Irish cycling and moving on from the helmets and hi-vis cliché

Posted on: December 28th, 2018

Irish agencies like the Garda and Road Safety Authority have built cycling safety campaigns around hi-vis and helmets for decades. But how could they better move with the times?


Irish cycling safety and moving on from helmets, hi-vis cliché

Anyone who rides a bike in Ireland in the dark should have lights. They need to be working properly and turned on. In fact, not having them is an offence.

Helmets are not compulsory north or south of the border. But they are strongly advisable. Wearing one is, of course, a matter of choice.

It’s the same with hi-vis; it’s strongly advisable though not compulsory. And wearing hi-vis items is up to each rider.

There is no point discussing lights much further. Under the law, you must have them. It’s that simple.

Yesterday we ran a piece about why the cycling safety debate in Ireland needs to move beyond helmets and hi-vis.

In Ireland, any effort to even discuss helmets and hi-vis is met with objections and even hostility from some within the cycling community.

However, the point we were trying to make is that while lights are a legal requirement and helmets and hi-vis are advisable, the cycling safety conversation needs to evolve.

After all, helmets don’t prevent crashes. And while hi-vis might prevent a crash, most cyclists killed in Ireland in recent years have been killed during daylight hours.

We’ve been having the same conversation about helmets and hi-vis for 40 years and it’s time to move on. That’s not to say helmets and hi-vis should be forgotten.

Instead, the Garda and Road Safety Authority (RSA) need to keep talking about them; discussing their merits and then leaving it to individual cyclists to choose to use them or not.

But we also need to add a whole range of other components to the effort to make cycling safer.

Even a cursory look at the approach of some of Britain’s police forces clearly shows how far behind the curve the Irish authorities’ area.


1 Close pass awareness

In Ireland some progress has been made of late. More cycling safety campaigns urge motorists to leave a gap of at least one metre when they pass cyclists. Unfortunately the government – more specifically Minister for Transport Shane Ross – has broken the promise to introduce a close-pass law.

But in Britain they are enforcing close-pass laws. Police officers are riding around in cycling kit and alerting colleagues in police vehicles or standing by the roadside nearby when a close-pass occurs. The offending drivers are pulled over and given a lesson in the dangers of close-passing.

These operations have started a conversation about close-passing; something that can only make cyclists safer. The police operations have also generated a lot of media coverage and kudos for the police forces carrying them out.

There is nothing stopping the Garda carrying out these operations; to educate close-passing drivers rather than prosecute them.

This would be harder than trotting out the jaded messages from the 1970s about hi-vis and helmets. But it would be possible if the Government, RSA or Garda decided it should be done.


2 Video reporting

Police forces in England and Wales have launched an online reporting tool. Cyclists who record close passes and other offences on their bike-mounted cameras or helmet cams can send the footage in for investigation.

In Ireland there is no such mechanism for video reporting. The only utterance the Garda has made on self-recorded video evidence is to discourage it.

The Garda has insisted the videos are useless unless those who record them can prove beyond any doubt precisely where and when the recordings were filmed.

While there is no specific close-pass motoring offence in Ireland, because the Government has broken its promise, extreme close passes could be prosecuted under dangerous or reckless driving laws.

And if the Garda and RSA took the same positive approach to video evidence that the British police forces have, self-recorded footage could be a significant tool in identifying and prosecuting drivers who put cyclists at risk on the roads.

Again, this would be harder than simply encouraging cyclists to wear hi-vis and helmets. But if could be done of if Irish safety and law enforcement agencies decided to do it.


3 Parking on cycle lanes

If commencing Garda operations against close pass drivers and inviting self-recorded footage from cyclists is too hard for the authorities in Ireland, maybe they could start with an easier option; enforcing the laws prohibiting parking on cycle lanes.

All over Dublin, and other parts of the country, a lax attitude is taken towards drivers who park on cycle lanes. This practice forces cyclists out into vehicular traffic and is very dangerous.

Yet the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan was himself recently forced to call on the Garda to begin enforcing this law.

But it’s not just the Garda that has responsibility on this issue. They are the ones that should be enforcing the law, but the RSA and every local authority in the country could also prioritise the issue; speaking out to discourage parking in cycle lanes and calling on the Garda to clamp down on it.

And the Government could allocate more resources to beef up Garda traffic units specifically for the purpose of clamping down on parking in cycle lanes.

Enforcing the laws banning parking on cycle lanes is a very easy road safety measure that could immediately be added to the calls for cyclists to wear helmets and hi-vis.


4 Social media interventions

A really significant opportunity is available to the Garda and Road Safety Authority on social media to make cyclists safer on the roads. Again, we can look to the UK for an example of this.

When heated exchanges develop on Facebook or Twitter about the obligations of drivers and cyclists, more and more British police forces are weighing in to clarify disputed issues.

British police forces have, for example, joined conversations to clarify the legal position around cyclists riding two abreast.

The police interventions into social media conversations are viewed by a huge number of people. Because of that, they have the power to spread awareness to a much larger number of drivers and cyclists than on-the-ground road enforcement operations can.

The Garda could easily decide to take on a similar role; clearing up misconceptions about cyclists rights and obligations when disputes arise on Twitter and Facebook.

Again, this would be a very useful tactic to add to the annual winter call to encourage cyclists to wear helmets and hi-vis.

The images below capture one of many exchanges on Twitter involving the police in Surrey.

This contribution, which is being repeated daily all over Britain, clearly shows how dangerous views on cyclists are quickly spotted and rebutted; all to the benefit of cyclists.