Why language is important…

One of the most frustrating things about life is the ongoing battle for understanding. Words are incredibly powerful, but when you can’t find the right one your message can be lost, or worse still, misconstrued.

However, language can also be misused and manipulated, either deliberately or accidentally. This seems to be particularly prevelant in the reporting of crimes involving motorists and people on bicycles.

It wasn’t me, it was the car

How often have we seen news reports of road accidents, where someone ‘collided with a car’, or the ‘car left the road’. There is a reluctance to call out the motorist for his or her inattention or potentially deliberate act that led to an incident.

Articles are often written to suggest that the vehicle has a will of its own, that it was somehow responsible for the events that occured. Even the police seem to the think that cars and vans park themselves and the driver is somehow a hostage to the vehicle’s desires.

This of course changes when someone on a bicycle is involved. We are of course entirely responsible for our actions and for the things done unto us, he says with a role of the eyes. As we saw with the Charlie Alliston case, we were all to blame for that particular incident and many of us felt the repurcussions and the reprisals of the press and its desire to demonise the users of our particular form of transport.

‘A car collided with a cyclist’, or ‘a car collided with a pedestrian’. No, a motorist collided with a cyclist, or a motorist collided with a pedestrian. A ‘motorist‘ parked their van illegally. You get the idea.

This pernicious misuse of language seems to infiltrate many facets of life. Political agendas are set and court cases are often determined according to a motorist’s presumed innocence, an unwilling witness to their own vehicle’s unquenchable bloodlust; or indeed the cyclist’s presumed responsibility for their own injuries or the injuries of others, either for what they were wearing, or the type of bicycle they were using.

Whilst driverless cars are coming, right now it is definitely the motorist, not the vehicle. The motorist is responsible for the vehicle’s roadworthiness; for its emissions; and for making sure it neither comes into contact with another road user nor is parked in a location where it causes an obstruction.

It is the motorist, not the vehicle. We cannot apportion blame to one group and not the other, just as we cannot blame a machine that cannot act of its own accord.

One thought on “Why language is important…

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  1. Unfortunately we seem to have moved a huge distance from the original idea that roads were for everyone,whether pedestrian,horse rider,cyclist or motorist. Now the whole emphasis is that roads are for motorists & everyone else should keep out of their way.
    There needs to be a huge change in attitude,both from the average citizen, the police & politicians.
    Hopefully if we keep pushing we might just get their, as demonstrated by the changes in Netherlands etc.


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