If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to read Martin Porter’s cool and neutral summary of a case he was involved in – the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, hit by a car on Regent Street in London in February this year, dying a few weeks later.
The facts speak for themselves. Mr Mason was cycling north on Regent Street, and was hit from behind by a Nissan whose driver, by her own admission, completely failed to spot him ahead of her, despite him having a bright rear light, rear reflectors, and travelling on a road well lit by street lights (the collision occurred at 6:20pm). She did not brake before the impact, and was travelling at between 20 and 30 mph.
Regent Street is – as anyone who has walked or travelled along it will know – a busy shopping environment, with pedestrians thronging the pavements, and (frequently) crossing the road, informally. The point at which the collision occurred is maybe slightly less busy than the areas further south, but still a place that is dominated by pedestrians, especially at rush hour. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the driver made this remark at the inquest, about what she did after the collision occurred –
I stopped and ran back, it could have been a pedestrian.
Unaware of what, or who, she had hit – having failed to see it, or him, or her – quite rightly, she reasoned that it could have been a pedestrian. Someone innocently crossing the road. As it turns out, it was someone on a bike.
Why should that matter? What difference does it make, when you are hit by a motor vehicle whose driver has completely failed to see you in the road, whether you were on foot, or astride a bicycle?
Well, apparently it does – if you are on a bike, then you should come to expect comments about the kind of ‘safety equipment’ you should probably have been wearing. A hi-visibilty jacket, and a helmet.
The Court News UK report of the inquest is entitled (rather crassly, given the circumstances of the case)
MASON: BIKE SAFETY CAMPAIGNER WAS NOT WEARING A HELMET WHEN HE WAS KILLED
If Michael Mason – a safety campaigner – had been crossing the road on foot when he was killed, would such a headline have been employed?
Mr Mason, who was not wearing a helmet, was rushed to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, immediately after the accident at about 6.25pm on 25 February, but slipped into a coma caused by catastrophic head trauma.
Again, would a pedestrian killed in an identical fashion on Regent Street be subject to this editorialising?
Martin Porter does point out that the Coroner – while commenting on the lack of hi-visibility clothing and helmet – did not go so far as to suggest that the wearing of a helmet, or a hi-viz jacket, would have made any difference whatsoever. However, he did have this to say –
Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Dr William Dolman said: ‘Mr Mason was clearly a very fit 70-year-old man who had been cycling for many years, cycling was his preferred mode of transport… Mr Mason was not wearing a helmet, and while this may not be a legal requirement his most severe injuries were head injuries both inside and outside the skull.’
Which does carry an implication that his injuries may have been lessened, or indeed that he may have survived, had he been wearing a helmet.
Again, it is worth observing here that comments of this ilk would not have been made had Mr Mason simply been crossing Regent Street on foot, rather than travelling along it by bike, when he was fatally struck.
There is a good reason for this.
We simply don’t expect the millions of people who use Regent Street and Oxford Street, on foot, to look like builders. We do not expect them to wear helmets and hi-visibility clothing; we do not expect them to don personal protective equipment to visit the shops, cafes and restaurants in this area, or to get to work. That would – rightly – be seen as a very silly proposition indeed.
By contrast, there is a subtle and insidious expectation that people using Regent Street and Oxford Street on a bike should be wearing this kind of equipment. This despite the fact that someone like Mr Mason was killed in a way that a pedestrian could very easily have been killed, by an inattentive driver. Indeed, it was nothing more than chance that meant that it was him in the way of that driver, at that moment, and not someone else, probably wearing darkish clothing, and almost certainly not wearing a helmet, crossing the road on foot.
If we were to be more consistent, as a society, we would acknowledge this similarity, and appreciate that people in the act of crossing urban roads and streets on foot are just as at risk (perhaps even at more risk, given that they are not accompanied by bikes with reflectors and lights) as people navigating those same roads and streets by bike. It seems to me that it is nothing more than prejudice about a minority mode of transport that is stopping us from doing so.