D is for Death

On the day that the Evening Standard publishes a letter from two trauma surgeons, urging action to separate cyclists from HGVs at junctions –

One of the immediate dispatch criteria for the aircraft or fast response car is when someone is trapped under a vehicle.  This scenario all too frequently occurs when cyclists are trapped under a vehicle that has turned in front and then driven over them.  These patients are often young women, travelling to or from work and are caught under the wheels of vehicles turning in front of them.  A report by TFL in 2008 found that 86% of cyclist deaths were female despite there being three times as many male cyclists as females.  At the scene of a road traffic collision, the team are often asked by the police if the injuries are deemed to be ‘life threatening or life changing’.  The experience of being involved in a road traffic crash is life changing for all involved.  Some will never cycle again for fear of suffering further injuries. This may be a manifestation of PTSD.  Some people do not survive to make a choice.

Their mechanisms of injury include devastating chest injuries (rib fractures and underlying lung injury), abdominal injuries (splenic injuries and bowel injuries) and pelvic fractures and leg fractures.  These patients are often initially conscious but are in danger of quickly bleeding to death on the roadside.  The London Ambulance Service and Air Ambulance response is geared towards timely recognition and delivery of roadside intensive care.  Patients may be given a general anaesthetic to help them breath, their pelvic fracture and limb fractures are splinted to reduce blood loss and they are given drugs to promote blood clotting.  These patients are the most challenging on scene and result in an augmented response from the receiving hospital.  If they survive their first day they are still at risk from overwhelming infection and organ failure.  Their hospital stay is a long one and they may never return to their pre morbid state and may never work again.

These patients are sometimes deemed to be those who ‘talk and die’.  They are initially conscious and able to talk to you and tell you their fears and tell you of their pain.  One of the on scene standard operating procedures includes giving them a general anaesthetic.  This is done to ease their pain and suffering for humanitarian reasons, assist with breathing, expedite their transfer from scene and speed up their time to definitive care.  One always remembers these patients, when we are the last ones they ever speak to.

Both of us are cyclists, covering thousands of miles a year.  We are both aware of the obvious health benefits of cycling to the individual and also benefits for the community and the environment as a whole.  We believe that there are inherent dangers when cyclists and heavy goods vehicles share road space.

I thought I would share with you this passage from Boris Johnson’s execrable book, Have I Got Views For View

D is for Death. Every successful bicycle journey should be counted as a triumph over this.

Unlike our ‘cycling Mayor’, who on the evidence of this passage seems to have a rather devil-may-care attitude towards simply staying alive while making a journey in his capital, I have somewhat higher aspirations for what a ‘successful’ bicycle journey should involve.

Boris has ruled out facilities that will keep cyclists apart from HGVs at King’s Cross. Every cyclist passing ‘successfully’ through that junction will doubtless continue to arrive at their destination toasting their triumph over death.

This entry was posted in Book review, Boris Johnson, Infrastructure, London, Road safety, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to D is for Death

  1. Ronny says:

    How about actually taking the time to understand the behaviour of HGVs? Face it you’re always going to come second in the argument, so protect yourself, don’t rely on the driver. I speak as a keen cyclist and hugely experienced HGV driver. Be safe.

    • It’s all well and good saying that and lord knows I want to yell at the riders I see putting themselves in stupid positions each day but in real life all humans make errors.
      What we need is properly thought out junctions that try to reduce the conflict points between vulnerable road users and motorised traffic and where necessary separate them.

      As of yet TFL are clearly not willing to do this so far we have;
      Bike lanes and ASLs, both of which if used will result in the bike rider most likely being in a HGV blindspot.
      Trixi mirrors at some junctions which may help mitigate these blind spots but that is ANOTHER mirror we are expecting the driver to use and will only work properly if the driver is positioned just right at the stop line.
      A promise of “more eduction for HGV drivers and cyclists” now unless I’m missing something rather serious I think the only times I’ve seen this done is on the Exchanging Places type events. None of which I have seen properly advertised and I think I only stumbled across one once, just off Cable Street, with no obvious signage on the actual CS route, in a small car park.
      I also do remember a billboard campaign that showed where the lorries blindspots are, unfortunately as with most posters it appears to have been rather short lived.

    • Samantha Smith says:

      I know I’m not the only person who rides a bike to stop well behind big vehicles rather than try to squeeze past them, only to have another big thing (bus / HGV / whatever) come up behind me and gradually edge forward until we’re practically bumper to mudguard.
      Experience and training count for nothing if you don’t use them to act wisely and safely for all.
      I do think there’s a geographical bias to this problem – large cities have far more creeping lorries etc than my hometown, a place of no more than 80,000 people and a much calmer attitude to using the roads.

    • My guess is that those who have read read your comment Ronny are those who are already very interested (and very aware) of the behaviours and issues concerned.

      There is is not much point sharing arcane advice with each other – the urgent problem is that there are more people every year taking up the advice of people like The Mayor of London and cycling in cities, on major roads with big junctions. By definition, these people are novices and while offering Bikeablity training is a good idea, a much more urgent set of needs calls for sensible improvements to our city roads, and for reductions in the speed and volume of motor vehicles.

      • Ronny :-) says:

        I fail to see how keeping well out of the way of something that will kill you can be described as arcane, it’s self-preservation at it’s purest. People seem to think that they need to attend a course or get a certificate before they will attempt anything new, instead of getting out, doing it and using their common sense.

  2. Krishan Turner-Dave says:

    Would it be possible to have an email address that I can contact you on please?
    You can reach me at krishanturnerdave [at] gmail [dot] com

  3. rosamundi says:

    I’ve done a changing places event. Nobody, not the police, not the lorry drivers, could answer my innocent question:

    “Why do we allow these vehicles on the road at rush hour when the driver’s vision is obstructed to this extent?”

  4. @Ronny. I used the word “arcane” because you recommended understanding and (perhaps) experience of driving HGVs. I agree that these would help any road user, but very few of the new riders we are talking about are likely to get close to meeting your suggestion. If life was common sense and easy there would be no accidents. We all need to accept that it’s a complicated world and that most of us can’t cope as well as we would like.

    Road and traffic engineeers need to do what car manufacturers have done in the decades since Ralph Nader – make the basic designs much safer. Complaining about each other’s bad judgement on the roads is not going to make things better.

    • Ronny says:

      That is exactly what I’m saying. You say that life is complicated, and claim that most of us can hardly cope, road engineers need to change etc. Mostly fair points, but none of them are going to save your life the next time you’re deciding to nip up the inside of a busy driver in heavy traffic.
      I’m not complaining about judgement or the lack of it, I’m advising people against picking a fight that they’ll never win. Sit at a junction for five minutes and watch the behaviour of the various road users, where they look, what they do before moving off etc. You may be surprised at what you see and learn.

      Be safe.

      • I don’t disagree. As an old proverb says “put your faith in God and tie your camel to a tree”. Personally I work hard on road sense, and I encourage my family and freinds to do the same. But I also know that the greater power needs to do their bit, or we’re all doomed. This debate is not about whether we should cycle carefully, (or tie our camel to a tree so as not to lose it) The debate is about the big picture – the design and management of our roads and traffic.

  5. Don says:


    So are you saying that we shouldn’t separate HGVs from cyclists at junctions, and just let the cyclists take all responsibility for their own safety? HGV drivers make mistakes too. Unfortunately their mistakes are much more likley to be fatal than those of a cyclist.

    Why should all the responsibility be placed on the cyclist when separation (properly done) would eliminate the problem?

    • Whilst I agree separation at junctions is the safest possible method to deal with the danger of HGV’s I really doubt Boris has the political balls to actually push it through. As we can see he clearly has a rather cavalier approach to cycling heck all we apparently need to do is “keep your wits about you”!
      As Sam S points out, riding defensively and stopping safely isn’t that effective sometimes as motorised vehicles sometimes still force themselves into a position that compromises your safety. How many of us have pulled up in an ASL when the light is red only for the car behind to slowly creep over the stopline (technically RLJing, ya know that thing they accuse ALL cyclists of doing?)
      Now I’m not saying cyclists are perfect either, I’ve caught several incidents on my helmet cam of left indicating cars/lorries waiting at junctions and yet despite me stopping where I consider to be a safe position (behind them, ideally to the right if I have enough room to filter there) I see dozens of riders STILL squeeze up the left side and either push into the ASL or wait in the feeder lane. I even saw one once where despite the lorry indicating AND the lights going to green a rider STILL went up the left side to carry on straight over the junction (this was on CS8 at the turn onto Vauxhall Bridge) – thankfully in this case the driver, from Home Delivery Network, was on the ball and thus avoided me capturing what could have been a rather unpleasant mess.

      • monchberter says:

        Number of reasons a majority of people exhibit lemming-like behaviour on bikes:

        1) They see everyone else do it.
        2) The think that certain actions such as riding strictly on the left, following feeder lanes is both expected and common sense, when what actually is common sense for reducing your risk seems counter intuitive (riding out, taking the lane etc)

        Both of the above could be tackled comprehensively if more people undertook Bikeability training. The reason people don’t get training is because there’s an underlying psychology that cycling is ‘easy’ (promoted by all manner of cycling groups and TFL) which is probably because most people learned to ride as a child and carry over the perception of ease (“Well, a child can do it”) into their adult riding, and probably many of the bad habits.

        • Another reason people stick to the left is that ‘being out in the middle’ carries with it an implied risk of being cut off and isolated from the kerb; maybe bicycles, motorcycles (or even cars) might start streaming to the left of you. (This is, actually, something I’ve experienced when riding in primary in the bus lane on a Boris Bike – idiots on bikes try to, and sometimes succeed in, undertaking me). This, for a novice, is a bit scary, especially compared to the perceived safety of being right next to the kerb, which is seen as your place of escape and/or refuge.

          Being further out is safer, but it’s hard to see it that way when you’re a novice.

    • Ronny says:

      I agree, ideally junctions would be separeted but I bet if they were they would give rise to a whole new set of issues involving pedestrians. Operating an HGV is as complex as riding a bicycle is simple. I’ll give you an example: Turning left from a standing start at a red light goes, release spring brake, look in 3 or 4 nearside mirrors, look in front mounted mirror (if fitted) look in 2 or 3 offside mirrors, look left into road, engage 1 of potentially 18 gears, move off, check indicator is still on, position the vehicle whilst checking offside mirrors, check nearside mirrors again, start to turn, continue turning, (if safe to do so) check that trailer (offside) isn’t going to collide with street furniture, check nearside mirrors (which are now largely useless due to the position of the tractor unit) continue moving, change up a gear or 3 all the while watching for other road users and continue in the intended direction. Compare this with setting off on a bicycle. Of course HGV drivers make mistakes, I’m saying don’t put yourself in a position to be affected by someone making such an error.

      Be safe.

      • I have nothing but the utmost respect for HGV drivers, driving something that large is an incredibly skilful task. I’m always amazed when I see them position their trailers inch perfect into a narrow entrance. I get frustrated enough going back into the car when I have a few a-pillars obstructing my view having come from the excellent visibility of riding a bike so I can only imagine what it’s like in a lorry!

        Mentioning street furniture though does remind me of another clip I captured of a coach driver getting wedged between traffic island bollards once 😉

        • Ronny says:

          I’ll make a confession here, I’m useless at parking cars and I’m always jealous when I see people nip into a parking space that I wouldn’t consider! Just another quick point, mirror design varies between manufactuers. I don’t want to provoke a sub-debate about better or worse, but as a rule larger (18t and above) vehicles with narrower cabs have poor mirrors and (even more) restricted vision all round, I give these an even wider berth.

      • Paul says:

        Absolutely bang on. It is the cyclist who need to keep our of danger, as it is the cyclist who ultimately pay if a mistake is made.

        Cycled in Amsterdam recently where the cyclists take priority. Lots of dedicated cycle lanes etc. But still plenty of chances to get squashed by lorries, buses, trams and cars. Biggest difference was most if not all of the cyclists are very aware of the dangers and cycle accordingly. Not surprising given that they would’ve cycled from birth. London’s cycling accident rate will reduce and in real terms, given the number of cyclists we have now, is already improving.

  6. Paul says:

    Why are there so many accidents involving female cyclist. Is it just that most of the new cyclist are female.

  7. Paul says:

    I should add that I cycle most weekdays in central and south east London, I also drive in London 2 or 3 times a month. My experience is that there are as many bad cyclists as there are bad drivers.

    • Mile for mile car fatalities in London exceed cyclist fatalities by ratio of about 10 to 8 (2010 Data from http://www.dft.gov.uk/statistics/tables/ras30055). Cycling casualties are, in fact, quite rare everywhere. A city like Bristol with a population of half a million has an average of one cycling death per year with about 30 serious injuries.

      For all sorts of reason London seems to have increased its cycling population without making the necessary improvements to roads that the increases would require. As numbers increase, a wider range of skills and experience is bound to experience more problems. Boris should be calming traffic and changing junctions if he wants numbers to keep rising. As things are it’s casualties that will be rising first.

      • Ronny says:

        In all honesty, I’m a bad cyclist. I’m the eyes of the law anyway. Traffic signals are advisory, filtering is a staring down game between me and whoever happens to be in my way, some I win, some I lose. The reason I do it is because I can. Most other forms of transport require registration. I’m also a motorcyclist, I had a sportsbike until it was stolen recently, the robber probably saved my life. I am a different man depending on the mode of transport I choose, and that is the rub. I get a kick out of doing things on a bicycle that I wouldn’t dream of doing on a motorbike or in an HGV. I choose to do it and I don’t expect sympathy if I get it wrong, just as I don’t if I crash my track motorbike at Brands. I’m also a Health and Safety Consultant, but don’t tell anyone!

  8. Ronny says:

    Sorry, that should be IN the eyes of the law.

  9. Pingback: As Easy As Riding a Bike | Dawn Foster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.