If you’re as old as me you will remember The Push Bike Song by Mungo Jerry. The lyrics tell the story of the singer pedalling along and a pretty lady catching his eye. The illustration is one of care free abandon and the joy of being out on a bike.
Sadly the reality for cyclists is far removed from this idyllic portrayal. Congested roads, exhaust fumes, close passes, lack of cycle lanes and much more. With only a helmet for protection cyclists take to the roads and are vulnerable to every other road user.
Sharing the roads creates many dangers but an increasingly common menace is road rage. Drivers leap from cars and remonstrate with one another often leading to fights. Others may follow a car for miles intimidating the driver whom they perceive to have wronged them. Anger, intolerance and impatience have become normalised for many. Confrontations between drivers and cyclists are commonplace too.
Like many car owners, cyclists have taken to video recording their journeys as a means of providing evidence to protect themselves. When a situation is captured it is often posted to social media. The most popular videos regularly show drivers or cyclists who appear to be deliberately antagonising the situation. The comments and replies open up additional arguments where opposing camps draw their battle lines and hurl abuse at one another. It never ends well. Such videos do nothing to increase road safety and only add fuel to the fire.
Social media can be a breeding ground for malcontent, arguments, abuse and trolls. Why would any road safety professional think it a sensible place to run a campaign? The answer is simple. These are the people we need to be talking to. These are the people who are likely to react in the same way as those in the videos. These are the people we need to engage with.
Social media provides a platform to deliver road safety messages to a wide audience but it invites commentary. If you can’t handle this or don’t want to get involved in debate then social media is the wrong place for you. Simply broadcasting your message in the hope of creating change is wasting your time. Walking through your office shouting ‘Wear your seatbelt’ continually won't create change. People will just think you’re an idiot. If, however, during a conversation you can talk about the dangers and risks of not doing so, then you might just create change. For success on social media you have to engage in conversation, respond to the replies, build relationships and be ‘social.’
Over the last three years the #DontStreamAndDrive campaign days have amassed more than 60 million impressions on Twitter. While these figures are huge, I place more value in the conversations with individuals, as a way of encouraging people to think differently. This is where the power of social media lies and how, by getting social and being social, we can make our roads safer for all.
Sgt Neil Dewson-Smyth
eil Dewson-Smyth is a police Sgt with almost 28 years service with Greater Manchester Police and latterly Cheshire Police.