As soon as this video went viral earlier this week, it was clear it would only be a matter of time before it was picked up by tabloid newspapers, with an equally inevitable and predictable framing of the incident.
That is to say, the standard ‘who is to blame’ format.
Naturally, this involves inviting readers to pass judgement on one of the parties involved, which in practice amounts to a two minutes hate on the people cycling.
Now clearly mistakes are made by the people in the video. It isn’t sensible to position yourself here.
It isn’t sensible to maintain that position, right in front of the HGV, through the junction.
It certainly isn’t sensible to drive such a large vehicle assuming that there isn’t anyone in that kind of position.
But this is all very banal. Focusing on the personal failings of the people in the video means spectacularly missing the point. Minor mistakes should not result in the scene shown in the photograph above – a person very close to death, or at the very least serious injury.
I don’t think either the man cycling, or the man behind the wheel of the HGV, are ‘to blame’ here, in any meaningful sense. The driver in the cab is clearly having to deal with motor traffic on his right hand side, as the two queuing lanes going ahead merge on the far side of the junction. Meanwhile, the (well-known) dreadfully limited direct visibility from the driver’s position means it is far too easy for him to fail to spot multiple human beings immediately in front of his vehicle. There isn’t even a mirror that would have revealed them indirectly.
The driver literally had no idea the man was there until the collision occurred.
Meanwhile the man on the bike clearly makes what, in hindsight, is a bad decision. But it’s a bad decisions that is actively encouraged by the way we paint our roads. We put painted lanes by the kerb on the run up to junctions. We paint Advanced Stop Lines in front of HGVs. It’s entirely natural, therefore, to expect human beings to cycle up to the front of a junction, both because that’s instinctive, and also because the way we paint roads promotes this kind of behaviour.
Now it turns out that this junction didn’t have an Advanced Stop Line. But how are you supposed to know that when you are approaching it?
By the time you arrive at the junction, it is too late, and you, and several other people, are effectively trapped in an extremely dangerous position, with the best option probably being to bail out onto the pavement, or to jump the lights.
Is that really something we can expect people to do? It seems to me to be as unlikely as expecting HGV drivers to never fail to spot human beings in close proximity to their vehicles. We have a dangerous situation, created by design.
So who is actually ‘to blame’ here?
It’s not the individuals – it’s the system. A system that thinks it’s acceptable to mix human beings and enormous vehicles with very limited visibility, and hopes that nobody makes a minor mistake. There simply isn’t any excuse for designing roads that create situations like the one in the photograph above. Those people should be separated from that HGV entirely at this kind of junction.
If that isn’t possible, then HGVs of this scale simply shouldn’t be permitted to use that junction. We have graphic evidence of just how dangerous it is to combine human beings and HGVs in that space.
So we know what the solutions are. Every time an incident like this happens and we blame the individuals concerned for making mistakes, rather than the system that means those mistakes are inevitable and lethal, we will fail to prevent incidents like this from happening again. It has to stop.