A BBC Radio 4 presenter has been criticised for asking what some have described as “irresponsible” and “poorly judged” questions about cyclists during a segment on the recent revisions to the Highway Code.
On Saturday’s edition of the Today programme, the long-running news and current affairs show, Mishal Husain interviewed Kevin Fong, a doctor and television presenter, and racing driver and motoring journalist Rebecca Jackson about last week’s updates to the Highway Code, which have been the subject of widespread – and often divisive – press coverage.
While both guests generally demonstrated the balance and nuance often lacking in the mainstream media’s coverage of the changes, Husain generated some online controversy by twice asking Jackson: “What annoys you about cyclists?”
These questions prompted a social media backlash, with users taking to Twitter to claim that Husain was encouraging “dangerous driving behaviour” by “trying to push the cycling hate button”.
The presenter began the interview by asking Fong if he had noticed any differences on the road since the Highway Code had been implemented and if he had “encountered instances on a daily basis that are dangerous or at the very least irritating and insensitive”.
Fong replied that the principle behind the changes – that the most vulnerable road users should be protected by the least vulnerable – makes sense and that the roads are dangerous for those “who don’t know what they’re doing, so everyone has a responsibility to ensure the safety of cyclists and other road users.”
However, when racing driver Jackson pointed out that her family – like many across the country – cycle as well as drive, Husain asked her: “Be honest, what is it that annoys you, irritates you, drives you mad with cyclists on the road? There must be some.”
“The only thing I do find a little bit irritating is when it’s four-abreast on a country road,” Jackson replied. “It’s great fun to cycle next to your friends and it’s great to have a chat with them.
“The problem is, that really does irritate road users and motorists quite a bit,” she laughed.
“Well, that’s largely out in the countryside,” Husain said. “Though you do see it quite a bit in cities as well, usually at the weekend, often groups of men I have to say.”
Trying to maintain his focus on the Highway Code itself, Fong emphasised that the new measures would help protect cyclists and pedestrians, and that improved and safer infrastructure, as well as behavioural change on the roads, was essential to achieving that goal.
Despite the commendable balance of the two guests, Husain continued her line of questioning, asking Jackson: “Apart from the four-abreast, what also drives you mad when you’re driving?”
Jackson, to her credit, once again tried to dodge the question and emphasised that “it is our duty as road users, whether we are a cyclist or a motorist – clearly the hierarchy is important to keep everybody safe – it’s our duty to look out for each other and be kind to each other.”
The segment was heavily criticised online, with Kirsty Lewin taking to Twitter to remind the BBC that “cyclists are killed on our roads” and called on the Today programme to “do better”.
You could have done an equally positive story on cycling this morning in your segment on the #Highwaycode on #R4Today - but instead you blew it and encouraged further aggressive driving towards cyclists. Cyclists are killed on our roads. #DoBetter https://t.co/OdEuSlY4sf
— Kirsty Lewin (@KirstyLewin) February 5, 2022
Another user wrote: “Your item on the Highway Code was poorly judged. The changes explicitly try to improve the dangerous driving that leads to shocking statistics for deaths and injury. It’s vital drivers understand how improved behaviour can change that.
“Trivialising the issue with giggly answers to the twice-repeated question “what annoys you about cyclists?” is adding to the idea that those riding bikes deserve to be bullied or disregarded by those driving high powered vehicles weighing several tonnes.”
“In the interest of ‘balance’ did the presenter also ask a cyclist ‘what annoys you about motorists?’ (‘the fact that some of them appear to want to kill me’ would be one possible answer)”, wrote Jon Sparks. “Or was it just a really stupid and irresponsible question?”
Kay Wagland argued that the segment highlighted the “clear assumption that cyclists are annoying. It didn't ask a cyclist what annoys them about car driving. The Highway Code’s hierarchy of responsibility and vulnerability of highway users is key. Cyclists are at much higher risk and don't damage our streets & climate.”
Another user pointed out the media’s tendency to “pile on to one of the solutions to excessive, unjust and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. Imagine how powerful it could be if BBC Radio 4 had asked, ‘what do you like best about cyclists?’”
Responding to a tweet which claimed she was “trying to push the cycling hate button”, Husain replied: "No! I am a cyclist."
The updates to the Highway Code, which came into effect last weekend, have filled many column inches over the last month, with a number of news outlets running controversial articles with headlines such as ‘The day cyclists took over the roads’ and 'Bike lane Britain... the Great Leap Backwards'.
Last week, Cycling UK called for a long-term public awareness campaign from the government to help produce a “mindset shift” on British roads and to counteract misleading and divisive reports in the media. The charity says it will take years to fully enforce the revisions to the Highway Code and change “entrenched driving behaviour”.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.