‘It could have been a pedestrian.’

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.

DSCN0048

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.

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36 Responses to ‘It could have been a pedestrian.’

  1. tomalbu says:

    I think your final argument ( that pedestrians crossing the road are as much, if not more, at risk) is flawed.
    Pedestrians spend most of their time on the pavement in relative safety. They time their crossing of the road to avoid vehicles (mostly). They are actively avoiding them.
    Cyclists spend their time in the road. They rely on drivers avoiding them.

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree that the onus must be on drivers to act with due care and attention. In this case I’m more concerned at the speed the car was travelling. On such a busy road with, as you say, plenty of random hazards how could she justify travelling at “20 to 30mph”. Clearly too fast and probably as much a contributing factor as the lack of helmet.

    • ORiordan says:

      In terms of fatalities per distance travelled, pedestrians have a higher risk than cyclists.

    • I think you’ve missed a bit of nuance here – I was talking specifically about *pedestrians in the act of crossings roads*, not pedestrians in general.

      • tomalbu says:

        I think that’s what I’m referring to as well. Pedestrians in the act of crossing the road are taking extra care. They (mostly, and with the exception of Zebra Crossings) actively avoid vehicles. So my argument is that they are not as much at risk from bad drivers as cyclists, who are constantly at risk from vehicles who they must rely on to avoid them.

        The shocking thing in this case is that the driver was not prosecuted.

    • PatPatterson says:

      If you know Regents street, the pedestrians don’t spend most of their time on the pavement.

      Yes that only applies to this case, but the driver should not have been going so fast on a street which pedestrians cross any which way all the time,

      • I’m surprised by the comments which claim that pedestrians take care when they wander into the road (whether to cross or just to walk around other people on the pavement). I’m always having to swerve (sometimes into the path of cars behind me) to avoid people, often in dark clothing and with earphones in, who suddenly step into my path without looking.

        • fonant says:

          Depends: pedestrians have learnt that they can listen for danger for motor traffic, and they don’t often bother to actually look. Where there are few cyclists, a quiet road is the same thing as an empty road. If there are (noisy) cars around, pedestrians take great care, otherwise they’ve learnt that looking is unnecessary.

          Evolution/learning in action: where there are a lot of bikes around, pedestrians soon learn to look as well as listen before stepping into the carriageway.

          It always amuses me when people think that, for safety reasons, electric cars should make artificial noise so that pedestrians can hear them coming. Safety would be improved if electric cars remained quiet, like bicycles, as pedestrians would learn to look before crossing roads as they used to in the “good old days” before our roads were dominated by motor vehicles.

  2. Simon says:

    Re your “looking like a builder” comment, attitude to hi-vis in that industry now ridiculous. HSE does advise , sensibly, hi vis for traffic Marshalls but most companies now mandate for all staff. Pointless for some guy fitting a kitchen.

    mears (they of “do not all near this car” fame) seem to have an all staff policy.

  3. rdrf says:

    Very good post.

    It is grotesque that there was no prosecution in this case.

    • D. says:

      Even if no actual prosecution, is there any provision under law to withdraw the driver’s licence to drive? Perhaps get them to do another driving test? I mean, even if you decide it’s not a criminal action, surely its a pretty (very) negligent one?

  4. KristianCyc says:

    Discrimination will surely play a part, but is there another mindset that sits in the subconscious of the population:

    “Cycling without a helmet is madness, why wouldn’t you wear a helmet doing an activity in which being hit with a vehicle is inevitable?”

    Now if this is the thinking, and it was raised into the conscious mind of the population, would they note their own startling admission that riding a bike in the UK carries the inevitability of being hit by a motor vehicle and that this is a fundamental flaw in our transport system that needs addressing?

    • David N Cohen says:

      Really like the point you’ve made here – excellent.

      • MysteryMachine says:

        The problem is with this argument is that there is a danger that the more ‘hard-of-thinking’ cager types will follow through to the conclusion that bicycles should be banned as ‘unsafe in the motor age’, rather than anything positive be done to address the danger.

  5. Joe says:

    I suspect that had it been a pedestrian hit, the injuries would have been more severe (ie. Immediate), given that the cyclist was moving in the same direction.
    Absolutely astonishing that there now seems to be no requirement for a driver to observe the road – can you imagine doing that on a driving test?
    Why are the Legal profession so worried about prosecuting distracted drivers?

  6. Jon says:

    I would be interested to know how often the lack of head protection is commented upon when drivers sustain head injuries. A prize to anyone who can find a single instance of this, despite the fact that these are common injuries in motor vehicle accidents.

  7. Julian Bond says:

    One thing that caught my eye was that there was no useful CCTV coverage of the event. On Regent St. Just N of Oxford St. Really?

  8. D. says:

    So, just to be clear here, the CPS now thinks that failing to notice someone riding a bicycle with lights and reflectors, *right in front of you* and going in the same direction, doesn’t fall short of what we would expect a careful and competent driver to do?????

    • Sara_H says:

      As I understand it, the police haven’t referred the case to the CPS.

      • D. says:

        Does that make it better? So, the *police* don’t think that it falls short of the activity of a competent driver?

        • fonant says:

          Many police forces are “institutionally motorist”. Which is why they don’t like the idea of 20mph limits or enforcing speed limits or cracking down in illegal mobile phone usage by motor vehicle drivers. The police would rather than cyclists stayed off the roads, so (a) they don’t cause crashes and (b) they don’t get in the way of motor traffic.

          The lack of prosecution shows that, in this case, the police thought the dead cyclist was the person who caused the crash.

          • Eric D says:

            “The police would rather … cyclists stayed off the roads”
            … but don’t use the footpaths adjacent to the roads either.
            Really they wish cyclists didn’t exist at all – what you might call the ‘final solution’ or Endlösung.

            CCTV in Top Shop shows he was riding a metre from the kerb, but the impact marks were directly in front of the driver.

            So he had moved out – there is a ‘pinch-point’ – central lamp/pedestrian refuge and a bus-stop.
            Lessons:
            Always keep to primary position – mid-lane – to avoid moving in and out ?
            Keep looking back ?
            Mirror ?

            While moving out, you may be less visible due to an effect called ‘motion camouflage’ or ‘looming’.
            “Ms Purcell said: ‘I was looking straight ahead at the time, I didn’t see him’ … ‘It felt like something had fallen from the sky, I was totally unaware of the cyclist, I heard an impact’.”
            http://takethelanes.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/weaving-all-over-road.html

            Not really much of an excuse, drivers really need to be aware of what’s in front of them.
            I hope they do a full eye-test, including field-of-vision. The standard test won’t detect ‘keyhole vision’ which is like driving with blinkers.

            Also they should test for epilepsy – ‘petit mal’ is a momentary loss of consciousness. There has been a case of a cyclist suffering when fitting her own flashing bike lights !
            http://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/photosensitive-epilepsy#.VJXqysgA
            https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/photosensitive-epilepsy/triggers
            http://www.cyclechat.net/threads/can-flashing-lights-cause-epileptic-fits.121655/
            http://road.cc/content/news/13526-epileptic-seizure-warning-over-flashing-bike-lights
            It is unusual, aggravated by frequency (16-25 Hz), contrast and fraction of the field-of-view.

            Flashing LED lights should be mostly usually OK, if not used in ‘attack mode’. Perhaps the gentle fade-in, fade-out sinusoidal mode of Lezynes helps ?
            Whether people with epilepsy should drive is another question – even motor vehicle lights can have an effect; emergency strobes, direction indicators, and motor-vehicle LEDs. Petit Mal often goes entirely un-noticed.

    • Har Davids says:

      They might have considered the option had the victim been wearing a helmet, or as pedestrian. As he was neither, he was basically the one to blame for what happened. Case closed.

      Is it me, or is there really something wrong the way cyclists are perceived in the UK? It’s as if you’re begging to be killed when riding a bike, helmet or not. Only a few days ago, I was riding on a narrow road, in the dark with smallish lights and every car I encountered held his distance. Mind you, I live in The Netherlands, and not in the UK where I would have been dead and buried a long time ago with the way I, and many other people here, ride.

  9. Completely failed to see someone directly in front of them? Were the phone records of the driver checked?

    This needs to become standard procedure in any collision.

  10. Madoqua says:

    I believe that whether the cyclist was a pedestrian, a child or a dog makes no difference. Someone died. Every attempt should be made to try to prevent it from happening again. Laying blame solves nothing. Focus should go instead, on the sadness of a life lost and perhaps to assist the driver who may be feeling really awful.

  11. livinginabox says:

    It’s hard to imagine that had this entirely preventable and needless violent death occurred by any other means (i.e. something along the lines of: causing death of a member of the Public by operating dangerous machinery without due care) that the person responsible would have rightly been looking forward to prosecution for manslaughter and the likely prospect of a prolonged prison sentence. Because an automobile was involved, it is automatically dismissed as ‘shit happens’.
    Or at least this is how it seems to me. Please, somebody prove me wrong.

  12. Andrea says:

    My father was killed by a bus on Regent Street, 300m South of Mick Mason’s killing. He was on foot and yes, had he been wearing a helmet, he may have survived.

    The Coroner was a bastard similar to Dolman and in spite of inappropriate speed by the driver, also recorded a verdict of Accidental Death.

    At no point in the Inquest was wearing a helmet mentioned.

    When British idiots keep on talking about helmets, I mention this episode; but the majority in this country being generally not just idiots but also arrogant and ignorant, they don’t change their mind.

    • fonant says:

      We have various problems:
      1) There is a LOT of money to be made by selling mass-produced polystyrene hats at vastly inflated prices. Both by the helmet industry and by bike shops.
      2) The motor industry likes to promote bicycle helmets, as they divert attention away from the source of the danger
      3) The motor industry like to promote bicycle helmets, as they also provide a strong message that cycling is a dangerous sport, and not a sensible mode of transport for local trips. If we had safe and attractive cycleways for ordinary people to use, many households might manage quite nicely without needing to buy a car.

      When I say “the motor industry”, I include our major newspapers (who gain significant advertising revenue from motor companies) and our government (whose transport policy is decided by our major newspapers).

      • Har Davids says:

        Not to mention the money being saved by all forms of government by ignoring the obvious: too many cars in areas where’s no room for them. This problem is ‘solved’ by taking as much space as possible from the non-motorists, who are also expected to give in to the petrol-heads when venturing out. A wounded or dead cyclist or pedestrian only emphasizes the safety of traveling by car. In the mean time, lip-service is paid to the benefits of cycling: less congestion, cleaner air and less obesity, while slapping some paint on the road and calling it a cycle-path.

        Whatever you think of the Dutch, they’re trying very hard to facilitate walking and cycling and it works.

  13. livinginabox says:

    Compare the storm in a teacup about the air-traffic foul-up that involved inconvenience and no injuries whatsoever, with the total disinterest regarding daily tragedies involving motor-vehicles killing vulnerable road users indicates just how much the authorities really care.

  14. rdrf says:

    Mark, I didn’t want to make this comment before, because I wanted to leave it at the one I (similar to others) have made above.

    (Also see the comments on Martin Porter’s blog post which you refer to).

    However, there is one sense in which you are wrong:

    Increasingly pedestrians ARE expected to wear hi-viz. Note Highway Code Rule 3. After Tom Kearney (of Pedestrianising Oxford Street fame) was knocked down near this location – on the pavement – he was asked by the Police what clothing he was wearing – was he wearing dark coloured clothing? The Police have to fill out a section on the STATS 19 form after a Road Traffic Incident which refers to whether the pedestrian/cyclist was wearing hi-viz or similar clothing.

    And absence of such clothing has been used by the defence in trials where motorists are prosecuted after knocking down pedestrians.

    So don’t forget to campaign against helmets and hi-viz for cyclists as recommendations in the Highway Code and hi-viz for pedestrians when Highway Code revision comes up

    • pm says:

      I often see groups of school-children secorted by (presumably) teachers, running on the local common – all in high-viz.

      (Makes me think of the X-Ray-Specs song ‘the day the world turned day-glo’ – that day is fast approaching, I think)

    • Dermot says:

      rdrf says:
      “Increasingly pedestrians ARE expected to wear hi-viz.”

      “When interviewed by a police ombudsman investigator, the investigating officer and his supervisor said the case had been closed because speed had not been a factor and the injured party [a pedestrian victim of hit and run] had been wearing dark clothes at the time.”
      http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-30500767

  15. Mike says:

    I find this sad tale very depressing. Depressing because of the needless death and more so because nobody in authority seems to care.
    There seem to be gaps in the initial investigation – no mention was made of the driver’s mobile phone records. And the local Inspector’s subsequent decision not to refer the case to the CPS seems inconsistent with the public interest. Surely there is some mechanism for the family to seek redress?

  16. rdrf says:

    Thanks Dermot. good to have a record of these cases.

  17. Pingback: The Michael Mason case, law enforcement and the Traffic Justice Alliance | Road Danger Reduction Forum

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