I wrote in April of the death of William Honour, a 79-year-old cyclist who was killed on a dual carriageway in Surrey after being clipped by two vehicles, and run over by a third. What was apparent from the inquest (yet not so apparent to the presiding coroner, who strangely decided to attribute most of the blame for Mr. Honour’s death to the absence of a thin piece of polystyrene on his head) was that all three drivers of the vehicles that hit Mr. Honour were driving without due care and attention. The first claimed not to have seen the cyclist before striking him, the second was wiping her windscreen as she also struck him, and the third was travelling at a mere two car lengths behind the second, leaving no time to react to the cyclist falling in front of him.
A recent youtube video, in which a cyclist captures an extraordinarily close pass, shows some resemblance to the incident in which Mr. Honour was killed.
The driver of the pale blue Honda Civic can, or should be able to, see the cyclist ahead of him at around the sixteen second mark. Six full seconds elapse before the driver passes the cyclist, and yet despite this lengthy interval, no avoiding action is taken at all, despite there being two opportunities to do so (either to move immediately out into the outside lane, or slow and move out behind the silver car in the outside lane). In the event, the driver passes the cyclist as if he was not there, with inches to spare.
This is, I imagine, how Mr. Honour was clipped. The driver in that instance only had to be a few inches closer, or Mr. Honour to have been slightly more ‘wobbly’, for contact to be made.
Mr. Honour would then have been unbalanced, and would have been struck by the cars behind, which by their own admission were following far too closely. Likewise, in this video, we also see a driver following the overtaking (or ‘overtaking’) Civic at a stupidly close distance. Unsighted, this driver – of the black 4×4 – is unable to see the cyclist, and because the driver of the Civic has not driven in a way that would suggest the presence of a cyclist, has barely a second to react to the cyclist in front of him once he is revealed. This car, again, passes far too close, largely because the driver has no choice.
Tailgating is a general problem on Britain’s roads, and this kind of poor driver behaviour has obvious explanations. But I’m not sure what reasons lie behind the kind of driving exhibited by the Honda Civic. I can only speculate. The most plausible explanation, to me, is a complete lack of awareness of how dangerous it is to pass that close to a cyclist, at that kind of speed differential, coupled with the rarity of seeing cyclists on these kinds of roads. In a minority of instances, I suspect the motivation might be contempt for the cyclist, but that is less likely.
In any event, I think national speed limit dual carriageways are highly dangerous to cycle on, because the aforementioned speed differential means that even competent and alert drivers have a limited amount of time to react to the presence of cyclists. The problem is compounded at busier periods, when movement into the outside lane to pass safely is more difficult. Even hardened cyclists speak of dual carriageways they avoid at all costs. They are a part of the road network that are essentially off limits to cyclists, no-go areas between towns and villages that cyclists have to find alternative routes to navigate between.
It shouldn’t be like this, of course. If we had a department for transport that cared to the slightest degree about cycling, safe, well-maintained and separated tracks would have been, and would be, constructed alongside these roads at little additional cost. As it is, cyclists are expected to take their life in their hands and use them, or make lengthier (and usually hillier) journeys than they would otherwise make if they were to use their car. They have been forgotten about.