The Road Safety Authority (RSA), are the primary state agency responsible for advising and evaluating road safety strategy in Ireland. According to their own website their mission is:
The aim of the Road Safety Authority is to save lives and prevent injuries by reducing the number and severity of collisions on the road. This is reflected in our maxim, Working to Save Lives.
That sounds nice but it’s really a load or horse manure. As long as they exist in their current guise, any effort to promote the bike as a safe and simple mode of transport is destined to fail. The RSA are a motor vehicle centric organisation whose primary loyalty is always motor vehicles over bike users and pedestrians. Whether they are incompetent or ignorant is open to debate but what cannot be denied is that they are one of the main reasons why we are nowhere near reaching the goal of 10% of all trips to work by bike by 2020 set out by the National Cycle Policy Framework. In Limerick we’re at 2%. By 2020, I can safely say we’ll still be at 2%.
So why are the RSA so car centric? Well if you look at their income streams it’s easy to see. In 2016, the RSA received an Oireachtas grant of €139,000. This is hardly worth mentioning though when you look at the income received from driver testing, vehicle testing (private and commercial) and driver license fees – over €70,000,000. Yes, €70 million. Add on a few little extras such as digital tachographs, driving instructor approval, sponsorship, dangerous goods carriage fees, etc and their total income for 2016 was €73,682,017. In 2015 it was €76,744,127. When their whole business revolves around the motor industry, is it any wonder they are completely biased in favour of it?
Let’s just look at their latest TV advert ‘promoting’ the a 1.5m (or is it 1.0m?) safe passing distance of cyclists by motor traffic. This comes on the back of a new safe passing distance law currently being put before Government. I don’t quite get it myself – perhaps the fact that there is some sort of official legal passing distance now will make motorist more aware of “vulnerable” road users but for me it’s just another low cost method by the Government to appease the ‘noisy’ cycle lobby groups that will have little to no effect on bike user safety in urban areas without enforcement (which there won’t be). Anyway, back to the ad. As to be expected, the main protagonists (the bike users) are clad head to toe in high-vis and helmets. Straight away, the message is clear – bike users, not local authorities, not motorists, are responsible for cycle safety.
The first bike user we are shown is a teenage boy cycling to school. We can assume he is a teenager cycling to school as the RSA are against kids cycling to primary school. Yes that’s right, it’s on even on their website:
So here’s our young teenage kid cycling to school, decked out with his high-vis and helmet as the RSA are all about safety.
The road that our teenage bike user is riding on has capacity for 4 car lanes (2 for moving traffic and 2 for parking) but no capacity for a cycle lane. The RSA obviously see nothing wrong with this and using a street layout like this only reinforces the idea that streets are primarily for cars, not people. Even if you ignore the car domination of this street, the absence of cycle lane logos in the middle of each lane contravene the direction given by the NTA’s National Cycle Manual design advice for shared street link types. No, the message here is clear – roads are for cars and are dangerous so if you want to venture onto one with your bike, you are responsible.
Our next protagonist is a female bike user who could possibly be heading to/from work. This is something you are unlikely to see around Limerick however as only 1% of females over the age of 15 use a bike to get to work.
Once again, our female actor is dressed in a magic yellow jacket and plastic hat that will save her should one of the vehicles to her right collide with her at 50kmh on the unprotected cycle lane. The cycle lane itself looks to be about 1m wide. Using the National Cycle Manual’s width calculator, a mandatory cycle lane like the one above should, at a minimum, be 1.75m wide. This is something the RSA would be oblivious to so here we are again, normalising the idea that roads are primarily for cars and a line of magic paint one metre out from the verge is more than enough for bike users. As long as they’re adults. Because the RSA is against kids on bikes.
Finally we get to the third and last actor, RSA’s stereotypical definition of what a cyclist is – a lycra clad sports cyclist. It’s probably not important but I’m guessing this actor hasn’t cycled since he was a kid judging by how shakey he is on his bike.
I don’t want to dwell on sports cycling too much as I’m more concerned about promoting the bike as a normal everyday mode of transport but as this guy is in the ad, I might as well point out how ludicrous this image is.
Cyclists are allowed to cycle 2 abreast and most sports cyclists participate in sociable groups of 2 or more but the message here seems to be that cyclists should stay close to the left verge (single file, out of traffic’s way) so that the new safe passing distance law, which was so kindly introduced to protect cyclists, can be adhered to by passing motor traffic. Once again, the RSA is normalising the message that roads are primarily for motor traffic.
This is just the latest effort by the RSA to discourage people from using a bike as an everyday mode of transport. Their obsession with high-vis clothing is pathological. In 3 years, they have distributed over 1.3 million high-vis vests across the country. One point three million! What the f**k?
The distribution of so much fluorescent plastic is more likely to cause ecological and environmental damage than save lives but this is what the RSA do – they maintain the status quo, they maintain the belief that motor traffic is more important than any other road user type and that all non motor traffic road users are responsible for their own safety. Even when you look at the ‘organisations they like‘, it’s tragically comical how little regard they have for people on bikes. They mention Cycling Ireland but CI are a sport’s cyclists body. They are not friends with prominent bike advocacy groups like Cyclist.ie, Dublin Cycling Campaign or IrishCycle.com. They are friends with Advance Pitstop, The Automobile Association, Freight Transport Association Ireland, International Transport Forum, Irish Concrete Federation, Irish Road Haulage Association, the National Transport Authority, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, etc.
Instead of the RSA constantly portraying bicycle use in such negative terms, as well as obsessing with high-vis and plastic hats, it would be more beneficial to all road users if they used their time and influence to constantly lobby the Government and local authorities to invest in well designed, safe cycle infrastructure. This of course would cost more financially in the short term than using magic paint to create cycle lanes on car dominated roads but long term, the benefits would be a healthier population, lower pollution, less traffic congestion and more economically and socially vibrant urban areas.
Update Dec 2018
The RSA are at it again. This time their ‘safety expert’ gets to write a column in a national newspaper laden with anti-cycling rhetoric. What a shameless organisation.
Update Mar 2019
A four-part TV series aired on RTÉ during Feb/Mar titled “Now You See Me” aimed to dispel some of the myths about cycling but all it managed to do was reinforce them. And why wouldn’t it when it had financial and editorial input from The RSA. In one episode, presenter Bláthnaid Treacy travels to The Netherlands to experience their cycling infrastructure where under strict instructions from The RSA, manages to look like a complete plonker by steadfastly wearing a helmet in the safest cycling nation in the world – even when standing in a field all on her own.
Update Jan 2020
Well well well. On Jan 6 The RSA announced that their CEO Moyagh Murdock would be stepping down from her role in March to take up her new position as CEO of – wait for it – Insurance Ireland. Insurance Ireland are the main lobby group for insurance companies in Ireland. She will be well suited to the role having spent 6 years at The RSA ensuring motorists and motoring was never to blame for road safety issues.