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.
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.