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The Silent Message: Multimedia Communication and Barriers to Cycling Uptake

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In Road Safety Authority Ireland print and video artefacts, cyclists are as a rule depicted in high visibility clothing also suitable for sport, and a helmet. Four studies relevant to the Irish context identify fear as a primary barrier to cycling uptake, including the conviction cycling is socially unacceptable. Cycling advocates argue the depiction of cyclists as described reinforces these fears. To investigate whether their concern is valid, I conducted interviews and a card sorting exercise. The results indicate that depicting cyclists as described reinforces the perception that cycling is dangerous and socially unacceptable. Responses were consistent across gender groups, and two age groups (under thirty and over thirty). Depiction of cyclists in clothing currently the norm in road safety multimedia reinforces barriers to cycling uptake. Alternative clothing, which still comply with safety recommendations, should be considered.
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The Silent Message: Multimedia
Communication and Barriers to Cycling
Uptake
Nadia Williams
D00168920
Dundalk Institute of Technology
In partial fulfilment of the requirements of the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Communications in
Creative Multimedia.
The Silent Message Nadia Williams Communications in Creative Multimedia
Abstract
In Road Safety Authority Ireland print and video artefacts, cyclists are as a rule depicted in
high visibility clothing also suitable for sport, and a helmet. Four studies relevant to the Irish
context identify fear as a primary barrier to cycling uptake, including the conviction cycling is
socially unacceptable. Cycling advocates argue the depiction of cyclists as described reinforces
these fears. To investigate whether their concern is valid, I conducted interviews and a card
sorting exercise. The results indicate that depicting cyclists as described reinforces the
perception that cycling is dangerous and socially unacceptable. Responses were consistent
across gender groups, and two age groups (under thirty and over thirty). Depiction of cyclists
in clothing currently the norm in road safety multimedia reinforces barriers to cycling uptake.
Alternative clothing, which still comply with safety recommendations, should be considered.
Keywords
Cycling safety, road safety, dangerisation, fear, barriers, uptake.
Acknowledgements
The most heartfelt thanks goes to my husband, Michael. It sounds so cliché, but without you I
would not be who, or where, I am. Thank you to Jonathan, Lara, and Nicholas, who show me
daily that yes, I can do great things. I have done a great thing already: I must have, to have the
privilege of being part of your lives; so hey, there’s precedent.
Thank you to all the lecturers who have guided me on my journey. The intellectual awakening
has been life changing. In particular thanks to Dr Caroline O’Sullivan and Mr Glenn Doyle for
your help with this thesis, and to the whole family of colourful minds in the Department of
Creative Arts, Media, and Music.
A big thanks goes also to my classmates in Communications in Creative Multimedia. It has
been a greater pleasure than I think you lot realise to be welcomed into the group. Being among
such a bunch of lively, creative intelligences had a profound impact on my understanding of
myself, and my place in this world.
A final word of thanks to all the bicycles that have accompanied me from childhood jaunts
discovering hidden corners of our neighbourhood, to an unfolding wonder as I discovered my
new country, my own surprising bounty of strength, on two wheels. Again, Micky, my fondest
memory is of your encouragement. “Just pedal as much as you can, rest, then do it again.” And
so, across an Alpine pass, fifty metres at a time, watching giants slowly come into view, and
stopping to sit in silence among them for a while before again, fifty metres, stop, fifty metres.
I would not have made it without you there.
The Silent Message Nadia Williams Communications in Creative Multimedia
Table of Contents
1 The Silent Message: Multimedia Communication and Barriers to Cycling Uptake ......... 1
1.1 Research Question ....................................................................................................... 1
1.2 The Case for Cycling Safety Clothing ........................................................................ 1
1.3 The Case Against Cycling Safety Clothing................................................................. 2
1.4 Literature Review ........................................................................................................ 3
1.4.1 Need for Increase of Cycling Uptake................................................................... 3
1.4.2 Dangerisation ....................................................................................................... 3
1.4.3 Barriers to Cycling Uptake .................................................................................. 4
1.4.4 Clothing Semiotics ............................................................................................... 5
2 Methodology ...................................................................................................................... 6
2.1 Interviews .................................................................................................................... 6
2.1.1 Interviewee profiles ............................................................................................. 7
2.1.2 Interviews Analysis .............................................................................................. 8
2.1.3 Interviews Conclusion ....................................................................................... 13
2.2 Questionnaire and Card Sorting Results ................................................................... 14
2.2.1 Overview and Observations ............................................................................... 15
2.2.2 Responses ........................................................................................................... 16
2.3 Discussion ................................................................................................................. 21
3 Additional Observations and Recommendations for Further Study ................................ 23
4 References ........................................................................................................................ 24
5 Bibliography .................................................................................................................... 28
1
1 The Silent Message: Multimedia
Communication and Barriers to Cycling
Uptake
1.1 Research Question
Does the clothing worn by cyclists in the Irish Road Safety Authority’s print and video
multimedia broadcast a message that reinforces barriers to cycling uptake?
1.2 The Case for Cycling Safety Clothing
The aim of the Road Safety Authority in Ireland (RSA) is “to save lives and prevent injuries
by reducing the number and severity of collisions on the road” (RSA, 2010). To this end, the
organisation promotes certain dress for cyclists. While there are some minor variations, the
clothing worn by the cyclist model in their Cycle Smart, Cycle Safe (CSCS) advertisement
series (Road Safety Authority 2013 A,B,C,D), which was shown on Irish television in 2012, is
typical of the outfits of all cyclists in their safety promotional material. The organisation has
sound reasons for showing cyclists in this clothing.
Cycling helmets have been shown to reduce the possibility of head injury when a collision
occurs (Olivier and Creighton, 2016), and are therefore recommended (Road Safety Authority,
2013, p.4).
The use of high visibility jackets or vests is encouraged, as driver failure to look properly was
a factor in 57% of serious collisions between cars and cyclists (Royal Society for the Prevention
of Accidents, 2015). Likewise, the cyclist is shown with a high visibility cover over their
rucksack in the video series under examination.
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In addition to these items, the cyclist depicted in the videos wears black tights, such as those
worn for sport. Looser trousers might interfere with the bicycle chain, though a trouser clip
could solve that problem. The model cyclist’s lace-up running shoes can be argued to be
comfortable, and practical.
The selection of every item of clothing for their models to wear in their road safety videos can
therefore be justified. It seems at first sight one could hardly fault their logic. There is, however,
more to cycling safety promotion than merely promoting safe cycling.
1.3 The Case Against Cycling Safety Clothing
Communication, especially visual communication, speaks to us on two levels. Stuart Hall
explains Roland Barthes’ approach:
Denotation is the simple, basic, descriptive level, where consensus is wide and most people
would agree on the meaning (‘dress’, ‘jeans’). At the second level – connotation these signifiers
which we have been able to ‘decode’ at a simple level by using our conventional conceptual
classifications of dress to read their meaning, enter a wider, second kind of codewhich
connects them to broader themes and meanings…
(Hall, 1997 (ed.), p. 38)
Critics of the depiction of cyclists in the clothing shown argue this image of the cyclist
communicates a connotation that cycling is dangerous, a sport activity rather than an everyday
means of transport, the clothing marks cyclists as a separate, ‘different’ group rather than
ordinary members of society, that this has consequences for the drive to increase the modal
share for sustainable transport, of which cycling is the most accessible and efficient. In studies
examining attitudes of Irish and British citizens, the latter close in road use practice and culture,
fear is identified as a major barrier to cycling uptake (Browne et al, 2011; Thornton et al, 2010,
section 3.7.3. p. 68; Daley and Rissel, 2010, pp. 211 216; Cavill and Watkins, 2007 p. 412).
This fear includes concern that you may be involved in a collision, but it is also more complex.
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Fear of cycling extends to a fear of working the body in public, fear of changing one’s identity
by joining a clear ‘other’ social group with the associated possible social sanctions.
Considering the strong case for increased cycling uptake, it is worth examining whether this
criticism is valid.
1.4 Literature Review
1.4.1 Need for Increase of Cycling Uptake
The Netherlands, where cycling has a 27% modal share (Ministry of Transport, Public Works
and Water Management, 2009) compared to a mere 16.4% for walking and cycling combined
in Ireland (Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport 2016), reaps the benefit of about 2,600
deaths prevented yearly, and an increase of half a year in life expectancy. In monetary terms,
this is more than 3% of the Dutch gross domestic product (Fishman et al 2015). Following their
example and attempting to increase active travel uptake would therefore be beneficial to society
in all indicators of wellbeing: social and economical.
1.4.2 Dangerisation
Reid explains the concept of dangerisation in an article:
A great deal of cycle campaigning is currently stressing the dangers of cycling, and too often
ignoring the multiple reasons why so many people get into cycling in the first place
Negative campaigning has its place, but it shouldn't be the only and main form of campaigning.
In his book Risk, geographer John Adams, a leading authority on perceived risk, said:
“The safety advice aimed at cyclists stresses the danger of cycling to the point that all but the
heedless and foolhardy are likely to give it up.”
(Reid, 2013)
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Horton discusses the role of road safety education and the promotion of safety equipment as
factors which, deliberately or inadvertently, create fear of cycling out of proportion to its
associated risk (Horton et al, 2007).
1.4.3 Barriers to Cycling Uptake
In Ireland, the Climate Change Research Report Programme (CCRP) 2007 2013 Report
Series No.7 examined what prevents greater uptake of sustainable transport options, and found
“[t]here is a perception that cycling and walking are unsafe and potentially hazardous” (Browne
et al, 2011). This finding is echoed in the Climate Change and Transport Choices (Thornton
et al, 2010) report: “Bicycles were perceived as the least safe mode [of transport] both in terms
of accidents and crime” (section 3.7.3. p. 68).
This fear is more closely examined by David Horton, who explains how a car is an extension
of the privacy of the home, and goes on to contrast the experience of cycling:
[T]he bicycle affords no shield from the (masculine) gaze Especially for novice and returning
cyclists, the potential psychological barriers are massive; people are afraid of appearing inept
(Horton et al, 2012)
These emotions are not confined to those who don’t cycle. Using focus groups, Daley and
Rissel (2010, p. 211 216) found regular bicycle riders were concerned even positives about
their transport choice would lead to negative stereotyping. The groups also discussed the low
social status of bicycle riders. Aldred (2013) examined data from a number of studies using a
deviance and social identity perspective. She argued cyclists are stigmatised, either because of
being too competent or not being competent enough a lose-lose situation. Cavill and Watkins
found participants in their study voiced concerns consistent with the view that cycling is
strange, unusual, different behaviour that would lead to social sanction (i.e. their friends would
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laugh at them) (2007 p. 412). Colin Pooley discusses the social groups issue at play in a
reluctance to take up cycling in Promoting Walking and Cycling (2013, pp. 164 165).
Stigmatisation is therefore a strong concern, and fear of social sanction of deviant behaviour is
a strong barrier to cycling uptake.
The concerns expressed in the abovementioned studies is valid. Stigmatisation of cyclists in
media is common: a BikeBiz article (Reid 2012) reports on comments made by president of
the Automobile Association in Britain, Edmund King, who expressed his dismay at the abuse
directed at cyclists. Irish Cycles Cian Ginty (2015) showed the Irish thoughtscape is no
different. In The Guardian, Peter Walker reported on sabotage leading to cyclist injuries, and
discourse consistent with treatment of social out-groups (Walker 2015).
Cycling therefore necessitates deliberately leaving an extension of the privacy of the home;
engaging in behaviour viewed as deviant, with the associated risk of social sanction; working
the body in public; and through your actions aligning yourself with a social out-group that is
routinely stigmatised and vilified in media. It is therefore reasonable to assert there is a strong
possibility people will be reluctant to wear clothes that are different from their normal,
everyday clothes in which they’re comfortable; that are associated with exercise; and that mark
you as a member of a social out-group: cyclists.
1.4.4 Clothing Semiotics
Knapp et al (2013, p.191) cast light on the plethora of messages woven into the clothes we
wear, including identification with a specific group also mentioned by Tijana et al (2014).
Anthropology, too, recognises the strength of clothes as communicator of group affiliation
(Dettwyler 2011, p. 360).
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Aliakbari and Abdollahi showed how people’s behaviour towards strangers is affected by what
the stranger is wearing (2013). Considering use of a bicycle as transport (as opposed to use for
leisure or sport) has social status associations (Daley and Rissell 2010), and can be viewed as
deviant behaviour, it is worth considering the underlying associations possibly triggered by the
clothing cyclists are depicted wearing in safety promotional material.
2 Methodology
In order to answer the research question, two methods of investigation were used: interviews,
and a card sorting exercise.
2.1 Interviews
Five interviews were conducted: three respondents were male, and two female. Three use or
have in the past used a bicycle as major mode of transport (in the report following all considered
“cyclists”), one walks as main mode of transport, one uses a car as main mode of transport.
Two of the cyclists also drive, while one doesn’t drive at all. The respondent who only drives
for transport uses a bicycle for recreation in summer. The respondent who only walks
occasionally uses public transport for longer journeys.
All respondents were initially approached by electronic means, given a brief explanation of the
requirements for the interview, and asked if they would participate. On agreement, they were
sent a link to one of the videos in the series, and a number of questions to consider before the
interview. The respondent was met in person at an agreed time, and given a consent form to
read and sign. Interviews were recorded, and audio was stored securely on a password protected
hard drive. Transcripts were anonymised.
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2.1.1 Interviewee profiles
An attempt was made to approach respondents with similar backgrounds, so that differences in
responses would have a higher likelihood to be due to road use experience rather than other
factors. Commonalities are place of work, parenthood, age group, for four respondents paid
employment, and for three respondents type of work. Differences include gender, and the fact
that one respondent works as carer and is therefore dependent on social welfare support a
position often associated with economic precarity while the other four respondents are in paid
employment.
AH, female, is a senior administrator for a large institution. She is a mother with school-aged
children, and lives within five kilometres of her place of work. Her primary mode of transport
is a car. She occasionally rides a bicycle for recreation in summer. (Appendix 1)
EC, male, is a Creative Media lecturer at an institute of technology. He is a father with adult
children, and while he used to do a lot of cycling a few years ago, he now uses public transport
or walks. (Appendix 2)
FC, male, is a Creative Media lecturer at an institute of technology. He is a father with small
children, and uses a bicycle as his primary mode of transport, though he occasionally drives.
He lives within five kilometres of his place of work. (Appendix 3)
FR, female, is a single mother and works as fulltime carer for her teenaged autistic child. She
does not drive at all, as her residence in a town centre means everything she needs is within
walking distance. She occasionally uses public transport for longer distances. (Appendix 4)
KM, male, is a Creative Media lecturer at an institute of technology. He is a father with adult
children, and lives more than 60km from his place of work. For his commute, he rides a bicycle
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to a station, then travels by public transport to his place of work. He holds a driving licence
and drives occasionally. (Appendix 5)
2.1.2 Interviews Analysis
The interviews were transcribed and analysed for common themes. Five such themes were
identified: the image of a cyclist, responsibility, vulnerability, social groups associations, and
sport associations.
2.1.2.1 The Image of a Cyclist
Three of the five respondents had a strong negative response to the question: Is this what a
cyclist should look like? One response was: “No. It should look like an ordinary person
(emphasis mine) the implication being that the video depicted a cyclist as not being an
ordinary person. These respondents believe the depiction of a cyclist is not in keeping with the
everyday reality they see around them. Two of the respondents in this camp are cyclists
themselves, and do not identify at all with the represented image. They judge the representation
to be disconnected from reality. Among cyclists “there’s an awful variety, whereas this depicts
a young, athletic woman” who is “done up” specially for cycling.
Further, they object to the depiction of a cyclist as “someone who has to go out of the way to
have specialised clothing and specialised knowledge”. The two cyclists objecting to the image
as ideal state they themselves wear ordinary, everyday clothing and don’t wear helmets, though
one of the two supports helmet use.
The next respondent agrees, though not strongly, the depiction is what a cyclist should look
like: “I suppose maybe…” but still sees a disconnect between the depiction and realistic
practicalities: “I know it’s not feasible for everybody”. They state reflective gear and a helmet
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should be worn for the cyclist’s own safety, but professionals going to work would not want to
wear “jogging bottoms and runners and that type of thing”.
The final respondent, also a cyclist, agrees: “I suppose… yes.” It is interesting to note that their
motivation for agreeing is framed from the perspective of a driver: “From being a driver, I think
making yourself visible … is hugely important…” They themselves wear clothing similar to
that depicted in the video when cycling.
2.1.2.2 Responsibility
The same three respondents who feel strongly the depiction is not ideal, also feel drivers should
bear the most responsibility for a cyclist’s safety: “I thought the ads suggest … the onus is on
the cyclist to take care of themselves, when as a driver and a cyclist I [think] they should be
focusing on the drivers… When I was teaching my kids to drive, I taught them that a car is
essentially a lethal weapon… I drive like that. If I see a cyclist, I slow down, let them do
whatever it is they’re doing… it’s my repsonsibility as a driver to not [do] damage.”
Another respondent linked the prescribed mode of dress directly with assignment of
responsibility: “Saying to the cyclist you must be dressed this way, you must portray yourself
this way all so that these people who are the least vulnerable… won’t hurt you, is victim
blaming.” They also compared cars to weapons: “What we need to be doing is saying to
[drivers]: listen, you are driving a weapon… your responsibility is to ensure that you are not
hurting all these people…”. Another respondent also referred to victim blaming: “It’s almost
like saying a woman couldn’t wear a short skirt. It’s your responsibility, you brought it on
yourself. Everyone has a responsibility on the road, drivers more so than cyclists. And yet that
is not the message that these ads send out.”
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The respondent who was hesitant in their response was also uncertain in discussion of
responsibility. However, it seems their sentiment leans in the direction of the cyclist being
responsible for their own safety. Cyclists should wear reflective gear and a helmet “for their
own safety, because… it’s very easy to get distracted in traffic.”
The respondent who felt strongly that cyclists should look as depicted in the video tended to
assign responsibility for their own safety to cyclists, even though they advocated for a change
in thinking among all road users. Explaining that they cycle with not only reflective wear, but
also lights, even in the daytime, to increase their visibility, they explained: “I’m trying to…
make sure drivers see me as early as they possibly can… my mindset is about creating
awareness about being on the road for other drivers…” (emphasis mine). Note the phrasing
indicating possible identification with drivers as a group. While they emphasised that all road
users should do their best to be as visible as possible, arguing drivers should always have their
lights on, they considered possible scenarios from the perspective of a driver, discussing
problems that may be caused due to poor visibility in terms of the problems it would create for
drivers.
This respondent too, emphasised the most vulnerable on the road should be the most important
and argued there should be a change in how driving is taught. Even so, discussion of their own
experience while cycling revolved around what drivers are thinking, what effect their presence
as cyclist has on the driver, though it is followed by an assertion that in spite of these
frustrations the driver has a duty of care: “I know cars treat me as a nuisance, that’s how they
view you… I am frustrating them because they can’t zoom past me. I am causing a blockage
in them proceeding and they are having to pass me out and bla bla bla [indicating here that
these sentiments are irrelevant, and don’t absolve the driver of duty of care]. [Driving] should
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be taught as that you’re holding an egg… and you need to be even more careful with
pedestrians”.
2.1.2.3 Vulnerability
None of the respondents were prompted to discuss vulnerability, yet four of the five turned to
this topic of their own accord. The seintiment in all cases was that drivers should be more aware
of the vulnerability of cyclists, and this view was unaffected by opinion on what clothing a
cyclist should wear. “If [as a driver] you’re in an impact… with a pedestrian or a cyclist… it
doesn’t matter who is at fault. It’s irrelevant. The other person is going to be injured and you
aren’t.” Everyone makes mistakes, this respondent reasons further, including cyclists, but
drivers’ mistakes are more costly. [Drivers] don’t seem to understand, if I make a mistake,
my life’s at risk, while if you make a mistake, nothing’s actually going to happen to you.”
Another respondent described a hierarchy of vulnerability, which serves when inverted as a
hierarchy of responsibility. The most vulnerable is the pedestrian, followed by the cyclist, then
the driver of a car, a van, a bus, a heavy goods vehicle. Duty of care should be greatest for
those at the bottom of that list, and least for those at the top. They felt the message to wear
special clothing broadcasts the opposite: that duty of care is heaviest on the most vulnerable.
The respondents who were most in agreement with the image of a cyclist in the video argued
that this high vulnerability justifies the argument for high visibility clothing and a helmet.
Discussing concerns about such clothing not looking “cool”, one respondent agued “it’s more
about safety [than] whether I’m wearing a cool-looking jacket or not.” Another respondent in
agreement that the depiction in the videos is the ideal expressed great concern about head
injuries, and concluded: “…reflective gear and a helmet, I do think they’re important for
cyclists, for their safety… you don’t have a carriage around you for any protection.”
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2.1.2.4 Social Groups Associations
Parts of the discussion that can be said to touch on social groups associations were made in
four of the five interviews. One respondent remarked the appearance of the cyclist creates the
impression you have to “look the part”. Another pointed out professionals going to work would
not dress in that way. The third who remarked on social groups issues discussed the matter at
length. They strongly disagreed with the image as ideal, then explained they seldom see cyclists
dressed like that. “You might see them on a Saturday morning and there’s a whole bunch of
them going flying through town.” This indicates such dress marks the cyclist as “other”, not
part of the town, someone just flying through in a group.
They continue: “[In the video] the idea is very much that you have to spend a lot of money and
have a lot of knowledge about what you’re doing… it gave the impression that this was not for
anyone, it is for a specific subset…”.
The last respondent who made remarks related to social groups issues, said: “[W]hen I was
twenty-something I would go like: I’m not wearing a helmet, I’m not wearing a vis, because,
it’s how I’m looked at.”
2.1.2.5 Sport Associations
Two of the five respondents made specific reference to the clothing worn creating the
impression cycling is a sport, rather than a mode of transport. This contributes to the message
that it is not for everyone: “It looks like someone dressed for sport, so it feels that it conveys
[the] message that cycling is… not professional, but it’s an activity you have to prepare for…
It’s like gear you put on for sport.”
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Another respondent felt: “You don’t need to put on a power walking outfit to go out for a walk.
The same should be for cycling. Because 90% of people are not in a velodrome. They’re not in
a race. They’re just trying to get from A to B. And if you’ve got to change an outfit specifically
because you’re going cycling, it defeats the purpose.”
A third respondent made indirect reference to the clothing shown creating the impression that
it was a sport, when referring to the trousers as “jogging bottoms” and the shoes as “runners”.
2.1.3 Interviews Conclusion
Two interviewees thought the depiction of a cyclist in the video is ideal, three did not. None of
the respondents absolved cyclists of all repsonsibility for their own safety, but some assigned
the greater responsibility to drivers, and others assigned the greater responsibility to cyclists.
Those who displayed a conviction that cyclists are primarily responsible showed greater
support for the necessity of high visibility clothing and a helmet. Those who displayed a
conviction that drivers are primarily responsible showed less support for high visibility clothing
and a helmet. The topic of vulnerability arose without prompting in four of the interviews, in
each case the respondent argued that drivers should take greater care.
The respondents seemed to feel the clothing in which the cyclist was dressed marked the cyclist
as other, and would not be a desirable appearance for many people in their everyday lives. In
addition, the clothing broadcast the message that cycling was for a specific subset, particularly
affluent people who can afford special gear and expensive bicycles.
Those respondents who referred directly or indirectly to an association with sport believed the
cyclist depicted in the video looked as if they were dressed for a sport activity. They believed
this contributed to a message that cycling is not for everyone, and not for everyday transport.
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2.2 Questionnaire and Card Sorting Results
A questionnaire (Appendix 6) and card sorting exercise were used to determine whether the
clothing a cyclist is shown wearing in an image would affect respondents’ judgement of the
safety and social acceptability of cycling, and whether it would affect the likelihood that they
will associate the image with exercise or sport.
The first two questions determined gender and age. Five Likert scale (McLeod, 2008) questions
determined transport use. Respondents were then presented with one of two sets of cards, each
with a photo of the same model either walking, cycling, on a bus, in a taxi, or driving a car, all
cards identical except for the photo of the cyclist. Card Set A showed the cyclist in clothing
comparable to that worn by the model in the RSA videos: a high visibility jacket, helmet and
sports clothes (from here on referred to as RSA Style for convenience). Card Set B showed the
cyclist in everyday clothing (Appendix 7). All photos were staged specially for the card sets.
Respondents were asked to arrange the cards in order from the least safe, to the most safe. The
purpose was to ascertain if there would be any difference in ranking of the cyclist when using
different card sets.
They were then asked to arrange the cards in order from the one they would most like to be
selected to the one they would least like to be selected, if they were in the photos and one card
had to be chosen to be shown to all their friends. The purpose was to ascertain if there would
be a difference in ranking of social acceptability between card sets.
Respondents were approached at five separate locations over a period of two weeks. The first
batch of responses came from a knitting group. The second batch of responses were from the
eating area in the nursing building in DkIT at 11am. One of the dangers of collecting responses
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on campus is that your respondents will be overwhelmingly in their early twenties. In this
building, however, a sizable portion of the respondents were women in their late thirties/early
forties.
The third batch of responses was from parents waiting for their children to finish a lesson at a
martial arts school on a Saturday morning. The children attending were mostly between seven
and ten years old, with parents and grandparents who responded ranging in ages from late
twenties to mid fifties. The fourth batch of responses came from visitors to the food court in a
shopping centre on a Friday morning, again with good variety in ages.
The final batch of responses were gathered from students and staff in the main restaurant in
DkIT at lunchtime on a Monday. While this batch mostly included younger respondents,
overall responses came from a wide variety of people, across a wide range of ages and
backgrounds.
A total of 75 responses were gathered (Appendix 8). Two were deemed unusable, leaving a
sample size of 73. Because the responses were gathered in a relatively intense, one-on-one
setting, and the exercise involved a considerable investment from the respondents (compared
to, for instance, an online survey), this sample size is of high quality, giving useful data.
2.2.1 Overview and Observations
The majority of respondents would select their choices for least and most safe almost
immediately, then take more time to arrange the rest. Respondents seemed to really invest
themselves, carefully considered their choices, often voicing their thoughts and reasoning as
they pondered their decision. Situations were chosen for data gathering where respondents
would not be in a hurry, so every one of the responses was thoughtfully considered.
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A few older women remarked with amusement that they rated walking or cycling highest in
the social acceptability test because they wanted to be seen to be active.
I was surprised by the strength of conviction across almost all respondents on the danger of
cycling. One respondent remarked, as they arranged the cards in a row with cycling on the
“least safe” end, that if they could place the cycling card an arm’s length farther to the “unsafe”
side, they would.
2.2.2 Responses
All ratings are reported in percentages rather than numbers for comparison. Data was processed
using Microsoft Excel.
2.2.2.1 Safety Rating
FIGURE 1: SAFETY RATING OVERALL AND BY CARD SET
74% of respondents rated cycling least safe. However, 8% more respondents using Card Set A
(RSA style) ranked cycling as least safe than respondents using Card Set B (everyday clothing).
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2% more respondents using Card Set B (everyday clothing) rated cycling most safe (fig. 1). It
therefore seems that overall, respondents were more likely to rate cycling least safe if the cyclist
in the image was clothed in the style shown in RSA multimedia than if the cyclist in the image
was clothed in everyday clothing, and slightly more people rated cycling most safe when seeing
the cyclist in everyday clothing than when seeing the cyclist in the clothing style used by the
RSA.
FIGURE 2: SAFETY RATING FEMALE AND FIGURE 3: SAFETY RATING MALE
When results are split by gender, 3% more female respondents presented with Card Set A (RSA
style) rated cycling as least safe than those presented with Card Set B (everyday clothing) (fig.
2). The difference among male respondents was more marked, with 12% more male
respondents rating the bicycle as least safe when presented with Card Set A (RSA style) than
when presented with Card Set B (everyday clothing) (Fig. 3). It therefore seems that the
dangerisation effect is more pronounced among males than females.
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18
FIGURE 4: SAFETY RATING UNDER 30 AND FIGURE 5: SAFETY RATING 30 AND OVER
Considering the remarks made in interview that the respondent rated their appearance more
important when they were in their twenties, and now older considers safety more important
responses were also divided by age group. Due to the small sample size, only two age groups
were used, with age 30 as the dividing line. Among the younger age group, respondents mostly
rated cycling least safe. However, 5% more respondents presented with Card Set A (RSA style)
rated cycling least safe than respondents presented with Card Set B (everyday clothing) (Fig.
4). At 76% overall, 3% more of those aged thirty and over rated the bicycle least safe than
those aged under thirty. 10% fewer respondents who were presented with Card Set B (everyday
clothing) rated the bicycle least safe than those presented with Card Set A (RSA style) (fig. 5).
Respondents aged 30 and over were therefore only slightly more likely to rate cycling least
safe than those aged under 30, but the difference in responses between those viewing Card Set
A and Card Set B was more marked among the older age group than the younger age group.
The data therefore suggests that viewing a cyclist clothed in the style used consistently in RSA
mutimedia, including print and video, results in a reinforcement of a perception of cycling as
dangerous.
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19
2.2.2.2 Social Acceptability Rating
FIGURE 6: SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY RATING OVERALL
The acceptability rating was more evenly spread than the safety rating. 39% of all respondents
rated cycling most or second-most acceptable. 42% rated cycling least or second-least
acceptable. The number of respondents using Card Set B (everyday clothing) who rated cycling
as most acceptable, at 16%, was double that of respondents using Card Set A (RSA style), at
8%. The number of respondents using Card Set A (RSA style) who rated cycling least
acceptable was 12% higher than respondents using Card Set B (everyday clothing) (fig. 6).
The Silent Message Nadia Williams Communications in Creative Multimedia
20
SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY RATING - FIGURE 7: FEMALE AND FIGURE 8: MALE
Dividing responses to the social acceptability question by gender showed interesting results.
18% more female respondents rated the bicycle as least socially acceptable when shown Card
Set A (RSA style) than when shown Card Set B (everyday clothing) (fig. 7). 29% more male
respondents presented with Card Set A (RSA style) rated cycling as socially unacceptable than
those presented with Card Set B (everyday clothing) (fig. 8). The results therefore suggest that
the RSA style clothing has a stronger effect on perception of social acceptability for males than
for females.
SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY RATING - FIGURE 7: UNDER 30 AND FIGURE 8: 30 AND OVER
Age proved to have a pronounced effect on perception of cycling’s social acceptability. The
under 30 group’s rating of cycling as least acceptable was 13% higher than among all
The Silent Message Nadia Williams Communications in Creative Multimedia
21
respondents, while the 30 and over group’s rating of cycling as least acceptable was 15% lower
than the overall result.
15% more respondents in the under 30 group presented with Card Set A (RSA style) thought
cycling was least acceptable, than those presented with Card Set B (everyday clothing) (fig. 7).
Among respondents 30 and older, viewing a cyclist in RSA style clothing resulted in only 7%
more respondents rating it least acceptable. However, there was an interesting result in the
second most acceptable result in this age group: 20% more of those presented with Card Set A
(RSA style) thought cycling was the second most acceptable transport option, than those
presented with Card Set B (everyday clothing). (fig. 8).
2.3 Discussion
Results from the card sorting exercise indicate that depicting a cyclist in clothing such as worn
in the RSA videos broadcasts the message that cycling is dangerous, and in that way reinforces
barriers to cycling uptake. The results also indicate that clothing such as shown in the video
leads to a greater tendency to deem cycling socially unacceptable. This effect was consistent
across gender and age divisions, with the effect on perception of both safety and social
acceptability most evident in male respondents.
The responses and themes that emerged from the interviews are consistent with these results.
Respondents saw a disconnect between the image of a cyclist in the video, and the everyday
reality they observe around them. Even when in agreement with the image, doubts were
expressed about the everyday practicality of such an outfit. The clothing marks the cyclist as
part of the kind of high end cyclists who fly past in a peleton, who cycle as a sport, and who
are part of a more affluent subset of society; disconnected, when in that guise, from the general
public. One possible problem here is that everyday cyclists do not identify with the
The Silent Message Nadia Williams Communications in Creative Multimedia
22
representation in the video, and therefore do not absorb the safety message as it does not seem
to be directed at them. Another is that the message is broadcast that cycling is not for you, it’s
for special people with specialised skills.
Respondents who supported this image as the ideal were also more likely to assign the bulk of
responsibility for their own safety to the cyclist. The danger in this is that drivers will
subconsciously absorb the message that they are not responsible, and all respondents agreed
that drivers have the greatest duty of care. Even the utmost adherence to law and to safety
recommendations on the part of a cyclist is null and void if a driver, for instance, looks down
at their mobile phone, texting while driving. No amount of high visibility clothing will make a
cyclist visible to the driver in those circumstances.
The dilemma presented by these findings is that convincing motivations can be offered for each
item of clothing worn, except for the trousers and shoes. A possible solution is to show the
cyclist in clothing that complies with safety requirements, but doesn’t look obviously
distinctive. Studies on visibility may offer insight into how cyclists can be encouraged to at
least be more visible: instead of pushing for cyclists to conform to an ideal out of touch with
reality and the demands of appearance for work or social acceptance, an attempt can be made
to promote choice of brighter, more visible colours over black, dark brown, or dark grey.
Alternatively, cyclists can be shown in high visibility gear that conforms to the fashion of the
day.
The net effect on population health of poor cycling uptake should be compared to the net effect
on population health of non-use of clothing such as shown in the videos viewed by the
interviewees and the print visual used in the card sorting exercise. A decision must be made
whether the price of the message that cycling is dangerous and socially unacceptable is worth
its cost.
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3 Additional Observations and
Recommendations for Further Study
The strength of conviction of the danger of cycling was far greater than expected. A repetition
of the card sorting exercise, using images of activities such as skydiving, rock climbing, bungee
jumping, and skiing, my cast more light on just how dangerous the general public think cycling
is.
The results suggest a much stronger view of cycling as socially unacceptable among
respondents aged under thirty than in those aged over thirty. This is an area worth exploring.
A possible weakness of the study is that responses were all gathered in the same town, though
special effort was made to use locations likely to attract visitors from farther afield. Though it
is highly unlikely, a sample of a greater variety of geographic locations within Ireland may
yield different results, and offer insights into areas where perceptions of safety are significantly
different from the norm. Such areas can be investigated for variables that may provide clues to
changing this perception, and consequently increasing the likelihood of higher cycling uptake.
The data collected in the card sorting exercise can be further mined for results, examining
whether respondents’ perceptions of cycling safety were influenced by their own main mode
of transport, and whether their perceptions of the safety of other modes of transport were
influenced by the differing depictions of a cyclist. Data can also be processed with a view to
understanding the perceptions of other modes of transport without regard for the differential of
the depiction of a cyclist.
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