Sunday 31 May 2009

The war on the motorist

The BBC, true to its car supremacist traditions, made no mention of the recent cycling fatality in Greenwich. BBC London News ignored this violent death, just as it has ignored all the other cyclist/lorry fatalities in the capital this year and in 2008.

The mass media plays a key role in naturalising road violence. It is not ‘news’, it just happens, like the weather. It is ‘an accident’. There is nothing anyone can do. Apart from the local paper and the London Evening Standard, this death seems to have passed unnoticed in the media.

Yet this should surely have been a major story, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a violent killing. Why are knife killings news but not the killing of cyclists? Secondly, it was a hit and run killing. Jenny Jones, the only politician in London who seems to care about such matters, could have been interviewed. She says The Met Police halved the number of traffic police and regarded road safety as a very low priority. Drivers have spent the last decade or more thinking that they can break the law in London and get away with it. The result is that in some parts of London, a quarter of all people injured in traffic collisions are victims of hit and run drivers.

Thirdly, the killing of women cyclists in London is occurring with sickening regularity. They are usually aged 25-40, are commuters, and are killed on the way to or from work, on routes they are familiar with and cycle every day.

Fifteen years ago an article in the British Medical Journal concluded that

The higher proportion of women cyclists who die in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles in inner London cannot be explained satisfactorily.

One well-known argument is that

“Women cyclists tend to ride more slowly and are less comfortable doing things that feel risky. So, instead of positioning themselves out wide in the road where they can more easily see and be seen, they are more inclined to hug the kerb, a way of cycling that may feel safer but is in fact more risky.”

There’s the associated argument that

fewer women would die if more of them jumped red lights (keeping themselves out of the paths of HGVs). A controversial solution, but one I found myself sympathising with. Jumping red lights has got me out of far more sticky situations than it's got me into.

But while BBC News continues to ignore the regular killing of London’s women cyclists, and all the issues they raise, it is obsessed with stories about motorists who get 'unfair' penalties for parking or speeding. So as far as the BBC journalists were concerned one of the major stories of the past week is that A council has been forced to apologise after a motorist found her car missing and double yellow lines put down in its place in south-east London.

It was also big news on GMTV. On the Friday morning breakfast show there was an interview with the driver, and the woman presenter gigglingly confided to viewers that “I think I had three tickets in one week”.

Which I think says it all. It's not wildly unreasonable to conclude that TV news reporters, most of them, drive flash cars, don’t cycle, have clocked up numerous speeding tickets and parking tickets, and think the number one transport issue is the war on the motorist.