Paula Jurek, a 20-year-old student from Poland, was crushed to death by a left-turning lorry at the junction of Camden Road and St Pancras Way on the 5th of April this year. The lorry driver was arrested on suspicion of causing death by careless driving. (The incident has been covered extensively by the Crap Waltham Forest blog).
Sadly Paula is only the latest in a long line of cyclists who have been killed in London. What is remarkable is how many of these deaths involve left-turning lorries. Off the top of my head, I can immediately think of three this year alone – Paula herself, David Poblet, and Daniel Cox. Other cyclists killed recently by HGVs turning left include David Vilaseca, Haris Ahmed and Everton Smith in 2010, Catriona Patel, Chrystelle Brown, Rebecca Goosen, Adrianna Skrzypiec, Meryem Ozekman, and Maria Fernandez in 2009, Wan-Chen Chang, Nga Diep and Anthony Smith in 2008. There are others.
In most of these cases (with a few notable exceptions), the drivers have escaped any punishment whatsoever. The main explanation seems to be that they could not see the cyclist, or that they were not aware of a cyclist being put into danger around their vehicle. There is some truth to this – lorries on London’s roads have quite significant blind spots, a gross deficiency which, at long last, is hopefully on its way towards being remedied. Whether these drivers are progressing on the assumption that there might be a human being in their blind spot, or on the assumption that there is nothing there at all, is of course another matter.
I have no doubt that cyclists do find themselves in these blind spots, and the lorry drivers, quite obviously, cannot see them. A problem is that the current layout of cycle lanes and ASLs (Advance Stop Lines) actively encourage cyclists to put themselves in the most dangerous positions possible around unsighted HGV drivers (see here and here for the desperately tragic symmetry between the layout of an ASL and that of a lorry blind spot).
But at the same time, there are undoubtedly lorry drivers who take stupid and dangerous risks around cyclists, particularly on left turns. Here is an example.
The flatbed lorry driver who appears in this clip is plainly determined to overtake the cyclist, at all costs, before he turns left (the video appears to show where the Tottenham Court Road race track meets the Euston Road). But there simply isn’t the time or space to do so, meaning that the cyclist is forced to abort his turn, almost coming to a halt to let the lorry proceed first. He notes - quite correctly – that had he maintained his road position
I would be a gonner!
The stupidity and recklessness of the lorry driver is apparent from this still photograph.
Only a few yards from the junction, he is still in the ‘Ahead Only’ lane, having failed to complete his overtake of the cyclist. Undeterred, yet quite obviously aware of the cyclist alongside him, he simply moves into the left hand turn lane, without even the courtesy of any indication.
It is worth noting how earlier in this video (at around the 4:06 mark) this same HGV driver has progressed well beyond the ASL, let alone the stop line, at the previous junction, completely obstructing a pedestrian crossing in the process, which gives an indication that this was not a momentary lapse in driving standards. With HGV drivers like this on London’s roads, it is not a great surprise to me that so many cyclists are killed or injured by these vehicles. Note also that additional conflict is created by a lorry parked illegally on what appear to be double red lines, just prior to the junction in question.
(Incidentally, I would suggest you watch this clip right to the end for some lunatic driving, moments later, by a ‘professional’ van driver).
Had this flatbed lorry driver ended up killing or maiming a cyclist who had not been so alert to the danger, would he have escaped punishment? In the absence of witnesses, or camera evidence, I sadly think it is quite possible. An investigator would have to discern whether the cyclist “went up the inside”, or whether the lorry driver simply left the cyclist no choice but to find himself trapped on the inside of his vehicle. If the cyclist is dead, the balance tips a little further towards the former conclusion, as the lorry driver’s word is effectively unanswerable.
Looking at this image of the positioning of the lorry that killed Paula Jurek
I find it difficult to believe that Paula “went up the inside”. I used to live very close to this junction, and it is a particularly tight corner. Any long vehicle is simply not able to proceed around it at anything much greater than walking speed. Would Paula have opted to place herself on the inside of a vehicle that was plainly turning left, as would be obvious for several seconds, owing to the speed at which the lorry would have been moving? I doubt it. What is more likely is that the lorry was attempting an overtake before turning left into the junction, probably having misjudged the speed at which Paula was travelling (there is a long hill to the left of this picture, and it is quite easy for any cyclist to be travelling at or over 20 mph at this junction). The overtake would then simply have not been complete when the lorry started to turn left, and Paula would have found herself walled in by the lorry, with nowhere to go as it closed in on her.
Of course, this is mere speculation – it will be interesting, nevertheless, to find which version of events an inquest finds more plausible, or indeed whether the driver will indeed face charges of causing death by careless driving, at all.