Anatomy of the death of a cyclist – William Honour

I mentioned in yesterday’s post on Cyclecraft that I generally avoid dual carriageways (along with single-carriageway trunk A-roads) as much as I possibly can. I don’t think this is irrational. The relative approach speeds of vehicles behind me, and the general attentiveness of drivers operating them, are not a recipe for my safety.

And today there comes a report of the inquest into the death of a cyclist killed on just one of these types of roads – the A322 Bagshot road, in Surrey.

The speed limit here is, unsurprisingly, 70 mph. The 79-year old William Honour would have been travelling at a fraction of that speed when he was clipped by a vehicle, obviously passing him far too close, at 9:45 am on Saturday 23rd October 2010. Presumably sent into a wobble by this initial impact, Honour was then struck again by a following vehicle. At this point he started to fall from his bike, whereupon he was run over by the third vehicle, and died a short while later in hospital.

The sole press report to have emerged so far is instructive. The first driver, the one who initially clipped Mr. Honour, had this to say –

Giving evidence Michael Bull, the driver of the Ford Focus said: “I looked in my mirror after I heard a bang on the nearside door. Someone appeared to be falling over. I didn’t see a bike, I thought he was a pedestrian. I did feel I was driving as carefully as I could.”

Mr. Bull felt he was ‘driving as carefully as he could’, yet curiously did not even see a human being in the road in front of him, on what the inquest reports was a ‘bright and sunny day’. He was only alerted to the fact he had struck Mr. Honour by the noise of the impact.

The second driver, Rachel Marriott, who again struck Mr. Honour, was, apparently, driving just as carefully as Mr. Bull.

When I saw him he was upright cycling and there was no cause for concern. I noticed mist on my window and I went to put my right hand up and as my hand made contact with the windscreen my bonnet was level with the cyclist and I saw the cyclist wobble which made me react. I swerved right and didn’t even check my blind spot so I’m glad there was nothing on my right side. I knew he was falling so I had to get out of the way.

Upon seeing a cyclist, as Ms. Marriott reports she did, a safe and competent driver would already be moving, or planning to move, into the outside lane of the dual carriageway, to give the sufficient amount of clearance stipulated by rule 163 of the Highway Code. Yet despite ‘swerving right’, Ms. Marriott still managed to hit a wobbling cyclist, which quite plainly reveals that this driver was passing Mr. Honour far too closely. In her own words, she hadn’t checked her blind spot, which directly implies that she was not planning to move out of her lane while overtaking Mr. Honour. Worse than that, while attempting to pass with this totally inadequate clearance, she felt this was a good moment to reach forward and wipe mist off her window.

But it gets better. Here is the account of the final driver, the one who ran over Mr. Honour.

Catherine Nicker, the driver of the Citroen C1, told the inquest she was travelling at around 40mph and left a space of two car lengths from the Alfa Romeo in front. She said: “I first saw the cyclist coming out to the side of the car in front. He came out and already started to fall, he was astride his bike on the floor. I was in shock, it all happened so quickly. Maybe if I had left more space between me and the car in front, but I thought I had left enough room. Apart from that there’s nothing I could do.”

Yes. Maybe Ms. Nicker could have left more than ‘two car lengths’ space between her vehicle and the Alfa Romeo ahead. Maybe she might then have seen the cyclist before he had been struck by a vehicle a few feet in front of her. Maybe she might then have had time to react, and avoided killing someone.

But these are just ‘maybes’. Plainly there was nothing else Ms. Nicker could have done. Somebody died, but ‘accidents’ like this just happen. That’s what the coroner thinks. The verdict?

Accidental death.

The individual testimony of all three drivers reveals, in their own words, the nature of their substandard and unsafe driving. If just one of these drivers had been paying the due amount of attention, Mr. Honour would still be alive, yet together, they created a perfect storm which resulted in his death. However, the coroner, Peter Bedford, chose, for some reason, to completely ignore this evidence, instead glibly suggesting that

Perhaps all of us can learn something from this tragic event.

‘Perhaps’ we can all learn something? Yeah, perhaps. Or perhaps not. Perhaps we’ll go on driving a few feet from the car in front, not paying attention to the road, not planning on giving safe clearance to cyclists. Whatever. Someone died, it’s not that important.

As a final insult, despite admitting that he does not know whether it would have changed the outcome, the ‘main cause’ of death is bafflingly attributed by the coroner to Mr. Honour’s lack of cycle of helmet.

 I do feel wearing a helmet would have increased Mr Honour’s chances of survival. We are all very quick to put helmets on our children but we are all vulnerable. Whether it would have changed the outcome I cannot say.

Let me spell this out to Mr. Bedford. William Honour was run over by a car travelling at 40 mph. The thin polystyrene shell of a helmet offers no protection at all to the human skull against the massive weight of a motor vehicle. This is quite obvious, but apparently it needs restating. Cycle helmets do not stop your head being crushed. They offer some protection in low speed crashes, but they are effectively useless in collisions with motor vehicles.


In case it needs to be said, this case has not changed my mind about cycling along national speed limit dual carriageways or rural A-roads. I have surrendered my right to use them. I’m not as brave as William Honour.

This entry was posted in Cyclecraft, Cycling policy, Dangerous driving, Road safety, The judiciary, Transport policy. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Anatomy of the death of a cyclist – William Honour

  1. Amoeba says:

    Without access to the post mortem it is impossible to say whether a helmet would have saved Mr Honour, but the likelihood is that the victim would have suffered other fatal injuries as a result of being hit at 40 mph. And of course helmets offer little protection at such speeds.

    The cause of the accident as described is dangerous, incompetent driving. By ‘dangerous’, I mean driving at a speed and at such close-proximity to cause a severe hazard to a vulnerable road user. I wonder what the verdict would have been if instead of a car, the cyclist had been struck by a bullet fired so as to pass so close to Mr Honour, that it struck him a glancing blow? I suspect the fact that Mr Honour wasn’t wearing a helmet wouldn’t have been mentioned.

    Note: By my calculations (and assuming I haven’t made an error): At 70 mph the Ford Focus (1,150 kg, 31.3 m/s) possesses ~400 times the muzzle energy of a 44 magnum revolver bullet (0.011 kg 490.73 m/s). This is the worst case, because the bullet begins slowing down as soon as it leaves the muzzle.
    From this it might be safer to ban cars on public roads and use them to set-up firing ranges, as long as those doing the shooting don’t actually shoot at the cyclists and pedestrians.

    The Coroner is a fool if he believes that he possesses adequate knowledge to hold such an opinion. He does a disservice to the Public.

  2. Brad Kilburn says:

    I first learned of this incident from the sole press report and was quite appalled at the emphasis placed on Mr. Honour’s lack of cycle helmet.

    His cause of death was listed as “head injuries” and prognostications were made as to if he had been wearing a helmet, his injuries may have been reduced.

    I’m sure there were other, massive internal injuries that led to death but to give the impression that cycle helmets are effective in collisions of this magnitude, and at this speed is simply, irresponsible.

  3. Donk says:

    I need to stop reading cycling blogs, especially at night after a few beers, I just get deeply depressed, stories of cyclists deaths, trivialised, lame excuses establised, motorists exonerated of all blame, cyclist blamed where possible and the whole matter swept aside as a minor nuisance to our great car society.

    • I tried avoiding reading news reports of cycling deaths, but I found that it’s important to learn as much as possible from the information on cycling accidents. One thing that helps maintain perspective is to realize that cycling is the safest form of personal transportation. Car travel is actually more dangerous, so is personal transportation by aircraft. Cycling is not as safe as mass transport, but then again, mass transport doesn’t go everywhere we need to go – and that’s also important to understand, because it helps us to realize that freedom of travel outweighs the small amount of risk involved.

      Still, if the news articles are making us avoid cycling, it’s best to shut them out and continue to cycle, especially if the alternative is to use a car – because cars are even less safe. I’d rather be on a bike than in one of those steel coffins.

  4. Pingback: Dual carriageways, and how cyclists get hit on them | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  5. It sounds like Mr. Honour was killed in part as a result of cycling too far to the left – in the gutter. This allows poor drivers to make unsafe passes (too close) in the same lane. This is why cars were passing him without changing lanes. If he had been riding farther out into the lane, passing cars would have been forced to slow and change lanes to pass, which is far safer.

    Helmet use plays a role in the severity of accidents, but it will never prevent an accident. The idea that wearing a helmet could have led to Mr. Honour surviving is kind of irrelevant, when this accident should have been easily preventable. News reports of bicycle accidents often focus on helmet use – this comes from a basic societal prejudice that cycling is unsafe and from childish faith in a cycling helmet’s superpowers.These beliefs are fear-based and cannot be easily dispelled until cycling becomes a mainstream activity.

    Correct lane position can prevent accidents like these. Taking a controlling lane position (cycling well out into the lane) negates driver incompetence such as following too close and unsafe passing because it forces drivers to slow and change lanes, thus giving the cyclist room and reducing the speed differential of overtaking traffic.

    • Expecting people to cycle on a road with a 70 mph limit (where cars will quite often be travelling at 80 mph) is lunacy.

      No amount of correct road positioning will offset the utter madness of 60mph+ speed differentials.

      • That’s nonsense. Cars have brakes and steering wheels. Drivers can easily slow down. To suggest they can’t is to suggest that cyclists don’t belong on the roads.

        I’m all for lower speed limits, but I will never concede the disgusting notion that the road is not a place for cyclists. Nor should you!

      • This is where dogma can lead you into absurdity. It is not ‘disgusting’ to say that a road where vehicles are travelling at over 70 mph is not a place for a person on a bicycle, any more than it would be to say a motorway is no place for walking.

        • If dogma is leading anyone into absurdity, it ain’t me. If I have a dogma, it’s British traffic law. Yours seems to be the dogma of ‘cars rule’, which is specifically refuted by traffic law.

      • It is, of course, legal to cycle on 70 mph roads in Britain.

        Yet strangely enough, it’s not something many people choose to do. With good reason.

    • Christopher says:

      Ian Brett Cooper,
      You are wrong, Mr. Honour was killed not because of his positioning, because as you stated in a subsequent comment “Cars have brakes and steering wheels. Drivers can easily slow down. To suggest they can’t is to suggest that cyclists don’t belong on the roads.” It appears you can’t even agree with yourself, that is quite honestly trying to have it both ways.
      Mr. Honour was killed because he was struck by a vehicle travelling at dangerous speed. Such roads are very dangerous for vulnerable road users. As research has shown, an increasing number of drivers are unwilling to forego the pleasures of facebook, texting and surfing the internet, just because they are driving. Are they going to be able to steer or brake around cyclists while reading their emails?
      Driven to Distraction – centre/press releases/post/2010/10/driven to distraction/

      Try being honest with others and yourself for a change. You might then realise that Dutch-style infrastructure is nothing to be afraid of, it is in-fact to be welcomed.
      By Markenlei – Round the clock cycling in the Netherlands –
      And don’t think that Dutch cyclists are necessarily slow

  6. Ian, Cyclists don’t belong on roads (in the sense of fast inter-urban highways and urban bypasses/ringroads). Once you accept that proposition, you can move forward towards Dutch or Danish-style mass cycling based on properly-designed cycling infrastructure. But if you stick on this point you continue to condemn cyclists to dangerous and unpleasant sharing with fast motor vehicles and cycling to its tiny current UK/US modal share.

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