But the news of the tragic death of a prolific cycling safety activist this week turned into a expletive-ridden social media mud-slinging competition.
After experiencing numerous close calls with vehicles while cycling, Cameron Frewer, 44, who helped launch the campaign Safe Pass, Drive Wide, was fatally hit by a ute on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast on Monday.
The tragic manner of his death has been called “shocking and devastating” by Aussie cyclists and has prompted hundreds of heartfelt tributes from Mr Frewer’s supporters.
However, on news.com.au’s own safety debate Facebook page, Share The Road, the tragic father-of-three’s death sparked a debate which turned nasty almost instantly.
Our social media moderators spent hours deleting vicious attacks filled with swearing, insults and blaming from both cyclists and motorists. Eventually we had to simply turn the comments off. It was clearly getting out of hand.
Tom Reynolds, the general manger of marketing and communications, at Cycling Australia told news.com.au the debate between both sides had become toxic.
“There’s just a warped sense of blame and I think it mainly stems from congestion and the fact that people think cycling contributes to that,” he said.
“We tend to dehumanise cyclists because they ‘annoy’ us. People will get out and yell at cyclists because of congestion, but not at the 100 cars up the road.
“Maybe we’ve failed as a collectively as cycling groups to get that message across, or perhaps we have and no one is listening.”
Mr Reynolds said he couldn’t understand how this debate had become so polarised in Australia — a sporting nation with perfect weather, a massive obesity problem and ever-increasing congestion as we gravitate towards big cities.
However, he added that social media debates tend to bring out the extreme ends of public opinion and they are not broadly reflective of what most Aussies feel.
In a lengthy statement released yesterday, anti-cycling group Drivers for Registration of Cyclists said, “Australian cyclists in 2018 are no longer influenced solely by common sense”.
“Sadly, they’re also influenced by cycling lobby groups on social media,” an admin for the social media group with 43,000 followers wrote.
“Day after day, Australia’s cyclists are told human imperfection can be eradicated if they just keep demanding more legislation.
“They keep being told cycling can be made safe; that human imperfection ‘behind the wheel’ can somehow be eliminated.
“And when the inevitable happens, when another cyclist is killed by a motor vehicle, cyclists then express shock and outrage at the ability of human imperfection to still find it’s way into the equation.”
On Mr Frewer’s Drive Safe, Pass Wide Facebook page, an administrator who asked to remain anonymous wrote a powerful message about the toxic cycling debate.
“Australia used to have a wonderful culture of looking out for their fellow citizens and this culture has slowly eroded to selfish entitlement and hate towards others, especially vulnerable cyclists on our roads who are the last vilified group that society doesn’t protect,” the administrator wrote.
As debates on other cycling and anti-cycling social media pages rage on, a Ride of Silence has been organised in memory of MR Frewer this weekend and almost $12,000 has been raised to support his wife and three young children.
As news of Mr Frewer’s tragic death spread, emotional tributes have been posted online — including a powerful six-minute video message from his close friend Dave Sharp.
In the strongly worded video, Mr Sharp took aim at politicians and police, who he claims have done “nothing” to stop cyclists dying on Australia’s roads.
“I just can’t even comprehend this,” he begins. “No matter what you do. No matter how hard you plead and how often to god knows how many people — nothing changes.”
He goes on to describe how he met Mr Frewer 10 years ago and worked closely with him to promote cycling safety.
“To every transport minister in the country, to every police commissioner in the country — you’ve had years to do something about this and you continue to ignore the problem,” Mr Sharp said.
“We pretty much all wonder these days whether you guys give a sh*t. All you want to do is protect your own arses. You can’t do anything positive for cyclists because it’s going to cost you votes. That’s all you care about and it’s people like Cameron that lose out.”
As a response to the death, Cycling Australia, is calling on federal and state governments to improve the safety of all riders.
“Concerted and urgent action is required to address the alarming increase in serious injuries and deaths of cyclists over the last nine years,” a spokesman said in a statement.
“These preventable deaths and life-altering injuries on Australia’s roads must stop.
“This includes lifesaving education and enforcement of minimum passing distance laws now in place or pledged in all states and territories across Australia, with the exception of Victoria.”
A spokesman for Queensland Police said no one has been charged over Monday’s incident.
However, this is not unusual — as fatal traffic crash investigations can take quite some time before charges are laid.