Breaking the Cycle

17/09/2015 16:42 BST | Updated 17/09/2016 10:12 BST

Yesterday I learned that two cyclists a week, on average, are killed on Britain's roads.

To a passionate lover of cycling, who has often experienced dangerous driving from motorists - some of which is clearly deliberate - I was shocked. However, it didn't make me wonder how nothing is done about it. It didn't make me ask how on earth the powers that be can let this carnage continue.

That's because I work for Women's Aid, and that means I'm all too aware that as a society we accept, apparently quite easily, that in England and Wales two women a week , on average, are killed by a partner or former partner. It's just too hard - apparently - to challenge the vested interests, power imbalances and centuries-old ways of thinking that keep it that way. So yes, that clearly applies to car-power too.

But since my eyes were opened to the parallels between the position of cyclists on the road and the position of women everywhere, it did make me reflect that men who cycle should have a head start when it comes to understanding why women are in danger, and why only an approach that challenges the power imbalance between men and women can have a hope of changing that. By which I mean feminism, obviously.

So, men who cycle - this is for you. Heaven knows we need more men to get it. We really do.

Here goes: just substitute "woman/women" for "cyclist/cyclists" and "man/men" for "motorist/motorists" as you read. And you can take the road as a metaphor for life - not an original thought, I'll admit.

In law, cyclists have as much right to be on the road as motorists (yes, except for motorways - the clue is in the name). Very few people would now openly disagree with the law in this regard. But in reality they are far from equal, and cyclists' freedom of the road is severely compromised.

The road is a dangerous place for cyclists, because of the behaviour of some motorists. Yes, of course it's a minority. But, the behaviour of this lethal minority affects all cyclists - even keeps many off the road altogether, because the consequences, if that motorist you encounter is one of the genuinely dangerous cyclist-haters, are unthinkable. Cyclists fear that serious injury or death could result from an encounter, even though what really motivates most motorists is just a desire to get from A to B with as little need to think about the problems of cyclists as possible.

And, although only a minority of motorists are overtly hostile to cyclists, whenever a cyclist is seriously injured or killed, there is a public debate which questions how far the cyclist caused the accident by behaving in a risky way. Was the cyclist being too cautious, being too bold, not wearing the right thing, not keeping to obviously cyclist-friendly areas? There are even a number of commentators who use these incidents as an opportunity to sound off about how irritating it is these days that so many cyclists feel they can just come and go on the road whenever they please.

Sometimes adaptations are made which are supposed to make roads safer for cyclists. However, if a cyclist is seen not using these for some reason, they are quite likely to face retaliation from motorists. So, in order to feel safe on the road, a cyclist needs to behave as much like a motorist as possible. Obviously, this is easier for some cyclists than others. Some are never going to be able to manage it, and you actually rarely see them on the road at all.

There are particular groups of motorists whose very livelihood depends on an even more privileged access to the road than the average motorist enjoys. If the status quo, which protects their livelihood, is to be maintained, they need space where cyclists have no rights at all. And when they feel their profits are undermined by cyclists asserting their rights, they make their protest loud and clear - and they get some sympathy because, after all, they have to make a living.

The level of culture change that's needed for cyclists to feel safe all the time is dauntingly huge. At best, motorists are telling cyclists, "Yes this is our game, our bat, our ball, our rules - but you can play if you want. We own the road but you can use it. What more do you want?"

What needs to happen is a new game, new rules. Power has to change hands. That's still a long way off.

But the prize is huge. If we make the cultural change needed, the road will be better for everyone. Life will be better for everyone. And cyclists will be safe.