When is it ok to kill cyclists?

Earlier this month The New York Times published an opinion piece about cycling, “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?“. It prompted a huge number of articles and blog posts which, insofar as discussion about cycling safety helps to improve cycling safety, is probably a good thing.

Even the Economist has waded in with, “The American right-of-way“, which someone has kindly brought to my attention this morning. So I thought I would give my opinion on it.

Is it OK to kill cyclists? Absolutely not. How could the answer to this question ever possibly be yes? But as the author of the original article points out, if a motorist hits and kills a cyclist, chances are they will receive no punishment whatsoever. So our society – and I’m thinking New Zealand, Australia, Britain, US here – currently does say it is ok to kill cyclists. This is in stark contrast to the Netherlands where drivers are always at fault. The onus is on the driver to prove they are not at fault and this is quite difficult to do.

Earlier this year a friend of mine was cycling in Auckland and was struck by a car from behind. The driver of the vehicle was not charged at all and not only that but my friend was inexplicably told by the attending officer to get a car because cycling in Auckland is dangerous. If drivers were forced to take responsibility for harming cyclists then maybe it wouldn’t be quite as dangerous as it is. They would be forced to be more vigilant and cautious and this is a good thing.

These discussions come at a time when London has just had its sixth cyclist killed in two weeks. I can’t help but notice that the prevailing attitude in the articles about these tragedies is one of blame on cyclists. For instance, Boris Johnson is calling for a ban on cyclists wearing headphones. Another article encourages cyclists to wear high-visibility vests and helmets. No-where have I seen talk of making motorists responsible. Why not? It’s a stark example of prejudice against cyclists and continued promotion of our car-centric culture.

I will say one thing though. By and large the motorists in York are very cautious around cyclists and always give way to me. I have actually been blown away by the level of courtesy and politeness of York’s motorists. But this might be because I have a monster bike.