Counter-productive RSA campaign a ‘red herring’, say cyclists, because it scaremongers about the risks in cycling

The recently-launched Road Safety Authority (RSA) campaign of radio ads highlights the risks of injuries and loss of life posed to cyclists by the Irish road network. It will scare cyclists off the road, according to advocacy groups Cyclist.ie. ‘This goes against EU, Irish and local government active travel policy, and is simply contrary to common sense’, said Mike McKillen, chair of national advocacy group Cyclist.ie. EU-wide, public policy is directed at persuading commuters to leave their cars behind in the driveway and get on their bikes to go to work, college or school. The roll-out of many public bike schemes across the EU is testament to this new urge to get citizens cycling.

The Dublin Bikes scheme has registered 1.7 million trips to date with only one recorded injury requiring an overnight stay in a hospital. So far nationally this year there have been no cycling fatalities.

There is a 20 to 1 benefit-to-risk ratio [1] for cycling, as it provides excellent aerobic exercise to combat obesity, etc. Reducing cycling numbers by overemphasising the risks will damage the health of the general population because so many of us are leading far too sedentary life-styles [2]. In addition, Dublin City Council figures show that cycling has become significantly safer in recent years [3]. A key fact is that higher cycling numbers on the road network are known to increase driver awareness round bikes, which in turn makes roads safer for cyclists (the critical-mass effect). This is why cyclists welcome the Dublin Bikes scheme.

This misguided RSA campaign will reverse that beneficial trend and so, ironically, risks decreasing safety. To waste resources on such a misguided radio campaign is regrettable.

Government policy is stated in ‘Smarter Travel’, 2009, ‘National Cycle Policy Framework’ 2009 (NCPF), and the NTAs draft ‘Vision 2030’ [undergoing public consultation presently]. According to cycling advocates, the RSA have been put in a
conflicting position vis-á-vis these Government policies, as their task of lowering road traffic collisions would be advanced if all cyclists were simply swept off the streets. This new ad campaign cynically caves in to this temptation.

‘The RSA campaign is a red herring, a lost opportunity and a waste of the valuable time of road safety experts’ said McKillen, ‘The real answer to cycling collision risk reduction is rapid implementation of the NCPF objectives, including better training for all road users. Changes to primary legislation and the Rules of the Road are urgently needed to incorporate the internationally-recognised 1.5m safe overtaking distance [4]. A dramatic increase in Garda enforcement of general road traffic law is also required, with urban speed limits to be targeted with vigour’.

Notes:

[1] British Medical Association, Cycling towards Health & Safety, 1992,
Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-10-286151-4
[2] Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, National Adult Nutrition Survey,
2011: ‘More than 60 per cent of adults aged under 65 in Ireland are either
obese or overweight’. See Irish Times, 1st April 2011, p. 5.
[3] City Council 2009 figures
[4] Spanish; New Zealand traffic law and driver guidance

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