Words matter. Nowhere is that more evident than in the trench warfare currently being waged over the term ‘accident’ in reference to motorists killing and maiming people walking and riding their bikes. Most law enforcement agencies have begun to appreciate why this term is unacceptable, how it perpetuates a lack of accountability and a culture of victim-blaming. Unfortunately, major media outlets like the New York Times still cling to this intellectually dishonest word, continuing to use us it in the face of transit advocate backlash. It is encouraging, though, that a far more correct term is coming into common speak: ‘traffic violence’.
It’s been said that cycling advocates should adopt the branding methods of the auto industry: Never talk about the dangers of your product. Never harm the positive imagery you’re painting to sell the bike experience. With so many potential riders afraid to put foot to pedal – it’s important not to perpetuate the myth of these harms. Truthfully, the harm is not in cycling, it is in driving, the harm drivers impose on human beings around them. We tend to overstate these risks in our discourse due the vast imbalance of danger between one mode over the other. While promoting cycling on the merits of fun and not scaring away the novices, it’s important to be honest in our dialog – motorists do kill thousands of people every year in lethal acts of violence.