Can Wiggins crash end conflict between driver and cyclists?
This is not a war between drivers and cyclists - it's a war between angry people. Now is the time to calm the debate
TWO ACCIDENTS in the space of 24 hours, one involving Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and the other Team GB's Olympic cycling coach Shane Sutton, have fuelled a renewed debate about cycling safety.
Wiggins collided with a white van, whose driver is reported to have said: "I just didn't see him." Sutton was hit by a car as he rode to the National Cycling Centre in Manchester. Both are expected to make full recoveries.
Hundreds of trolls - mainly drivers - have been letting their feelings be known on online forums, including Twitter today, with two of the more printable ones reading: "Cyclists? Try and keep yourselves off our white vans today yeah, just had mine cleaned ffs" and "bloody cyclists causing cars to crash stick to the pavement".
But cyclists have hit back in the comment pages of the papers, questioning whether it is time drivers took more responsibility in the type of accident that has become known in the cycling community as 'Smidsy' - 'Sorry mate, I didn't see you'.
James Moore, a cyclist who was injured when he was hit by a lorry last year, rounds on those who immediately assumed that Wiggins must have been at fault.
"What I found interesting was the tone of the early conversation about the incident and the questions that were being asked," Moore writes in The Independent. "These included: Was Wiggo wearing a helmet? Did he have on a fluorescent bib, was he carrying a bright pink sign with neon flashing lights bearing the legend 'watch out, innocent cyclist abroad'...
"The immediate question always asked when it comes to accidents involving bikes with other vehicles is 'was the cyclist on the slender metal frame being good?' rather than 'was the motorist in the machine capable of killing obeying the rules?' "
In The Guardian, Carlton Reid suggests that the involvement of Wiggins in an accident will encourage even more hate attacks from the trolls. This, he believes, is part of a "desperate kickback" against the growing visibility of cycling.
"Tabloid readers are having to get used to stories about champion cyclists, and for many it must grate. Cyclists used to be an outsider group, invisible. Now one of them is deflected into the gutter by a wing mirror and it's a front-page splash."
Amid an urban renaissance in cycling, "motorists had better get used to seeing more cyclists out on the roads and, if they feel it's unfair that cyclists overtake them while they're sat on their arses in traffic jams, don't knock 'em, join 'em!"
National cycling charity CTC believes it is time to get tough on drivers who knock down cyclists through carelessness, pointing out that last year saw a 16 per cent increase in the number of serious injuries to cyclists, while cycling levels only rose by one to two per cent.
CTC suggests that a "deterioration in traffic policing" might be partly responsible. In Lancashire, where Wiggins was hit, there has been a 22 per cent reduction in traffic police over the last 10 years.
CTC Policy Coordinator Chris Peck said: "Crashes like this are far too common and the reaction from drivers familiar - 'Sorry mate, I didn't see you'. It's time for the police to start treating incidents of bad driving seriously and for courts to keep bad drivers off the streets."
But Simon Usborne sounds a more conciliatory note in The Independent, observing that, like the majority of cyclists, he also owns a car and has also occasionally failed to see something while driving despite his best intentions.
"My hope is that Wiggins's plight does not increase the senseless conflict on our roads," he writes. "If there is a war, it's between mindless, angry, impatient people, who ride bikes as often as they drive cars."
What Wiggins's accident should fuel is the "calmer debate about the suitability of our roads for cycling, and the awareness among drivers of cyclists, both of which undoubtedly need to be improved...
"Because for as long as there is tribalism and conflict, I believe there will be more accidents not fewer." ·