Taking responsibility

Last Thursday, I published a piece entitled ‘Road peril’. It addressed an article published recently in my local paper that, in referencing the concerns of a local councillor about poor parking, reckless driving, and dangerous cycling, decided for some peculiar reason to focus entirely on the problem of dangerous cycling, and ignored completely the problem of poor and inconsiderate parking, and reckless driving.

I found this choice of focus rather strange, given that in recent memory, no-one has been injured by someone on a bicycle in Horsham, and in the month subsequent to that article being published, at least five Horsham cyclists have been struck by motorists – myself included.

One of those incidents – the most serious – involved a man cycling along Blackbridge Lane in Horsham at around 6pm on Thursday 29th September. As I wrote –

I attended the scene about an hour after the collision, after the man involved had been airlifted to a London hospital (St George’s, Tooting) with serious injuries. I was prevented, wrongly, from taking pictures of the crash site by the police, but from the position of, and damage to, the bicycle, it was quite clear he had been driven into from behind, at some speed, by the driver of the Audi parked some distance down the road. Given the smashed-in rear wheel of the bicycle, it is almost impossible to conceive of a scenario in which the man ‘collided with’ the car, contrary to the quoted report above. From my most recent inquiries with Sussex police, the man is still in a very serious condition in hospital.

Then, on Saturday evening, ‘Liam’ left the following, illuminating, comment below the piece –

It seems cyclists aren’t willing to take responsibility for anything. The blame lies with everyone else! As a very close friend of the man driving the Audi involved in the incident that occured on September 29th, I can say without question that he was driving within the speed limit, as he always does, and that the collision happened simply because he was momentarily blinded by the low sun. The first police officers at the scene even commented on it as they got out of the car. To suggest that the accident occured through reckless driving is insensitive and offensive and entirely sensationalist. Especially coming from someone who turned up at the scene an hour after it happened! It proves how eager cyclists are to blame everyone else whilst ignoring their own failings as road users. This was a tragic accident that really could have happened to anyone. I’m literally praying that the poor cyclist pulls through, my friend is absolutely devastated and despite driving for 20 years without serious incident he is now considering never driving again, he’s THAT shaken by what has happened. I only hope that when/if this goes to court that those overseeing the case are not as narrow minded and self righteous as you! Of course, my support for my friend is in no way meant to undermine the suffering of the cyclist and his family and my heart truely goes out to them and I know my friend shares that sentiment. Try to bare in mind that there are real people behind the assumptions you make in the name of your little crusade, try and be a bit more sensitive when twisting the truth to suit your needs.

The first allegation Liam makes is that ‘cyclists aren’t willing to take responsibility for anything’, because they apparently believe that ‘the blame lies with everyone else’.

How true. I am quite sure that the Horsham postman pushed off his bicycle by a man leaning from a car no doubt blames that individual for the injuries he received.

I mean, how self-righteous can you get!?

Likewise, the young Horsham cyclist driven at by a man in a 4×4, who had to leap from his bicycle to avoid being run over while stopped on the verge, probably blames that driver for the attempt to injure him! Take some responsibility, for God’s sake.

And here, I must also confess my sins. For I too have stooped so low as to blame the driver who crashed into me while I was stopped at a junction, waiting to turn right.  All the driver did was to turn right into the side street, on the wrong side of the road (come on, we all have to cut corners), completely failing to see a human being stopped in front of her. I must take responsibility for being in her way.

Finally, there is the case of the Horsham cyclist seriously injured by Liam’s friend. This individual had the temerity – the sheer, impudent nerve – to be cycling west in the early evening. Another cyclist who failed to take responsibility, this time for the consequences of his chosen direction of travel upon motorists who can’t be bothered to properly assess whether the road in front of them is clear of obstacles.

Clearly, all of these examples, as Liam wrote, ‘prove how eager cyclists are to blame everyone else whilst ignoring their own failings as road users.’ So thank you, Liam, for allowing the scales to fall from my eyes.

But seriously now.

Liam’s account is rather useful in several respects. Firstly, it serves to substantiate what was blindingly obvious to me when I attended the scene. That, far from the cyclist ‘colliding with a blue Audi A4 saloon‘, as the local paper reported, the man was driven into from behind. That is the only conceivable way in which the rear wheel on a mountain bike could become so seriously mangled, and that has now been confirmed.

Secondly, it provides an insight into the rather cosseted mindset of a British motorist. Laced through Liam’s account is the tacit assumption that someone obeying the speed limit (which I have no reason to dispute in this particular scenario, nor did I in my initial post) cannot possibly be ‘reckless’. To refer back –

I can say without question that he was driving within the speed limit… To suggest that the accident occured through reckless driving is insensitive and offensive and entirely sensationalist.

Setting aside the fact that at no point did I use the word ‘reckless’ to refer to the driving of Liam’s friend (you can see what I wrote in the quoted passage which starts this post, which mainly takes issue with the newspaper’s account of the incident – the worst I say is that the cyclist was driven into from behind at some speed, which is factually true), this, I am sorry to say Liam, is utter drivel. If I choose to travel at 70 mph on a motorway or dual carriageway in thick fog, I would be driving within the speed limit, but I would undoubtedly be being extremely reckless, and I doubt police would see otherwise. Likewise, if I choose to travel at the national speed limit on some of the country lanes around Horsham, I would not be breaking the speed limit, but I would again be being extraordinarily stupid.

Precisely the same logic applies when you are dazzled by the sun. If you cannot see what is in front of you, you moderate your speed accordingly. You do not plough on regardless, apparently safe in the knowledge that you are obeying the speed limit, and that therefore no terrible consequences could possibly ensue. You are driving blind, and you should recognize that fact. Your friend, I can entirely accept, did not set out to injure anyone that evening, and is undoubtedly devastated by what happened, but that should not absolve him from his responsibilities when behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. It might not have been a cyclist that evening – it could have been a child crossing the road, and the consequences would have been precisely the same. I’m sorry for bringing this up, but frankly it affects me rather personally to know that when I am cycling around Horsham, into the sun, there might be people out there in motor vehicles who apparently cannot see me.

Let us revisit the accident scene. The pictures that follow were taken at approximately 45 minutes before sunset; roughly the same interval as on the day in question, when the sun set at 6:45 pm, and the accident occurred just after 6 pm. They date some three weeks after the incident, in similar light conditions – that is, towards the end of a bright, sunny day. They should therefore be a reasonably accurate reconstruction of what the road looked like when the cyclist was driven into, allowing for some slight, but marginal difference in the horizontal position of the sun in the sky. I have tried my best to expose the photographs in a way that matches what I perceived with my eyes.

The entrance to Blackbridge Lane, at the junction with Worthing Road, looking west. Both the motorist and the cyclist would have been travelling away from us. The accident site is some way distant, well beyond the parked cars on the left. At this point we are shielded from the sun.

Above, we are coming to the end of the parked cars. Here, the road stops bending left, straightening out, and from this point, we have a clear, uninterrupted view, up to the point at which the car struck the cyclist. We are still – just – shielded from the sun. The white board attached to the lamp post in the distance is a police accident board, appealing for witnesses. The impact occurred beyond that point, in fact probably adjacent to the two storey building on the right.

Some twenty yards further on. Now we clearly have the sun in our eyes. Fortuitously, for the purposes of comparison, a cyclist is passing the accident board, without lights. At a moment’s glance, she is indeed possible to miss, at least in this photograph. But as we will discuss below, the driver would have had rather more than an instantaneous moment observe the presence of a cyclist.

After the accident, the Audi was stopped just short of the concrete parking area on the left of the road, in the distance, and the damaged bicycle was lying in the road just beyond the entrance to Hengist Close, the turning you can see on the right, beyond the parked cars and the two storey building. (It is, in hindsight, rather frustrating that I was erroneously prevented from taking pictures of the scene by the police, but you can gain a gist of the positioning from this West Sussex County Times picture of the crash site, which is looking back in the opposite direction. The ambulance is parked at the entrance to Hengist Close.)

It is now worth considering the claim that

the collision happened simply because he was momentarily blinded by the low sun.

which to me is absurd as suggesting that a collision happened ‘simply because of fog’, or ‘simply because of a corner’, but nevertheless –

From the point at which the last photograph was taken, to the point at which the impact occurred, is approximately 60 metres. At a speed of 30 mph (which equates to 13.4 metres per second) this distance would be covered in around four and a half seconds. This, it is important to note, is the absolute minimum time for which the cyclist would have been visible, if we ignore the influence of the sun. The driver, by his friend’s account, was travelling at no more than 30 mph, and it is quite probable that the cyclist was (or should have been) visible to the driver much earlier, while he was driving around the parked cars – especially so when we consider that at this point he was shielded from the sun (the view in picture 2). 

Quite obviously, no avoiding action was taken by the driver – the cyclist was driven into, when he could have been swerved around – suggesting that he was still being ‘blinded’ at the point of impact. So, for Liam’s account to exonerate the driver, rather than being

momentarily blinded by the low sun

the driver must have been ‘blinded’ for something approaching five seconds, at least, an interval in which he apparently took no action to adjust his speed, or to look hard for obstacles – human beings – that might be in the road.

It speaks volumes that this is the best possible spin I can put on this incident.

Taking responsibility?

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14 Responses to Taking responsibility

  1. Jim says:

    For me, the broader point is that people make errors on the road all the time. If I make a mistake on a bike, I’m very unlikely to hurt anyone else. But if I make a mistake while driving a car, I could kill or seriously injure someone. Personally, I think this by itself makes a powerful case for severely restricting car traffic and speeds.

  2. An excellent reminder, to everyone, that “driving within the speed limit” isn’t necessarily “driving safely”, and that cyclists need to switch on their lights early. Let’s also note that such a collision at 20mph would have vastly reduced the injuries inflicted, and allowed a full extra second for the driver to spot and avoid the cyclist.

  3. Liam says:

    Fine use of your podium there. But the sheer sensationalist language that is used in your writing implies that your war cry against the Motorist is a mere attempt to get your subscribers to band together against a common enemy, disregarding actual facts and reason. “Plough on through”? Anyone would think you were actually there rather than desperately trying to gather evidence three weeks later in a bid to make what you THINk happened stick. The truth has been seriously twisted in the above article, those of us in possesion of first hand accounts and the actual facts can see that from a mile off – including the officers who attended the scene. Were they also blinded by an imaginary sun? I’m sure you’ve done a five minute search on Google to check the trajectory of the sun (nevermind the fact that it has greatly altered within the last three weeks, so your taking into account “marginal” differences is hardly exact science) and you’ve grabbed your little camera and played Columbo for the evening but without actual, impartial, unbiased evidence you’re merely another cyclist ranting and raving and shaking his fist at how terrible eveyone besides you is. And let us not ignore the fact that for all your photographic evidence and all your homework and all your points of view, you have absolutely no idea what-so-ever what the actions of the cyclist were moments before the COLLISION. Which, until you do, virtually renders all your attempts to blame the driver null and void, pending recognised scientific evidence, witness accounts and hopefully a statement from the cyclist once he’s well enough. I understand how frustrating it must be for you when you go to all this hard work and still someone contradicts you. The suggestion that you could be wrong must be heart wrenching for someone who so earnestly feels the need to imply themselves and what they have to say. But the fact of the matter is you may well be incorrect about several things, and splitting hairs in a bid to justify previous statements is counter-productive. “Some speed” to anybody implies fast. If he’s moving then obviously he is going at SOME speed, which is why when the term “some speed” is used in describing a vehicles movements it is generally meant to imply that he was travelling at a considerable speed, pehaps more than he should have been. So please don’t play dumb and suggest that you meant anything other than he was going too fast. The simple fact that you implied I disregarded the postman story and 4×4 story when in fact I made absolutely no mention of this is simple twaddle and yet another throw-away defamatory remark, something you appear to have a keeness for, unless your subject is on a bicycle. And to suggest my friend chose to drive into a cyclist rather than avoid him is simply sickening and that in itself entirely undermines anything else you’ve said, further proving your need to make defamatory remarks rather than take an unbiased approach untill you have the facts. You are so hell bent on demonizing absolutely anybody in a car that has the misfortune of being involved in an accident with a cyclist that you really have lost all concept of reason and reality. You’d be better off writing a Jeremy Clarkson-esque column in some grotty tabloid. Don’t think that an extensive vocabulary sets you apart from those that turn ill informed musings on a subject into written pieces intended to be consumed by others as actual fact. Amazing that you’ve managed to draw so many conclusions when the police are still investigating. Anyway, I am going to have to draw my retort to a close because you seriously insense me so much it is only a matter of time before I make outlandish claims about the author in the same way he does about other people. Feel free to devote another lonely afternoon to picking apart everything I’ve said here, just don’t ware that copy and paste function out. Can’t wait to see you all rally together, I’m sure you and your subscribers will all have plenty of ill informed theories about a terrible ACCIDENT that has left people devestated on both sides. And if trying to somehow make me look like the bad man in all of this for simply requesting that you shut the hell up till some actual concrete facts are released is the only way you can pass your time then I guess you best get pointing and clicking…

    • bikinginla says:

      How very sad that you cannot accept that someone might actually bear responsibility for another person’s serious injury, Liam. Here in Los Angeles, we had a very similar case in which a cyclist was killed by a driver who also claimed to have been “momentarily” blinded by the sun.

      As the author of this post clearly points out, every driver, anywhere in the world, has an obligation to operate their vehicles in a safe manner, and proceed only when they have a clear view of the road ahead of them; as a driver as well as a cyclist, I have often pulled over to the side of the road when blinded by weather conditions. That your friend, and the driver in the L.A. case failed to do so, means that one man is dead and another lies in a hospital bed.

      The simple fact is, there is no such thing as an accident on the roadway. In order to have a collision, someone has to operate their vehicle in a dangerous or illegal manner — such as driver when unable to see what is directly in front of you. As long as you, and others like you, continue to make excuses for those who fail to drive safely, people will continue to die on the streets.

      • Liam says:

        Sad also that it is always assumed to be the drivers fault. And I haven’t once suggested that the driver is not taking responsiblility! I’ve been supporting him through this time and I can tell you he is taking full responsibility before he’s even heard what the cyclist has to say. The sheer guilt he is feeling has rendered him unable to believe that it could be anyone’s fault but his! If I have suggested otherwise then please point it out to me. I believe I said that the sun impaired his vision, that and a few basic factors of cyclists and motorists converging on the same point in a road meant that this situation occurred. But for the author to sit back and sum things up when he has a handful of facts and to imply (yes, he does imply, let’s not deny that, no matter how much he himself tries to) that my friend purposefully drove at the cyclist rather than avoiding him is almost as inhumane as the actual act itself! Personally I think it’s disgusting. All I am trying to do is suggest that until facts are attained there is no place for assumptions of this nature. Do you disagree with that?

    • Joe Dunckley says:

      Liam,

      I don’t doubt that your friend had anything but good intentions and motives. And I can easily believe that your friend was incapacitated by a moment’s loss of visibility. A moment’s loss of visibility, or concentration, or control, should be expected and acceptable from time to time.

      The issue is driving (or cycling, or doing anything at all in public around others) in such a way that when that moment’s lapse or incapacitation occurs there are serious consequences. The expectation of a moment’s lapse is exactly why one is supposed to be able to detect potential hazards more than a moment before one has to interact with them, and if potential hazards are coming faster than you can evaluate them, or if potential hazards are hidden around the next corner, you might need to slow down until you have more than a moment to react to them again. The problem is not that your friend couldn’t see a cyclist when momentarily blinded. The problem is that they ever got a “moment” away from driving into somebody, and that so many people can’t see why that situation is an indication of bad driving.

  4. Liam says:

    Update: For those of you that are able to set aside your little crusade for a moment, good news! The cyclist involved in the incident is on the road to recovery. He is now awake, sat upright and talking. Funnily enough, despite my friends heinous actions, the cyclist is not wishing to press any charges and accepts what those of us without a reactionary attitude knew all along, it was an accident. Even if he was planning on taking things further and it emerged that my friend had indeed be negligent, I am just thankful that the patient is on the mend and will make a full recovery. Something that seems to have been entirely over-looked in favour of pointing fingers and blaming anyone with more than two wheels. So… I look forward to a retort full of “I didn’t mean this” and “you misunderstood that” accompanied by contradictory sentences that indicate that you did infact mean what you were saying but like most that dance around a subject while trying to make a point, you lack the courage of your convictions. Y’know, like when you deny that you implied wreckless driving was involved and then go on to use terms like “plough on through” and suggest that the driver chose to hit the cyclist rather than avoid him. And on that note, I shall leave you to fester in your ivory tower. Good day🙂

    • dr2chase says:

      Liam, driving while blind is not safe and responsible driving. Running into a cyclist from behind is also pretty solid evidence of unsafe driving (how can it be “safe” if someone ends up in the hospital? If that is “safe”, then the word has no useful meaning).

      And speaking as someone who also spent time in a hospital and also made a full recovery, let me say that I hope that the victim of this crash has a little time to collect his wits before foreclosing the filing of charges. To put it mildly, your mind is on other things when recovering from being run into by an automobile. Don’t try to gainsay me on this; I have experienced this, you have not. I will say, however, bravo for not doing a runner; many drivers (including the one who hit me decades ago) don’t hang around. I don’t mean that entirely sarcastically, either — humans are plenty weak in adversity.

      Your friend made a common mistake (driving while temporarily blinded) that turned into a grave error (crashing into a cyclist in front of him). Good intentions do not make that not a mistake, or not a grave error; the intentions were clearly not good enough to cause him to reduce his speed to match his reduced ability to see. I am glad it is turning out somewhat for the better. Imagine how you would feel if you were walking down the road next to someone carrying a ladder on his shoulder, who then turned and walloped you with ladder, knocking you stunned to the ground, and then said, “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”. Now imagine that the ladder weighs a ton, imagine that your skull is fractured. No hard feelings, right?

      And I suppose your defense of your friend is admirable as a display of loyalty, but as someone who was hit from behind by a car and also put into a hospital, I find it pretty disgusting and incredibly self-centered. I’m sure your friend is upset. That really doesn’t compare to what the other guy experienced. “Little crusade” — do you know how vile that sounds?

  5. Ciarán says:

    Liam,

    Thank you for relaying the good news about the victim. I’m sure most people reading this will be glad that he seems okay and wish him a full and swift recovery.

    Whilst I’m sure that the incident was an accident, by which I mean that the driver did not intend to kill anybody and the cyclist did not go around riding in such a way to commit suicide, maybe we could think about how accidents like this could be prevented in the future?

    In situations like these there are many factors which contribute to the unfortunate events. Some will be the result of the driver, others the cyclists, others the infrastructure that both have (regretfully) share.

    You make a good point that we don’t have first hand information, and that without the cyclists and other witnesses testimony we can never make a sound decision about the events. In this way it is unfortunate that the cyclist does not want to press charges because in that sense we may never find out what caused the accident and if there is something we can do to stop it happening again.

    Maybe we can ascribe his reluctance to press charges to an ulterior motive? Does he know that he was at fault and therefore will himself be punished? I find this doubtful myself. Like with any road accident if you are hit from behind it’s most probable that it’s not your fault.

    Would your friend like to make a comment on one of these blog posts? At least we would be able to get his side of the argument, maybe you could invite the cyclist if you are on good terms with him?

    It is my opinion which many may agree with, and others like yourself may disagree with, that driving a car has with it an implicit responsibility.

    You are in control of a tool that enables you to travel quickly but also a rather efficient means of killing someone. A single mistake like that of being “blinded” by the sun, can cause the unfortunate loss of life, limb or tens of thousands of pounds of damage.

    A cyclist also has an implicit responsibility. They too control a tool that allows them to travel quickly however the impact of a cyclist with another cyclist, pedestrian or building is not able to cause anywhere near the magnitude of damage.

  6. Liam, given that your friend has accepted full responsibility for what happened, what is the point of all this sound and fury in the comments?

    Nowhere have I suggested that your friend ‘purposely’ drove at the cyclist.

  7. Mike Chalkley - Chair Bournemouth Cycling Forum says:

    I just hope the cyclist’s decision wasn’t made under the influence of morphine. That stuff’d make you love Gadaffi!

  8. Stuart says:

    I don’t think things are quite as simple as you suggest. It doesn’t excuse responsibility for the collision but how good people can end up in bad situations and causing harm or worse.

    (Well I might not be good).

    I cycle one glorious evening from Tregaron to New Quay in West Wales. A glorous sunset in glorious countryside made the ride unfogettably beautiful. The next evening I was driving the same route. I came to an incline I had struggled slowly up the previous evening to be suddenly and unexpectantly blinded by the sun. The thought rushed through my mind that a cyclist like me could invisibly be ahead and I should slow to an absolute crawl. But the I was concious that this road also hosted heavy 4×4 so beloved of Welsh farmers that regulary tank it and wouldn’t see me either if approaching from behind.

    Make myself a target in a much smaller car or trust that nobody but me cycles those roads? Statistically risking driving through the hazard was a better bet. If I had not been a cyclist it would have been a no-brainer. As it was I did the wrong thing – slow a bit so as to be both a danger to cyclists and put myself in danger too.

    Its the herd thing which forces us to do things we ought not to …

    • dr2chase says:

      I do understand your logic, but it can be restated as “bicycles aren’t dangerous enough to me, therefore I discount the consequences of a collision with them”. Do you recommend that we change that? Imagine a cyclist hauling a large harpoon, pointed backwards and positioned at about the level of your windshield.

      Your logic also illustrates the third rule of bicycle safety (#1: smaller and slower; #2: see and hear better) that drivers don’t often like to admit; cyclists have literal skin in the game, in a way that drivers do not.

      If the road conditions are bad enough that you feel so threatened that you are tempted to drive in a way that you know is unsafe, I think you need to speak with traffic enforcement.

  9. Jack Frost says:

    Serious errors of judgement while driving a ton of metal at speed does not constitute an “accident”. Nevertheless, I’m sure Liam’s pal is already back behind the wheel.

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