Cyclists need to start taking some responsibility

Driving Editorial
Cyclists on the streets of London

There is a vocal outpouring of grief and indignation in London on a regular basis these days, as yet another cyclist is tragically killed in an accident with a heavy vehicle (usually a bus or lorry).  In the first five months of this year, six cyclists have died and several others have been seriously injured.

Obviously any death on the roads is tragic, but there needs to be a much more balanced view on the causes, and more importantly, how we can avoid more cyclists being crushed under trucks.

The hysterical media reporting (and inevitable howling from cycling lobbyists) that accompanies each death or serious injury isn’t helping, and the tone and bias of every report is sending out the wrong message – that the cyclist is completely innocent and the HGV driver is completely guilty. This attitude has to change.

Here’s a way to end cycling deaths in London – cyclists need to stop throwing themselves under turning vehicles. Well, more politely, cyclists need to stop putting themselves into positions where they are likely to be caught and trapped by turning vehicles.

That might sound harsh and uncaring to those people who have been killed, but it’s ultimately true. Most of the fatal accidents involving cyclists are the result of a left-turning lorry or bus running over a cyclist caught on the vehicle’s left-hand-side. As the vehicle makes its left-hand turn, the cyclist is left with nowhere to go (except possibly up onto the pavement, which may not even be an option) and is crushed.

Cyclists need to show more caution

As someone who both drives and cycles (although I don’t cycle in central London because I believe that it is dangerous – too many vehicles in too congested a space with too many bad drivers and riders), I refuse to accept that the cyclists are blameless in these accidents, however tragic their deaths may be. When cycling, I am constantly on the lookout for vehicles which may turn left across my path, because I know that I am in a blind spot for almost any vehicle ahead of me. I will not ride up the inside of vehicles when approaching a corner, because if the vehicle hasn’t seen me and turns left, I will be the squashed cyclist. So I hang back until I am sure they are not turning and then resume pedalling. I often get yelled at or angrily overtaken by another pedalhead rushing into a potential zone of death, and it astounds me that people can be so ignorant of the danger to their own lives.

Broken bicycle after a fatal accident in London

As a pedestrian who walks along the busy streets of central London every day, I see swarms of cyclists buzzing all around heavy vehicles at every intersection, darting in and out of traffic across multiple lanes and refusing to slow down for clearly present dangers (or red lights, but that’s another story). It is amazing that there are not more accidents, given the way many cyclists ride.

It’s not all the fault of HGV drivers

There is a loudly proclaimed view that HGVs and vans should take more care to look out for ‘vulnerable’ road users – basically meaning cyclists and pedestrians.  Whilst this is absolutely true, it does not mean that the weight of responsibility falls entirely on the motor vehicles to avoid bicycles. It is every road user’s responsibility to respect and look out for every other road user, regardless of your mode of transport. City streets are crowded with different vehicles travelling at different speeds and vastly different turning & braking performance. HGV drivers already have enough difficulty negotiating the tight streets of London without having to try and jump out of the way of ignorant cyclists launching themselves into gaps that will inevitably disappear.

The person who should take most responsibility for the wellbeing of a ‘vulnerable’ road user is that person themself. It doesn’t matter what your legal rights are when you are in a hospital or morgue, you don’t put yourself into a situation which clearly increases your own risk.

Clearly cities like London need to find better ways to manage an increasing numbers of cyclists using the roads. Mixing vastly different vehicles in confined spaces will inevitably lead to collisions, and in those cases it is always the cyclist who will come off worst. Boris’ cycle superhighway plan for central London is a good start, but that’s only one road. Many more protected cycle paths are necessary, wherever they can possibly be created.

Education and regulation for cyclists

Cycling is a great way to get around a city, providing a healthy and environmentally-friendly way to quickly get from A to B. The problem is that cyclists receive no formal training or licencing, have no form of learning other than experience, and face no real penalties for dangerous riding unless they end up in an accident. By comparison, drivers of all vehicles are required to pass basic competency tests and are thoroughly policed. Their vehicles require annual roadworthiness inspections and they have to carry specific insurance before they can hit the road. HGV drivers require even more training and more expensive insurance. Yet any suggestions of regulating cyclists in any way are simply shouted down by cycling lobbyists.

It’s about time that cyclists started respecting road laws and other road users a lot more – for their own sakes as well as for the rest of us. Regulation may or may not not be the right answer, but there certainly needs to be more education and policing to ensure unsafe riding is addressed. It can’t be left up to other road users to prevent cyclists from being killed on our streets.

Stuart Masson

Stuart is the Editor of The Car Expert, which he founded in 2011, and our new sister site The Van Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the car industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

11 Comments

  1. Bryan Greenall

    A difficult subject this one I agree on most parts, but not being a cyclist myself it does bemuse me on what a good selection of cyclists actually do while out on the busy roads of the UK. Being a driving instructor I am constantly badgering my pups on the dangers and sometimes stupidity of said cyclists. As car drivers we do need to make sure we keep our eyes on the road and what some cyclists could do without much road sense given. As you put it not all the blame can go towards the vehicle driver, but a big part of it must do. A standards system must surely be put into place as is done for anybody wanting to learn to drive.
    Gone are the days of the cycling proficiency test and this needs to be addressed sooner rather than later as anybody can get on a bike and literally ride anywhere without any training or guidance…….really.
    Again a reply from an avid follower of your posts shared regularly via my media outlets.
    Cheers again.
    A footnote for you, do a blog on mobility scooters and the road as I will be doing my own blog on this dangerous matter soon.

    Reply
    • Interesting topic this but i feel your pretty much right its strange to me that a cyclist is allowed to travel on main busy roads with no precautions it could be a 10 year old and it would technically be a non issue.

  2. Better get your flak jacket on – the cycling mafia don't like any criticism of any cyclist in any situation ever. They'll be after you with their pitchforks and bike pumps!

    Reply
    • Comments that point out that Masson is slagging off dead people don't appear.

    • I think you may be reading a different article. Or reading something into it that isn't there. Or just looking for attention.

  3. don't worry Al, Stuart has been deleting comments he doesn't like because he is a sensitive little flower.

    #waronthemotorist

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Actually, I only reject comments which are offensive or abusive, or from those who have clearly failed to read the entire article (and spam, of course). Unfortunately, this topic has generated a lot of those, mostly (but not all) from lycra loonies. Most of them were rejected by the spam filter without even being presented for approval.

      This site has always had a moderated comments system and always will. Maybe if you read some of the many other articles we have here, you could learn something. There is inevitably a delay between posting a comment and it going live because I don't sit around all day waiting for abusive nobodies who hide behind fake names to post their tirades.

      And having a hashtag #waronthemotorist makes it pretty clear that you're not interested in genuine solutions.

  4. Frankly I'm amazed that more cyclists don't get killed with the way they ride straight through red lights and generally assume that everyone should get out of their way. Its very sad whenever someone dies (another one today I heard) but I agree with the author that it can't always be the HGV's fault.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Fortunately the cyclist involved in a collision with the tipper truck at London Bridge this morning was not killed. Seriously injured, though.

  5. Surely the onus has to be on the trucks and buses to avoid bikes on the roads? They have the power to kill a bike rider while they will always be unhurt in a collision with a bike, so it seems only fair that they should take responsibility

    Reply
  6. Interesting article on a touchy subject.
    As a driving instructor it is my responsibility to get my pupils to become aware of cyclists and the dangers that can arise from these situations.
    Vehicle drivers must hold most of the responsibility for the welfare of cyclists, but some of the responsibility must go to them too, as I do see some strange goings on around me when teaching. Some of the things cyclists do are beyond belief at times when rules of the road are broken even simple things like running red lights. Yes vehicle drivers break rules all the time, but as a cyclist you are in a very vulnerable position and must act with proper riding techniques to try reduce the risk of being involved in a accident. Vehicles have blind spots not covered by mirror checking alone so awareness of whether the car driver can see you is soooooooooo important on the busy roads nowadays. Lets hope these deaths will become less frequent in the future and that we can all get on the roads together in harmony.

    Reply

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