Sunday 16 December 2018

Road safety expert: Change how you react. We need to see others as people, not stereotypes

Change how you react to, and with, other road users, our Road Safety Authority expert pleads

File photo
File photo

Many times over the years I've tried, in articles here, to reinforce the fact that the road is a shared space, that no one road user group has exclusive rights.

Motorists frequently trot out the line that, because they pay road tax, pedestrians and cyclists should get off the road to make way for them.

Cyclists, in particular, come in for quite a bit of abuse from drivers.

Cyclists, people on bicycles, long strings of expletives - our two-wheeled, pedal-powered road users get branded a lot of names.

And there's also something of a tendency to do it in a way we don't with other road users.

When did you last hear someone launching a diatribe against pedestrians? Or motorists?

Part of the reason, of course, is that there is, perceived or not, a body of cyclists who use the road badly. The old 'bad apples' argument.

But there are also bad pedestrians and bad drivers, and they don't seem to bring down the reputation of the rest in quite the same way.

Maybe someone might say that it's because there are so many bad cyclists that they deserve being lumped in together as one group.

This definitely strikes me as wrong.

However, for the many cyclists we think there are out there who use the road badly, there is a huge number who obey the rules of the road, cycle safely and with consideration for others.

And for them to be judged based on the road behaviour of other cyclists seems patently unfair.

The problem actually runs quite deep, and it's really quite damaging. It's the problem of stereotyping.

When we have a fixed idea of a person in our head based on one of their external attributes, we risk dehumanising them.

We see them no longer as a real person with a whole life going on for them.

We no longer see them as people, just like us.

When you see a cyclist as just another obstacle, hazard or 'thing', that's when one of our most vulnerable road users tends to get hurt.

That is to say, the more consideration - the more awareness and thought - you give to those you share the road with, the safer we all will be.

On top of this, whenever someone's bad behaviour is seen as the bad behaviour of a wider group, it absolves some of the personal responsibility for it.

So when a driver blames cyclists rather than the person who cycled the wrong way down a one-way street, for example, they're allowing that individual a get-out clause.

That it isn't them, individually, who's doing something reckless.

But 'them' within a wider group.

And it's worth pressing the point that there are very few people who are only one kind of road user alone.

Anecdotally, it seems funny how we don the hats (or helmets) of our respective camp each time we use the road with our cars, bikes or feet.

We can cycle to work on a Monday and curse drivers, before picking up our keys the next day and dismissing cyclists in just the same way.

The next time a cyclist uses the road badly in front of you, let's try and avoid saying 'cyclists', and instead call it for what it is - an individual acting recklessly.

This article definitely won't solve the rift that seems to exist between cyclists and motorists. But it is an appeal that next time you see a person on a bicycle, remember they are a person.

Last year was a particularly hard one for cyclists on our roads.

So instead of doing what we normally do when we recount the number of road users who have died, let's practise what we preach and remember that each one had a name.

They were real people.

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