Dual carriageways, and how cyclists get hit on them

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.

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9 Responses to Dual carriageways, and how cyclists get hit on them

  1. Kim says:

    It really is time we put an end to the culture of the Sacred Driving Licence, we really need to take a zero tolerance approach to bad driving.

    • Mr C. says:

      I’d love to see a poster or similar showing a child pulling at their father’s trouser leg saying, “Daddy, daddy, when I grow up I want one of those pink cards that means you can break the law.” It could be part of a series, including, “I want some flashing orange lights for my go cart in case I want to break the law,” and, “When I grow up I want a car so it won’t be my fault if someone gets hurt.”

  2. Donk says:

    Similar happened to me, 3 lane dual carriageway me in primary, 4×4 came passed pretty close, the white van behind him came REALLY close. When I stopped for a chat with white van man at the next set of lights he tried to defend his actions by saying he couldn’t see me because of the 4×4 in front. I pointed out tailgating was stupid, dangerous and illegal and he got all defensive again. Even when you’ve got them bang to rights drivers still defend their behaviour, it’s never their fault.

  3. Kim says:

    Aye, there is the rub, we have a situation where most people think that they are a better than average drivers, but at the same time 40% of drivers feel that they would fail a driving test if they had to take it again tomorrow. Until we have a change of attitude, drivers will undoubtedly continue to blame everyone else on the roads but themselves.

  4. “40% of drivers feel that they would fail a driving test if they had to take it again tomorrow” – and yet, for some unknown reason, once you’ve passed a test you never have to take it again. There is no incentive to avoid bad habits, and no opportunity for older drivers to refresh and update their driving knowledge.

    A re-test every five years would keep drivers’ minds focussed on those standards needed to gain a licence to drive in the first place. Things like indicating at junctions, driving slower than the maximum speed limit, leaving a safe distance, etc. that are almost universally ignored.

  5. rosamundi says:

    I passed my driving test at the age of 18, learning on fairly quiet roads on the south coast – certainly not London traffic. I drove a bit when I was a student, and then moved to London when I graduated at the age of 21. I have not driven since, a time span of some 13 years, and yet there is absolutely nothing (apart from my own common sense), to stop me going down to the car showroom down the road and driving off with something shiny and grossly over-powered. The system is crazy.

  6. Fortunately for everyone riding a bike, we have a national Cyclists’ organisation that campaigns to ensure we have the right to ride on such roads. I for one am grateful for this.

  7. HIGHLANDER says:

    Fortunately we have a high way code where ALL ROAD USERS ARE SUPPOSED TO ADHERE TO THESE RULES. Living in the highland region where cyclists are plentiful , i have to say not too many are aware of the dangers when travelling on the regions wild and bendy roads, some think it is there god given right to ride two/three/four abreast around treacherous roads, I as a cyclist and motorbiker am appalled and embarrassed by how many seemingly experienced cyclists conduct themselves on my local roads. I know there will be some courteous cyclists out there but in my experience not many of them are cycling around the roads in the highlands of scotland. I WRITE THIS AS PART OF A SAFETY AWARENESS IN MY REGION. THANKYOU ALL

    WORRIED CYCLIST

  8. HIGHLANDER says:

    SAFETY AWARENESS FOR ALL ROAD USERS IS PARAMOUNT.

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