes whizzing through red lights, nipping onto pavements to skip traffic jams, and occasionally being total arseholes towards occasionally innocent pedestrians. So they’re aware on a daily basis of cyclists doing naughty things, and not motorists.

    One other thought… I agree that it’s bad to lump people together by the mode of transport they use, except where we’re discussing the pressing need to reduce pollution and obesity. So in that spirit I would like to see far more people on bikes routinely castigating other people on bikes for breaking the rules when it is totally unecessary (i.e. not forced by dangerous road design), and particularly when it is anti-social or dangerous.

    I think red light jumping in parts of London, at certain junctions, is a really pressing cultural problem. At some lights on my daily commute I am the only one waiting, while others stream through pedestrians crossing at the green man and weave into traffic turning into the road. All for the sake of not having to wait up to 30 seconds.

    So long as idiots lead and others follow in this stupid, anti-social and often dangerous practice, people who don’t use bikes will continue – due to the way our brains work – to think of “cyclists” as a bunch of law breaking good-for-nothings, they will have little sympathy for those of us who use bikes, and they will more actively resist attempts to take space from cars to make our roads safer.

    • monchberter says:

      I have to say, I agree with you here. I often have to remind people who are of the opinion that ‘all’ cyclists jump lights and ride dangerously that it’s the person on the bike who is being disrespectful and that its not intrinsic to their chosen mode of transport. Poor cyclists are likely to be poor pedestrians / motorists also.

      Cyclists who think they’re not doing any harm by red light jumping and rationalising their behaviour as the key to keeping them safe are being incredibly antisocial.


      To anyone witnessing them jumping a light, if they’re of the opinion that all cyclists are law breakers by confirming their prejudice, they’ll be increasingly likely to behave disrespectfully towards cyclists in general.

      Every light you jump, Jeremy Clarkson sells another book, or another cyclist is on the receiving end of an unpleasant experience

      • plastic99 says:

        Let say a red-head annoys someone, and that someone later wallops me because they’re still annoyed and I also have red hair.

        Who’s behaving unreasonably? The other red-head, or the guy who lamped me?

        Some cyclists do go straight through groups of pedestrians on crossings at speed with complete disregard, and there’s no excuse for that. But that doesn’t make it OK to tar everyone with the same brush.

    • Simon says:

      “You don’t see many motorists routinely and very obviously breaking the rules”

      I’d say every other time lights go red a motorist will go through illegally on amber or red. Every day cycling to work cars are speeding down residential streets dangerously and illegally. And there is always someone using their phone.

      If all cyclists stopped going through red lights there would still be the same careless and reckless drivers going round killing people.

    • Pete says:

      “You don’t see many motorists routinely and very obviously breaking the rules,”

      Whart? What colour is the sky on your planet? 🙂

      Every single day I see this multiple times I saw it during the decades I was a pedestrian and I notice it only slightly more now I cycle.

      Just yesterday, for example, there was the truck parked at a junction, in a mandatory cycle lane, facing the wrong way, blocking not only the cycle lane but much of the road – forcing buses to painfully and slowly maneuver around it. It also had bits of cardboard carefully positioned over its number plates. I think thats 5 different breaches of the highway code (and the law) simultaneously. Several police cars drove right past and did nothing.

      Motorists breaking the rules is so universal that its become meaningless – the only rule of the road these days is ‘might is right’. This is especially true with parking – there appears to be no enforcement of parking rules whatseover. I don’t know why they waste money painting all those various lines and symbols on the road, as motorists don’t seem to be expected to pay any attention to them, Every single day I’m obliged to perform awkward maneuvers on busy roads due to illegally parked vehicles.

      Cycling on the pavement (at least if its faster than walking speed and if there are any pedestrians in sight) is wrong and obnoxious, as is jumping red lights (especially if there are pedestrians crossing) but the ridiculous double-standard by which the far greater issue of motorist misbehaviour (including _driving_ on the pavement, something I encounter fairly regularly) is just not even noticed, rather gets on my nerves.

      • Tom Chance says:

        There are two reasons why I think that your examples, and Simon’s, are different.

        The first is that they probably seen as “minor” if they are noticed at all by the general population. Unless someone goes at 40mph in a 20mph area, it’s a lot less obvious than someone running through a red light. Also, for somebody who drives a lot running a red light long after it has changed is a pretty serious infraction and so you would notice others doing it, whilst parking on a cycle lane – even if you know it is wrong – is probably seen by a lot of people as slightly harmless bad parking to nip into the shop etc.

        The second is that, of your examples, those that will be noticed by people are usually sporadic. A driver nips past the amber light, then all the following drivers wait at the red. Somebody parks up on a double yellow line, everyone else then has to wind around them. By contrast, in some parts of London at least you will often see lights where one, two, three, four, five, six, and more cyclists will go through a red long after the lights have changed. It suddenly looks endemic, rather than the odd antisocial idiot.

  2. Cyclestrian says:

    While it may be true that a pedestrian is much less likely to be killed or injured by a bicycle than any other vehicle, it would be interested to know the relatively likelihood of each mode causing injuries. That would tell us objectively whether the average driver is more or less dangerous than the average cyclist. Can statisticians tell us this?

    – what is the probability of that approaching car hurting me?
    – what is the probability of that approaching bicycle hurting me?

    You might start by working out pedestrian fatality and injury figures per km of each mode (anyone?). But this figure would flatter drivers because they clock up a lot of miles on motorways and other roads where there is very little risk of hitting pedestrians. Cyclists tend to travel in areas where there are a lot of pedestrians and this makes it difficult to achieve a comparison that is not apples and oranges.

    If we did have comparable numbers, they may show that pedestrians are at more risk from an approaching bicycle than from an approaching car. It may be true they, on a 2 mile walk, they are more likely to be hit by one of the 50 passing cars but perhaps they are justified in taking extra care when the single bicycle goes by.

    Sorry to be devil’s advocate!

    • Cyclestrian says:

      Update: I was curious so worked out some numbers based on 2008 and 2010 stats that I found via a lazy google search:

      Car: 10.4 pedestrian KSI per billion km
      Bike: 17.0 pedestrian KSI per billion km

      The km travelled and KSI figures are from different years and I haven’t checked that each set defines “car” in the same way. But it’s in interesting that from first glance, a cyclist is nearly twice as likely to KSI a pedestrian than a driver travelling the same distance.

      These are flawed numbers, as I’ve mentioned before. They don’t show who’s to blame: pedestrians are perhaps more likely to walk out in front of cyclists than cars. And the big problem with these numbers is they are really not comparable: most of a typical car’s mileage will be done on roads where there are no pedestrians.

      • Francis says:

        I don´t see, what you are trying to clarify with your numbers! The article seems to confront the often negative focus on bicyclists and, the “blindness/immunity” to cars impact on deaths and injuries of pedestrians.

  3. plastic99 says:

    Sorry Tom but I’m calling you on that one. Drivers are supposed to stop where possible if the lights have gone to amber on their way to red. Many will push it as far as they can, often continuing once the light has turned red as I’m sure you know. I’ve seen a few stories recently looking at stats about how many cars vs cyclists jump reds.

    If you as a cyclist are prepared to write off these infractions (including stopping on double yellows/cycle lanes, etc) then you’re buying into the cultural problem the article refers to.

    Certainly a lot of cyclists flagrantly jump reds willy-nilly and it’s sometimes inconsiderate to the point of dangerous, but who gets to decide if the road design “forced” a particular cyclist to make a decision? Consider the drivers who hate to see cyclists whizzing through but will then get peeved at having to wait for a cyclist to pull away when the lights turn green. Also, if a pelican crossing is empty of pedestrians but the lights are red, I assume I can legally hop off my bike while I’m approaching, walk through – I’m a pedestrian now – and then hop back on two meters later without breaking stride, but cycling carefully and courteously through makes me a lawbreaker? This seems weird to me.

    As our writer alludes, the notable point here is that despite the perceived numbers of red-light-jumping-cyclists reds tragic accidents like this are very rare.

    Of course I’m not suggesting that cyclists should be allowed to cycle though red lights at speed with no regard for anyone else, and I know this does happen. Mr Hyer has my sympathy, and without knowing the details I would suggest if Schipka did jump the light he has got off lightly. But bikes aren’t cars, and they aren’t pedestrians. They fall somewhere in between.

    • Tom Chance says:

      I’m not “writing off their infractions”, I want everyone to obey the rules of the road. I was simply trying to do two things: first to explore why it is that perception differs from reality (as you say research is divided on whether cyclists are worse or better than motorists); and second to show that cyclists shouldn’t use bad driving as an excuse to needlessly break the rules.

      In my daily commute I come across idiot, anti-social pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, car drivers, lorry drivers, you name it. It’s people that are idiots, and sadly I have noticed a creeping culture of anti-social red light jumping at certain places in London that I wish more cyclists would be principled and canny enough to criticise.

  4. PaulM says:

    This is an anecdotal, therefore entirely unscientific, observation, but when I see cyclists running through reds on my journeys around London I don’t think I can honestly say that it has ever been out of necessity or for self-protection – that is seen from my perspective, waiting at the light and not feeling in the least bit threatened by being there.

    I suspect, as Monchberter suggests, that poor behaviour in a cyclist is likely to be replicated by poor behaviour by the same individual as a driver and perhaps also as a pedestrian. Certainly, as a very large number of adult cyclists are also car owners (so much for the bicycle being the means of access to personal transport for the poor – at present anyway) that is a plausible hypothesis.

    I think there is a significant problem which has its roots in the state of cycle infrastructure in this country (or rather lack of state). That is that the roads are only really suitable for the vehicular cyclist of Franklin and Forrester’s imaginings, which typically means 25-45 year old males, probably of a sporty, outdoors disposition, producing testosterone as if it is going out of fashion. Even many of the (fewer) female cyclists come from a similar mould. If we had a cycle infratsructure like the Dutch one, I reckon we might have a cyling cultre like the Dutch one – where people of all ages, sexes, fitness levels and psychological dispositions can ride a bike, the dominant theme of cycling culture must surely be much gentler. If that poses the chicken/egg question, what next?

  5. rdrf says:

    This is a splendid article, well done.

    I’m afraid some of thosee commenting seem to fall into the bias and prejudice you refer to, Starting of with Tom Chance with his “You don’t see many motorists routinely and very obviously breaking the rules,”.

    Well actually, you do. Take speed limit breaking, for example.

    Of course, you only really notice this if you are driving legally and are overtaken regularlyby people breaking 30 mph. Or if you look at all the official measurements (about 40% of motorists break the 30 mph when they can). Also, is Tom Chance seriously saying he hasn’t seen motorist mobile phone use?

    But what really counts is the things you can’t see – driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when unable to see properly etc. Most important of all are the people who are driving in such a way that they won’t be able to stop in time if they have to – but you don’t “see” that until it is too late.

    I could go on, but won’t. The fact is that what you SEE, or wht you NOTICE is what you, well, want to see or notice. And the Daily Mail, Tom Chance and the people who have lifted one of a tiny proprotion of pedestrian casualties out of the vast mass that are caused by careless, dangerous, inapporpriate, criminally negligent or just plain bad driving.

    it is double standards, bias, prejudice and it won;t do cyclists, or – more importantly, pedestrains, any good to be held sway by it

    • Tom Chance says:

      Dear me, I’m lumped in with the Daily Mail! Me, a Green Party cycling enthusiast who has never learned to drive.

      Read my comment again a bit more carefully, and my follow ups above, and try again.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Also, you’ve basically said the same thing as me… people driving cars do routinely break the law at least as often as cyclists, but people don’t notice it. Hence the perception problem, caused by a kind of availability bias.

  6. rdrf says:

    Another point. To those who feel the need to upbraid other cyclists for behaving illegally: if you drive, do you chase after motorists behaving badly to upbraid them?

    My suspicion is no. What we are seeing is that people in a minority feel that what we suffer from is OUR FAULT. Therefore, if we can only reprimand those in our community/group then we will be alright. All we have to do is to make sure that every cyclist or pedestrian does everything right all the time, and it will all be OK. Which of course it won’t – even if we could ensure that the bad behaviour goes away. I have to say this becasue the same arguments have been put forward by some cyclists for decades – way before you woudl ever see red light jumpring, riding on the pavement etc.

    It is the Give Us a Bad Name fallacy. Who are we to be “given a bad name” anyway? And to motorists, of all people?

  7. Brian Ogilvie says:

    I don’t know which Oxford Stephen Glover inhabits, but in the one where I live (north of Abingdon, south of Kidlington), most cyclists seem to obey traffic signals. He seems to be suffering from confirmation bias. And e comments on that Mail article are a real cesspool.

  8. PJ says:

    My experience is that ever group of people (cyclists, motorists, pedestrians) have an equal proportion of stupid, reckless and inconsiderate people in their number. For cyclists to be singled out for abuse out of proportion as they are feels like a form of bigotry to me.

    If the subject comes up and I relate how many pedestrians step off the pavement without looking, or stand around having a conversation on the cycle path, how often I have to avoid jaywalkers, they just say, Oh, but I saw a cyclist do this, or that, or whatever.

    Recently, when I complained to a courier company about their motorcyclist going onto a segregated cycle lane and bumping his wheel into me because I was “in the way”, the manager replied that, “Cyclists are always doing stupid stuff.” That’s irrelvant, I told him, I do NOT. This is not about other cyclists, it’s about ME. He then apologised, as he should have done much earlier, and promised to seek out the offender and “have a word with him”.

    Count how many motorists you see parked on double yellow lines. How many motorists do you see speeding? (There are humps on all our roads because motorists refuse to drive within the legal speed limit!) My office is on a one-way street. The number of motorists I see going through the no-entry sign (some do it backwards, thinking that’s okay) is in double figures, and I’m not looking out my window all day.

    Yes, it’s a form of bigotry. Definitely.

  9. Pingback: A road raging Monrovia driver, a bike riding RB police chief, and an anti-bike ordinance in Costa Mesa « BikingInLA

  10. Corey says:

    Not sure if this is particularly relevant to this discussion, but I tend to favor the Dutch perspective, from CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic:

    “Stress-avoidance behaviour: …A traffic situation that acts as a stress factor causes abnormal traffic behaviour. This means that cyclists act differently to what the designer had in mind. The signs include: …Cyclists shoot the lights en masse because they regard waiting in that situation a waste of time.”

  11. It’s odd that all the comments have to do with whether car drivers or bicycle riders break traffic rules more frequently. The article is about the undisputed fact that car drivers kill and seriously injure pedestrians much more frequently than bicycle riders do, and that those rare serious injuries caused by bicyclists receive vastly more press attention than the serious injuries caused by car drivers. My own biased opinion is that traffic violations by car drivers are invisible, just as the deaths and injuries caused by cars are invisible. For example here in Seattle, police issue 8 times as many citations to pedestrians for “jaywalking” than citations to car drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians. However, 3/4 of all collisions involving cars and pedestrians are determined to be the fault of the car driver.

    • Francis says:

      I would like to have my kids grow up in a city, where they can run, walk and go to school on a bicycle. I would like my kids to be able to breath clean air. I’m not afraid that my kids will suffer an early death because of too many bicycles in the streets, but I do worry about them being hit by a car. I’m also are worried, that particles from cars will cause them serious problems with there health. Most parents are afraid of letting there kids move around in traffic on bike or on foot, therefore they take them to school etc. by car. The result are big problems with obese children. The bicycle happens to be a great tool to increase our childrens health and quality of life. TO ALL THOSE PEOPLE INHERE CLAIMING THAT BICYCLES ARE A PROBLEM IN OUR CITIES: HOW COME YOU DON’T SEE ALL THE PROBLEMS CAUSED BY A MASSIVE CAR CULTURE? Try and read the article ones more!

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