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?
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.