On being hit by a car. Or, why ‘mutual respect’ is incoherent.

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 –

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 22.27.01And a long, dent/scrape in the bonnet, presumably from where my bike landed on the car, beneath me.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 22.29.36The driver was (at the time) mortified – she couldn’t understand what had happened. We exchanged details, and I limped home.

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.

DSCN9616I 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.

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25 Responses to On being hit by a car. Or, why ‘mutual respect’ is incoherent.

  1. TomG says:

    Notably this presumption of mutuality and mutual respect is the cornerstone behind the concept of “shared spaces”. The shared mantra is that “very dangerous is safe”, and that drivers will slow down because the shared space appears dangerous. But that, of course presumes that driver even notices the shared space.

    The shared space proponents are typically very reluctant to discuss the “uses cases” where the driver is drunk, tired, or simply distracted by passengers or kids.

    • this presumption of mutuality and mutual respect is the cornerstone behind the concept of “shared spaces”.

      Not really – or at least it’s not the actual theory behind shared space. As discussed here it’s an interesting theory based on observation of behgaviour. But it’s just too simple, not understood by most people who cite it and in any case only limited applications in the unholy mess that is our current roads system. It had become an excuse for not doing what needs to be done – but it wasn’t based on anything as nebulous or moralistic as “respect”.

      • TomG says:

        We fundamentally agree, but I should have been more careful to note that it is what shared space zealots tend to claim – even if Mondermann was more cautious.

        An excellent peer-reviewed examination of how ordinary mortals actually use and think about shared spaces can be found at http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/17937/

        Key points include:
        – “examines one of the sites … in greater depth, using video observation and a street survey of pedestrians”,
        – “most pedestrians … gave way to vehicles in most cases and felt safer under the original road layout”
        – “some of the claims made on behalf of shared space have overstated the available evidence” (which is polite academic understatement!)
        – “caution is needed in implementing shared space schemes, particularly in environments of high traffic flows”
        – Ashford was declared successful on the basis of observing a mere 30(!) pedestrians

        None of that is rocket science, and it seems to me to be common sense, but shared space zealots are in denial about the findings.

    • When the Dutch have successful shared spaces, nearly all of the cars, or sometimes even all of the cars, and buses and trucks, are removed. When we have unsuccessful shared spaces, regardless of where they are, it is due to the fact that cars remain in high volumes.

      A basic rule about drunk drivers is that they can’t pose a danger where they are not located. If a drunk driver is driving around Boston somewhere, I don’t need to worry about it hitting me, because the distance from my home to Boston is a very long distance. The same logic applies where cars are separated from cyclists either by being in low volumes and speeds, or by having a separate cycle path. Obviously drunk driving is a real concern, people shouldn’t do it, and they are just as human as the rest of us, but they don’t cause problems where they are not located.

  2. Bez says:

    The dramatic lopsidedness of any discussion of mutual respect, mutual safety and so on is repeatedly illustrated by virtually any safety campaign, where advice to drivers that directly affects the safety of cyclists is inevitably accompanied by advice to cyclists that at most affects drivers’ convenience and their ability to proceed unhindered. Not to mention Tiff Needell’s protestations that cyclists should wave thanks for him passing them safely.

    You want respect? Then you need to bend over and take one. And you still won’t get it anyway.

  3. Have you considered training, Mark? It’s just the thing for this sort of situation!
    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
    You write very eloquently about what must, in truth, have been a terrifying experience. I am not sure if I would be so collected had it been me on the front of that car.

  4. ian stronge says:

    The driver was mortified at the time, then in denial later.

    Would this have been the case if the driver felt ‘unprotected’ in her vehicle?
    What is the psychology that makes drivers feel ‘got at’?

    Is it just me, or are drivers whose heads (in the driving seat)
    are lower than mine (upright high on a folding bike) pay more
    attention to my movements? Whereas transit vans seem to
    think they’re narrower than they are… but most lorry drivers
    seem more worried about the insurance their livelihood
    depends on, especially for larger lorries.

    Is there some scope for a rethink about vehicle design?

    NB These experiences are from out-of-town suburban and
    other fairly well-lit semi-rural main roads, roundabouts, junctions.

    • jeldering says:

      From a Dutch perspective it may well have to do with drivers having no experience what it is to ride a bicycle, and a proper training to look out for them.

      I’ve had one near miss with a cyclist and myself driving a car: I turned left (in NL) while the cyclist went straight in opposite direction on the same residential arterial road. I only saw the cyclist when I had almost finished my turn behind him/her… My instantaneous reaction was shock, and secondly that I wasn’t paying attention, even if the cyclist may not have had a light (the road was lighted).

      In London I often find drivers that (in my view) are not paying enough attention to traffic around them, especially not to their rear view mirrors: I can easily cycle seconds on the near side behind a car and the driver not noticing me. But if this is considered the norm, then I can understand that motorists try to locate the blame somewhere else when they failed to see a cyclist.

  5. Psychologically interesting that the driver rowed back on her culpability when you phoned her. I’d imagine it’s because she (like most of us, including me) sees herself as a good, careful and considerate person. As such, surely she couldn’t have made such a mistake, and surely it must have been the cyclist’s fault?

    btw, your description of being hit by a car reminded me stylistically of George Orwell’s description of being hit by a bullet in Homage to Catalonia.

  6. EricD says:

    ” good, careful and considerate person”
    http://beyondthekerb.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/the-problem-with-good-people/

    I just love the safety campaigns that simply say ‘Be Seen!’
    (Can’t find it on Google – probably an image)
    Like saying “Be fed! Be warmed! Be of good cheer!” to a beggar.

    ‘Failed to look properly’ was attributed to the car driver in 57% of serious
    collisions and to the cyclist in 43% of serious collisions at junctions.
    -PPR445 2009
    http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20090417002224/http:/www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme1/ppr445.pdf
    http://www.trl.co.uk/reports-publications/report/?reportid=6526

    Other sources ( using the same data ? ) say 30%
    http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/02February/Pages/Cycling-safety-a-special-report.aspx

  7. Paulc says:

    “she couldn’t understand what had happened.”

    she’d cut the corner, a bad habit far too many drivers do these days…

    • she’d cut the corner, a bad habit far too many drivers do these days…

      … a habit encouraged by the over-flared entry – and an example of risk compensation in action. The flaring being put in for safety as it increases sightlines. Would be fine if only equivalent ‘safety’ desings were put in for cyclists and walkers. (As someone who does a lot of urban walking I hate crossing these wretched over flared entries.

  8. mark says:

    Surely you called the police? In any accident with damage whatsoever, certainly damage to yourself, you always call the police.

  9. rdrf says:

    Excellent post which should resonate with anyone who has been hit by a motorist.

    The central point I think you make and I would like to echo – along with bez and others – is the fundamental difference between the potential lethality of the modes that have been chosen by the two human beings involved. Trying to neutralize that difference is central to what the “road safety” movement has been doing since it was founded some 90 years ago. It needs to be fought.

    Good point about how you should have been seen even without a front light.

    And in response to mark – it was reported, albeit the next day. Of course there is the usual issue of lack of independent witnesses – but there are enough problems even where there is the evidence.

    On the issue of enforcement do try to come to
    http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/09/22/conference-on-road-danger-reduction-and-enforcement-in-london/
    if you are in London.

  10. Chris Miller says:

    Had an interesting conversation recently about a campaign directed at drivers to “look out for” cyclists and someone’s suggestion that they should tell people to count how many cyclists they see on their commute instead. (Assuming they ever do it) it both makes them pay more attention and also sightings don’t go “in one ear and out the other” as it were so they have a more accurate idea of how many people DO bike rather than finishing a drive with a vague idea that they probably saw some cyclists, maybe?

    Apparently, too, some truck drivers are upset about the idea of a 1.5m minimum distance from cyclists because they might get stuck behind them having to wait until it’s safe to pass. What a burden!

  11. ahermens says:

    Great post btw. I’ve been very blessed to be a cyclist with no accidents (touch wood) involving a car for 30 years.

    But I have had a couple accidents.

    One where I slipped on a patch of ice and slid for 40 meters onto the other side of the road. Fortunately for me no car was driving the other way.

    Another was when a drunk (or under the influence of something) swerved right in front of me from the other side of the road. I still remember my life passing in front of me to this day. I managed to swerve in front of a Boris bicycle bay, falling over in the process, but missing the car.

    Personally I’d like to think of myself as a defensive cyclist who is sh%t scared of cars. But I still think, especially if you cycle in London you are going to experience at least 2-3 close shaves.

    My 7 year old daughter and 5 year old can cycle now. The scarey part is that they just don’t even appreciate the danger of cars. Will be a long time before I let them cycle on the open road unfortunately.

    Back in New Zealand I was cycling on the road at 8 years old. Although even I’m hearing back home a lot of parents are much more weary of letting their kids do this.

    • TomG says:

      Personally I prefer cycling in London to cycling in Bristol. London has fewer hills and more backroads going in the right direction. Bristol has cars travelling faster, cobbles (underneath the disintegrating asphalt in the gutters), and short and narrow cycle “lanes”. Caveat: in London I only cycle recreationally, and only in the central part section.

      As for your NZ comment. I and many others were cycling on the roads at 8 in the UK. My recollection of the roads being quieter and slower is confirmed by watching re-runs of the 60s and 70 TV programmes, e.g. the Saint.

      • ahermens says:

        Thats an excellent point TomG. Have you noticed how many kids are now dropped off to school in a car rather than walk/bicycle? And this a global phenomena.

        Back in the 70s/80s in NZ if you were dropped off in a car, I remember thinking “I wonder what is wrong with him/her.” Everyone at least walked to school (cycling wasn’t that popular tbh but I think this had to do with cost). Now at my old local school in NZ approximately 60% of the kids are dropped off in cars. Very sad state of affairs.

  12. Dave H says:

    My observation is that if there is any obvious threat to a car driver’s paperwork or their vehicle, their powers of observation are magnified many-fold.
    I found that wearing the long chain I used to lock up my bike as a bandolier, with the excess length dangling over my right hip with the option of holding it in my right hand and whirling it round suddenly got EVERY driver giving me at least a lane width of space when overtaking. I was advised though that unlike shoving 1-2 tons of metal at me to ‘move me out of the way’, whirling 1-2 Kg of chain around would be viewed as threatening behaviour – can someone explain the difference?.
    I’ve had a few bumps over the years, fortunately without lasting injury but I can assure those driving cars that bumping into a pedestrian or cyclist is not very good for your car. In one crash I wrote off the car, in another my 0.11T made a £600 dent in the bonnet and windscreen. Not that I’d actively want to make contact, but when I do I try to make sure that the contact is in such a a way that I can minimise damage to me, that instinctive relax, roll, tuck your head inside a foetal ball, and feet as first point of impact, and shock absorbing with the most powereful muscles in the body.
    The one detail I do make sure of is to get locked on eye contact with any driver getting close to me wherever I can, and failing that to make sure they know I am looking at them. The great thing about eye contact is that once you have this communication locked-in the likelihood of any physical contact is greatly reduced. We just have to get more cycle users able to confidently scan that 360 degree zone when riding along – the one detail highlighted by a 5000 cyclist study 10 years ago as the key safety measure that cyclists could develop for reducing the risk of a collision with a motor vehicle.

  13. Pingback: Cyclelicious » Weekend traffic forecast

  14. kie says:

    What a bitch.

  15. James says:

    I believe many drivers don ‘t account for the corner pillar between the windscreen and drivers side window. It can create a large blind spot, and likely at the moment she looked (if she looked at all), you were in it. She would have seen a car because they are wider and have two front lights spaced well apart.

    Also, I have averted several of what I believe would have been collisions, through yelling.

  16. Traffic Violence being described as ” Accidents “? No accident , that someone gets in a vehicle and turns on the MOTOR !

    Get this folks ! Your friendly PC Plod actually rewards Traffic Violence Perpetrators with a DAY OFF ( in many cases PAID by their employer !

    2 cases come to mind :

    2 Guys riding on a charity ride , Manchester to Rome , they made it south of London , then got skittled !

    Riding on Wadsworth Rd MARKED Cycle lane i got a lift of about 5-10M , when rearended by a friendly TFL D/Decker !

    Both Traffic Violence Perp.s rewarded ! Yes they got the day off to attend …wait for it.. a “Driver Improvement Course ” ! Guess they got reminded about ALL the things they were required to KNOW when they obtained their Driver licence , a while back ? Easy day that a sleep walker could have endured ?

    Received advice a few weeks ago that MY Perp. passed , so will not be prosecuted ! Meanwhile the Manchester Lads have been in constant pain & suffering , although i only have an elbow area that i still am unable to feel .

    IF it had been my Car that got rearended , i would have had it put back in the condition/near enough , that it was in before the VIOLENCE ! TFL have a bunch of THUGS working for them , the bike is broke and tthe clothes destroyed , BUT , they are offering CASH , IF , i offer purchase receipts !

    GOT THAT ?

    IF , i can give them receipts , they will consider a Cash payout TOWARDS the cost of replacement !

    How generous of them ! I left Austria with New garments to ride the Tour de Romandy and then the Giro d’Italia routes . Having worn them , they are now USED , so have no value ! Having offered the contact details of the suppliers , even offered to allow them to wash the replacement clothes , these Highway robbers insist that CASH ONLY is the option . THEY want to contribute to the cost of Replacement !

    Got it ?

    They may offer 10c in the $, or they may get more generous !

    Meanwhile the Law Firm i was unlucky enough to contact are slavering for their share of the CASH !

    Last weeks in Spain , i wore these garments at the Vuelta Espana & World Road Races , so many people from a variety of Countries NOW KNOW that Cyclists in the UK are on a RAW DEAL !

    Guess i can farget the PAIN & Suffering , the replacement of Garments & Equipment , the costs of onward travel due to the damaged bike .

    Oh by the way , when asked how TFL would help with my onward travel , the TFL supervisor offered a phone number . Now we ALL know that ” Harry Potter ” resorted to the Chimney/fireplace , seems that TFL uses the phone line ? Guess that bunch of comedians at TFL had a good laugh ?

    Tom Kearney of the ” Stop Killing Cyclists ” comment section offers ” Stats ” on TFL , on a regular basis , seems i should consider myself lucky that i was not in the KSI section ?

    5 months have passed and i have yet to get any worthwhile resolution of the matter , BUT , i guess i have been doing a good job for London Tourism , turning OFF as many as possible ! How can you quantify the impact on Overseas Visitors of this tale of Woe ?

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