Bicycle beaconisation's the name, high-tech victim blaming's the game

October 25, 2023

driverless cars at crossroads detecting proximity beacons for cyclists and pedestrians

Everyone wants to stay safe on the roads. Unfortunately, there are wildly different ideas about how that's best achieved.

Beaconisation is a digital version of the red flag they waved ahead of early cars* - except this time it's for cyclists. If you think fitting pedestrians and cyclists with transponders to prevent them being run over in the brave new world offered by driverless cars sounds like back-to-front road safety, not to mention a little dystopian, prepare yourselves for some next-level, high-tech victim blaming.

When in doubt, blame the victim

Never let it be said that victim blaming by the car lobby hasn't moved with the times. Cars in 1920s America were a relatively new phenomenon, and the public reacted to a soaring toll of road deaths with natural outrage. Newspapers labelled killer drivers as ‘remorseless murderers’ and likened the threat they posed to an epidemic disease. In Detroit, angry mobs would drag dangerous drivers from their cars.


Car makers tackled a looming PR disaster head on, spinning the story that pedestrians hit by cars were guilty of the newly-coined offence of jaywalking. A culture of victim blaming was born, and a fallacy that road deaths are unavoidable accidents by drivers persists to this day.

jaywalking poster

With a new century has come a new challenge for car makers.

Autonomous vehicles will bristle with sensors and cameras, but the tech is far from fool-proof when it comes to spotting people and bicycles.

How will the driverless cars of the near future recognise and avoid cyclists and pedestrians? The answer offered by the car industry's perspective is simple. Put place responsibility on vulnerable road users.

Unfortunately, it appears the cycle industry seems all too keen to play along. Electronics company Bosch, Audi and bicycle companies including Shimano and Trek have joined forces to lobby for proximity beacons spottable by cars equipped with sensors, according to Forbes. These calls for so-called beaconisation once again place responsibility for safety on the victim - a topic touched upon in our documentary Stop Killing our Children.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of beaconisation, is what it means for those without properly functioning proximity beacons.

* following publication we were contacted by Carlton Reid, who wrote the Forbes piece we link to above, with this interesting correction: All good arguments ... except the red flag bit. No early cars were ever slowed down by a red flag. That law was repealed about six years before creation of first cars and about 20 years before the so-called "Emancipation Act". It was propaganda spread by pioneer motorists.


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