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.