Victim blaming?

The Internet is a wild and woolly place, filled as it is with countless crazies howling at the moon on any given night. Although I’m usually impervious to the nuttiness, sometimes a particular bit of blight gets through and spatters my windshield.

This time, a reader took the time to email me a critique of my “wear a lot of lights” advocacy. In essence, he calls it victim blaming. “When you put the focus on what the rider did wrong, instead of what the driver who killed him did wrong, you are blaming the victim.”

The reader went on to point out that this is exactly what newspapers do when they report cycling deaths, never failing to mention that the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet, and almost never pointing out that it wasn’t a car that killed the cyclist, but rather a negligent (drunk/stoned/distracted) driver who did. In the same vein, he said, my advocacy for lights blames cyclists, who are the true victims, and takes the pressure off the drivers who maim and kill them.

Therefore, Wanky is bad.

Bad Wanky

That much we can agree on. I am bad. It’s been years since I’ve been swatted with a rolled-up newspaper, but the charge still stands.

But am I victim blaming when I point out that the single best thing you can do to stay alive on city streets is to be well illuminated, especially during the day? Maybe. Kind of the same way in which I’m victim blaming when I tell people to wear seat belts in my car. Because you know, the focus should be on the drunk who plows into us, not on what we can do to keep from slamming face-first through the windshield.

In fact, victim blamers are everywhere, especially in places like the aviation industry, where victim blaming FAA regulations require flotation devices and oxygen masks, rather than ensuring that no operational problems ever occur. The military does lots of victim blaming, too, requiring infantry to wear helmets and body armor, instead of focusing on the real wrongdoers, i.e. the snipers and the people who plant the I.E.D.s.

Our society has become one of victim blamers, I guess. Every time you advocate for a measure that might mitigate harm to the potential victim or avoid it entirely, you are victim blaming: Putting scent in the gas lines, home fire detectors, protective goggles in the workplace, lawyer locks on front forks, kiddie-proof caps on household cleaners, anti-lock brake systems, airbags, kill switches at the gas station, anti-slip pads in the shower, narrow grates on home paper shredders … all these things are just victim blaming. If we really cared about people being poisoned to death, we’d focus on gas leaks themselves, for example, and make sure that there never was one, ever. Then we wouldn’t have to blame victims by putting scent in the gas lines so the victims could detect the gas and escape instead of dying in their sleep.

Your orthodoxy suit doesn’t fit

Of course the real problem isn’t that I advocate using daytime lights (along with lane positioning and a host of other preventive measures), the problem is that a lot of people can’t accept that even the slightest deviation from their agenda isn’t necessarily an enemy.

We see it everywhere, all the time. If you’re not 100% for me and in agreement with everything I say, you’re against me. Trump, anyone?

Never mind that lights make you conspicuous and keep you from getting hit. Never mind that with lights you can start saving lives today, whereas with infrastructure, social change, nationwide mandatory bike education curricula, and other long-term (some would say pie-in-the-sky) solutions, it will be years before the effects are felt. And never mind that lights are something that almost everyone can afford and easily slap onto their bike.

Never mind all that.

Because we cyclists are victims, and perish the thought that we take steps to do anything about it. You can’t be a martyr if you’re still alive.



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25 thoughts on “Victim blaming?”

  1. One of these days uptopia will arrive and we won’t need obnoxious lights, bright clothing, lane-positioning and all that other crap just so we can so somewhere on a bike. Until then, as you said, “You can’t be a martyr if you’re still alive.”

    1. Let’s all be martyrs! Think about what awesome funerals we’ll have!

    2. Totally agree but not nearly as cynical about it as I believe you are. Autonomous vehicles might actually deliver this utopia!

  2. Exactly!

    Telling someone to “drive defensively” isn’t victim blaming, it’s improving the odds of staying alive!

    Same thing with lights!

    1. Aha! So you admit that it’s your job to try and stay alive? VICTIM BLAMER.

  3. Three of my buddies were run over by a drunk hit and run, week before last.The comments by some of our local rocket scientists were appalling. Even some so-called christian grandmas were taking victim blaming to new heights. I finally had to quit reading. Exceptional men. Had lights. Two widows, six kids without dads.

    1. Victim blaming is real. Many cops notoriously refuse to take the rider’s version of events seriously. Journalists routinely make cyclist death routine, exculpating even the most egregious driving behavior.

      But encouraging people to control the lane ride with lights isn’t victim blaming. And neither tactic is a 100% guarantee of anything.

  4. Sadly, however brightly lit, we are all victims-in-waiting. The lucky ones — most of us — get to wait until their natural deaths and avoid victimization…

    1. Nun-uh. I’m gonna live fer-ev-ah. Freeze my brain and then hang out with Ted Williams after they fix global boiling and cock-a-roaches.

    1. Wow, someone said this to you?

      “When you put the focus on what the rider did wrong, instead of what the driver who killed him did wrong, you are blaming the victim.”

      That’s frustrating that some can’t tell the difference between what is said on your blog and what is said in the peanut gallery of the internet (even other cycling discussions) or in news articles covering crashes.

    2. Chris Hillman

      That is a nice article with a perspective that I have not seen before. My worry is however that “safety-first” does not transfer well to the public domain. I have attended city council meetings covering cycling related matters, similar to your PV adventures. Circus! Politics limits the progress of safety measures since a municipality’s various stakeholders don’t sense the liability issues ($$$$) as clearly as a business leader might. On the road cyclists and peds are the only ones with real skin in the game 😛

  5. number1bikermonkey

    I blame you, Wanky, for all the lights that now adorn my various bicycles when operated in daylight hours. Bad Wanky indeed.

  6. But Seth, lights are not pro, and after carbon what else to cyclists care about, are you too over-trained to remember the two golden rules ?
    Seriously I don’t understand people sometimes, if you don’t want to run lights, wear a helmet, ride in high viz, wear your glasses under your helmet straps that’s fine, just don’t make up some crap to support your own beliefs.

    No wonder so many people are convinced about dog.

  7. As usual, you make a point that is much needed to made, in an especially erudite manner. Bravo.

    I will be linked to this every time I get blamed for victim blaming when I start talking about risk mitigation in a discussion about a crash, which happens all the time.

    1. Risk mitigation is for fools! Fools, I say! What we need is risk maximization!

  8. When Autonomous Vehicles are more widely available, it will probably behoove cyclists to equip themselves with a “beacon” to let the AV positively ID one as a cyclist.

    1. Or to just ride around in the autonomous cars and make sure the Stravver is on.

  9. “Lawyer locks” ? I think that you ment “lawyer tabs”. Or the saltier expression, “lawyer lips”. I used that expression once in front of a lawyer when I was investigating a bicycle crash for him, He felt the heat of Blame descend on him and was sorely offended.

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