More language matters

Cyclists have been a hot topic for Melbourne talkback radio and online news sites for a few years, as they mine driver angst about the new invaders on ‘their’ roads. A good anti-cyclist rant can produce over 300 comments in hours.

It’s been a rich vein for a few comedians as well. Magda Szubanski and Julia Morris thought inciting violence towards cyclists hilarious on Ten’s Good News Week.

Unfortunately, these indulgent little rants come with real consequences as they validate aggression and inflame a minority of drivers, ironically proving the case for legal protection of cyclists, tougher licensing of drivers and a major public education effort.

We’ve had a couple of doozies already this year. The Herald Sun kicked off with its unique spin on Shane Warne’s twitter rant in January.

Warne already had form as anti-cyclist, but in a series of tweets that smacked of a pre-emptive strike he called for a ‘crackdown’ on cyclists. He clearly didn’t know that cyclists are allowed (and advised) to ride two abreast for visibility and safety. Cyclists reported an immediate upturn in driver aggression. Reports that Warne had deliberately run into a cyclist with his car warranted little more than footnotes from adoring sports writers, while police and political ‘leaders’ were missing in action rather than admonish such dangerous driving.

Unfortunately the Herald Sun was just warming up. Two months later, the Melbourne news team set out to tackle the big issues of our times – hunting down Victoria’s most irresponsible woman.

Herald Sun print edition via Fyxo

Elissa Doherty found road safety experts and police to lambast a cyclist riding with a baby on her back. There was no hunt for the driver who illegally snapped the photograph while piloting a tonne of steel near a vulnerable road user.

Aleks Devic and Elissa continued the witch-hunt having belatedly discovered that such transport is commonplace around the world. It’s safe enough everywhere but Bike City. Doesn’t say much for our drivers hey? Fortunately, cyclists can maintain a sense of humour about it.

Melboun Roobaix crowd

Melburn Roobaix dress-ups

It’s more acceptable to break the law with a car. The Age reported a woman with a blood alcohol level allegedly four times the limit with two kids on board in April. Another was allegedly seven times the limit and crashed while driving her son in March, and a third apparently blew 0.304 with a baby passenger. None of these unleashed the same sort of lynch-mob as a cyclist.

This week brought more warnings about obesity and diabetes, even as it  delivered images of Philippe Gilbert and his son enjoying some fun at two stage starts of the Tour de France. We don’t think they made the Herald Sun.

Gilbert 2012 tdf
Philippe Gilbert dinks his son to the start; steephilltv.sirotti

And yet the Herald Sun has been at it again, beating up a ‘war on the roads’. Notwithstanding the occasional goose, most cyclists don’t find any sort of war on the roads. Usually it’s just impatience and poor judgment, far outweighed by the care and courtesy of the majority. Still, more would ride if they felt safer. Maybe the decline in HS readership is the best news for cyclists.


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