AA President Edmund King has said that hatred of cyclists in the press and on social media is “almost like racial discrimination.” Earlier this week, the man who heads the UK’s biggest motoring organisation had shown delegates at a road safety conference the extent of some of the vitriol directed at cyclists on Twitter.
Speaking later to The Times, he said that motorists aged 18 to 24 in particular had a very low opinion of cyclists: “It appears that there is this minority that have a problem with cyclists and we have to do more to address that. It is almost like racial discrimination, there is no good reason for it,” Mr King explained.
“It is a road safety issue. If you have got a minority of drivers and a minority of cyclists who hate each other they will take dangerous risks on the road and that can lead to more conflict and more accidents.”
Earlier this week, Mr King had called for an end to the ‘Two Tribes’ mentality that pervades much of the discussion about the relationship between cyclists and drivers, and that was the central theme of his address to the National Road Safety Conference in London on Wednesday.
Mr King showed delegates some tweets from the CycleHatred Twitter feed, which focuses on cycle safety and regularly retweets hostile posts from other users about cyclists. Examples of posts retweeted in recent days include:
@iamrhysjones Really got a problem with cyclists this week. One just stopped next to me at the lights and I got him with my windscreen washers. #dripdrip
@ChloeA91 The cyclist I just followed to work was asking to be injured. Almost hit him just to teach him a lesson #sillyprick
@Nifty_Things Was stood by my bike putting my hemet on and a driver stopped their car and swore at me. What a lovely woman... #cyclehatred
@kfa_12 Cyclists get off the road, pay road tax or stay in your lane at least , don't ride in the middle you are the bottom of the road chain!!!!!
In some cases, police are copied in on the tweets:
@brumpolice RT @roxywantsu: My work is done. I've wound a few ppl up today. Knocked a cyclist over and aggravated the living day lights...
As the tweeter behind CycleHatred points out, the views are extreme ones and probably not reflective of the majority of drivers.
Yet while the incidents that saw Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton both hospitalised last week within 24 hours of each other both resulted in some sections of the media highlighting cycle safety, they also led to some formulaic anti-cyclist rants in the national press.
In its coverage of Mr King’s remarks, trade website BikeBiz highlights comments made by Dr Ian Walker of the University of Bath in the latest issue of The Psychologist:
“A report from the Transport Research Laboratory and University of Strathclyde a few years ago suggested that there’s some classic social psychology at work here – cyclists represent an outgroup such that the usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.
“However, there has to be more to it than just this. For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups. Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile.
“But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. It’s easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked like cyclists do: vegetarians, for example. So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet.”
Cyclists, of course, are not a defined group in the way that ethnic minorities are, so there would appear to be little prospect of police taking action against generalised tweets making anti-cycling comments as they do in some cases of racial abuse, for example.
At the same time, no national newspaper editor would publish a piece by a columnist in which the object of their rage was an ethnic minority, rather than a broad and significant section of the population who simply choose one mode of transport over – or, or more likely, among – others.
Until the authorities and those responsible for determining what goes into newspapers change their attitudes, however, it’s difficult to see an end to the barrage of abuse.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.