Today marks the third anniversary of the last time I was hit by a motor vehicle.
It wasn’t the worst collision I’ve suffered, but it sticks in the memory, partly because it is the most recent, but also because – for whatever reason – when you are young you seem to have the ability to quickly slough off and dismiss incidents that would probably linger when you are older and wiser.
This particular crash occurred in the evening, at around a quarter to seven. I’d just been visiting a friend. I was exiting a cul-de-sac, approaching the T-junction at the end of the road, at which I was going to turn right. I was correctly positioned, as per Bikeability training, in the middle of my lane (ironically enough, I might not have been hit had I been hugging the kerb to my left, but that introduces other dangers).
About twenty metres from the junction, I realised a car approaching on the major road, from my left, was turning into the side road I was on, and it was doing so in a way that meant it was going to crash into me. It was turning in on my side of the road, straight at me.
Time slowed down, enough for me to process a number of thoughts.
- Have they seen me? No.
- What on earth is going on here? Are they going to stop? No.
- Can I move out of the way in time? No.
- Will yelling help? No.
- Will this driver brake enough, so that the collision will be negligible? No.
This all took, almost certainly, less than second. Suddenly I was on the bonnet of the vehicle.
This is a curious and memorable experience, and I think it’s worth attempting to convey what it’s like.
Imagine the strongest human being you know. Then make them twenty times stronger. More. And made out of metal. Then imagine them running at you, at fifteen miles an hour.
When they hit you, there is no trading of momentum. The car doesn’t bounce off you like a human would, it just keeps coming at you, and I was suddenly travelling with it, in the opposite direction to which I made been travelling, a fraction of a second earlier.
Then – presumably once the driver had realised there was a person on her bonnet – the brakes were suddenly applied. The car quickly came to a halt, but I didn’t, flying back off the bonnet, suspended in mid air, before landing in the ground, in a tangle with my bike, my right hip and right elbow taking the impact.
I bruised up a fair bit over the next day, but fortunately my injuries were minor. I still have a bit of a scar on my elbow. My front wheel was ruined, but apart from that, my bike survived. Pleasingly (from my perspective) the car was not unscathed – a shattered numberplate –
A few days later, when I rang her up asking her for forty pounds to repair my front wheel (this was for a new rim – I was even going to the trouble of re-lacing the existing wheel, rather than demanding an entirely new one) she had a change of heart and accused me of riding without lights, before hanging up.
I texted her to point out that this was unlikely, especially as we had used my bike light to illuminate the exchanging of details. She backed down, and a cheque for forty pounds arrived a few days later.
I did go back and check how visible I would have been, from her perspective.
I was on my touring bike, which (then) had a Mk2 Strada Exposure fitted – a bright light, as good enough, approximately, as a car headlamp. The bike would have been in the middle of the lane, not propped up against the kerb, but the photograph gives a reasonable indication of the situation.
Even if I didn’t have a bike light, she should still have seen me. I could have been a pedestrian crossing the road, and she would have run me down in just the same way.
She just didn’t see me.
I don’t know why. She was pulling in to the parking bays in this cul-de-sac, so, at the end of her journey, at the end of the day, she must have switched off, assumed her journey was over and not realised that, driving on the wrong side of the road, cutting the corner, there might have been something, or someone, in the way.
What sticks with me about this incident is the impact, and how powerless I felt as it was occurring, and how powerful the motor vehicle beneath me was, how it just kept going, and how it stopped so abruptly.
And yet this was, in truth, a minor collision. (Because I went to the police station to report it the next day, it’s logged as such on Crashmap). At a rough guess I was hit by a car travelling at around 10-15mph, that was probably already slowing. I bounced off, landed on the road, and recovered from my bruises and scrapes.
I was already a careful rider, but the incident has made me even more cautious. Worst case scenarios run through my mind. If I see a driver approaching a Give Way line, waiting to join the road I am cycling on, I really, really make sure they are going to stop, and think about what evasive action I might take, should they fail to yield. When I approach a main road, I am really, really wary of drivers who might be turning in on my side of the road. Understandably.
I know what a minor collision feels like, so I really don’t want to suffer a serious one. A minor one is bad enough, and I shudder to think about harder impacts, impacts at greater speed, impacts I can’t limp away from.
Every time I hear the expression ‘mutual respect’, I’m transported back to that moment when I’m on the bonnet of a black car, a car that has just driven through me, scooping me up, before unceremoniously dumping me on the tarmac, and my helplessness to avoid the collision, or do anything about it while it was occurring. The difference in power was total.
What kind of ‘mutuality’ are we really talking about, when this is the reality of interaction between motor vehicles, and human beings, when collisions occur? Presumably only ‘do your best not to be hit’. A pretty shallow form of respect.