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Twit and run story goes viral, police question driver, cyclist's Facebook response, #bloodycyclists hashtag reclaimed

One tweet causes perfect social media storm and leads media to examine relationship between cyclists and "road tax" ...

Our story yesterday about Emma Way, the Norfolk motorist who knocked a cyclist off his bike, drove away and boasted about it in on Twitter not only went viral on social media, but has also exploded on mainstream media.

The cyclist involved, Toby Hockley, told and BBC News Norfolk that he was “lucky to be alive” following a collsion and Ms Way's on a single lane country road in which he was thrown on to the bonnet of her car and then bounced off, going through a hedge and in a fine piece of bike handling managing to regain controls of his machine and stop.There’s no update yet on what action police intend to take against the motorist, Emma Way although they have spoken to her.

On Sunday, she had tweeted: “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way - he doesn't even pay road tax!," complete with the hashtag “#Bloodycyclists."

From Ms Way's point of view the use of that hashtag was the culmination of a series very poor decisions, as we reported yesterday her tweet was quickly spotted by cyclists, many of whom took screen grabs not just of that tweet, but also tweets in which she bragged about the speed she drove at - and a picture of what she claimed was the speedometer of her car doing 95mph. As Ms Way was to rapidly find out there is no hiding place on Twitter and in what was to prove a social media perfect storm it was rapidly picked up by first and then other news outlets including The Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent, Huffington Post and many others… and then it went global. By the end of the day the story had broken every traffic record for a story on this site.

More pertinently for @EmmaWay20 her tweet had been brought to the attention of the police who urged her to get in touch – Way had already deleted her Twitter account, but police have confirmed they have spoken to both parties – and her employers have distanced themselves from her remarks and opened an investigation.

Had she not tweeted Ms Way would probably have had nothing more to worry about other than some slight dents to her car, Mr Hockley had decided to take no further action, "you count your limbs and carry on" he memorably told us. This being a digitally connected age though he did leave respond to Ms Way's tweet by posting a message to her Facebook page.

"Oh hi! That was me you hit and FYI, you didn't knock me off, I'm too hard to be hurt by a pissy micra or whatever it was you were driving."

Meanwhile, that #bloodycyclists hashtag has been reclaimed by cyclists today at the suggestion of Danny Williams of the Cyclists and the City blog, with a sample of tweets using it including:

lennyshallcross ‏@lennyshallcross

I am a #bloodycyclists just trying to get about London. Would be nice not to risk my life every morning just trying to get to work.

Sean Perry ‏@niceguysean

I'm one of those #bloodycyclists, broken my back and femur in accidents with cars. Still cycling. Why? Because I still can. Share the road.

Jo Bray ‏@MissJoBray

@citycyclists I'm one of those #bloodycyclists and I dearly would like to be able to go home to my family in one piece!

Ian Hargreaves ‏@madcycling_boy

No other hate crime gets bragged about on twitter the same way. When will the law sort this out? #bloodycyclists

Another thing Sunday’s episode has done, with our initial coverage picked up by local and national media, is prompt an examination of the relationship between cyclists and “road tax” – which hasn’t existed since the 1930s, as Carlton Reid’s I Pay Road Tax website outlines.

Despite the efforts of Reid and others to correct the widely held but mistaken assumption that it is drivers who pay for roads, and cyclists don’t – most adult cyclists are of course motorists and will therefore pay Vehicle Excise Duty, even if they choose to use two wheels for some journeys – it’s clear that some parts of the media get it more than others.

In the former camp, as you’d expect, is the Guardian Bike Blog. Today, Dawn Foster used Way’s tweet as the introduction to a reflection on what it said about the sense of entitlement and primacy over other road users some motorists believe they have because of that misconception that they are paying for the roads.

“I've been told to "pay road tax" more times than I can remember, though sadly explaining the intricacies of road taxation… takes longer than the few seconds you get on the road,” wrote Fraser.

“And when this entitlement dehumanises cyclists to the extent someone is happy to excuse hitting a cyclist by explaining they don't believe they should be on the road at all, it becomes more than an annoyance – it's an active danger.”

BBC Radio Norfolk used the story as the starting point for a phone-in discussion trailed as “Should cyclists pay tax to use the roads?

Reid – a guest on the programme, so at least that misleading title should have been quickly corrected – pointed out on Twitter, it’s not unusual for such shows to throw down a controversial viewpoint as a means of stimulating debate.

In this case, however, it’s not just controversial – it’s incorrect, of course, but the fact that an institution many still see as a trusted source of news can perpetuate the myth may go a long way towards explaining why the misunderstanding surrounding “road tax” remains so entrenched; if the BBC says it’s so, it must be right?

Of course, the BBC is a big organisation and BBC Radio Norfolk just one of its outposts; elsewhere it does get it spot-on, such as in a sidebar to its interview with Toby Hockley, where BBC News Norfolk correctly explains the situation:

The so-called 'Road Tax'

The comment on Twitter suggested Toby Hockley, as a cyclist, does not pay "road tax".

A road tax does not exist in the UK but the term is commonly and incorrectly used to refer to the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), or "car tax" paid on most motorised vehicles as a tax on emissions.

Roads are funded by all UK taxpayers under general and local taxes.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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