Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
It’s pure victim blaming, say critics.
In Britain, a third of collisions between trucks and cyclists happen at a left-hand turn—but whose fault are they? A new safety video produced for the U.K. Department for Transport has sparked a debate on just this subject. The video urges cyclists to avoid getting too close to larger vehicles at turnings, an apparently sensible message that’s still annoyed a fair few British cyclists.
For a start there’s the imagery. Inter-cutting slow motion footage of a bike on the road with shots of buffalos jousting, boxers sparring and a butcher hacking away at some meat with a cleaver, the film would be enough to spook any cyclist. You, dear rider, are the meat, it seems to say. All other traffic on the roads is a blood-soaked axe just waiting for a moment of weakness to take a slice off you.
But hey, if that lurid imagery jolts cyclists into taking more care, then it must surely perform a function. Much more serious is the allegation that the video is nothing more than a slickly edited bit of victim-blaming. It urges riders to “hold back” at junctions where trucks might turn in front of them. Look closely at the video, however, and you see that the truck actually overtakes the bike before turning, crushing it as it goes. Who exactly is it who needs the warning here? Some British social media users have noticed the disconnect.
They have a point. Who really needs their behavior changed? Is it the person riding without a chassis for protection or the one driving the potentially bone-crushing, wall-crashing steel thunder chariot? Practical self-preservation may make warning cyclists of the danger of turnings prudent, but it’s surely the person who can cause death that needs the warning most urgently.
This doesn’t mean we should demonize truck drivers. No one wants to hurt other road users and it isn’t always easy to see a cyclist from a perch high up in a driver’s cab. This is an argument for empowering truck drivers to get around more carefully, not for treating them as an unsolvable cause of fatality that simply needs to be evaded and endured. Still, perhaps I’m being too harsh here.
CityLab readers, what do you think?