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Road reporting - John C. Kirk

Apr. 3rd, 2012

10:21 pm - Road reporting

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Last week the Express published a blog post: Hey cyclist, stop shouting...

Basically, the writer (Penny Stretton) was doing a driving lesson, then she swerved to avoid a lorry and almost hit a cyclist. This cyclist then shouted at her, which ruined the rest of her lesson. In fairness, she admits that she shouldn't have been driving when she was tired (cf Highway Code rule 91) and that she should have spotted the cyclist sooner, so I don't want to dwell on that, particularly since she's still a learner. I'm more concerned about the conclusions she's drawn from this experience, and the self-contradictions in her article (which apparently escaped her editor as well).

All I know about this incident is from the driver's point of view, but it sounds similar to a collision I was in last year, so I'm inclined to sympathise with the cyclist.

Quoting her article: Trying to compose myself, I took a deep breath and looked up to see a lorry ahead, half parked and jutting out across my lane. If she looked up, that implies that she was looking down beforehand, i.e. she wasn't watching the road while her vehicle was moving. This is extremely dangerous. If she needed to compose herself then she should have pulled over to the side of the road first; failing that, I'd prefer her to do an emergency stop in the middle of the road rather than driving blind.

Quoting again: He screamed and shouted accusing me of "trying to kill him" which was a rather hilarious exaggeration actually, although it wasn’t so funny at the time. I don't think that she ever intended to harm the cyclist, i.e. this was just incompetence rather than malice. However, I also don't think that she understands how much damage a car crash can do: if you hit someone with a ton of metal then it is often fatal. Last year a 13 year old child was killed by a learner driver in a car park, when the car was only travelling at 4mph. Forgive me if I don't see the hilarity in that.

It's also not clear where the cyclist was (relative to the car) before the near miss. Quoting again: while I certainly should have spotted him quicker, slowed down and hung back, let's get things straight – he shouldn't have been trying to overtake me so quickly, either. If he was trying to overtake her then that implies that he was behind her, but if she could have hung back then that implies that he was ahead of her. Also, she later says that he: was ambling along at wobble pace, swaying so much that I'd earlier been worried about passing him at all. If she was worried about passing him, that implies again that he was ahead of her, so he couldn't have been trying to overtake her. Similarly, if he was ambling along then he couldn't have been going "so quickly".

Finally, she said: Also, couldn't they see I was a learner, in car plastered with BSM and cut me a tiny bit of slack? If he was ahead of her then he probably didn't get a very good view of her car. Also, what exactly should he have done differently? If she came up behind him (travelling faster) and then swerved towards him, it's hardly his fault for not getting out of the way in time! Maybe he should have stayed quiet and assumed that she'd learn from the experience on her own, but she seems to disagree with his assessment, which implies that someone needed to tell her how dangerous that was. I'd be interested to hear the BSM instructor's view on this, since apparently he didn't explain this to her either.

All in all, another reminder that the tabloid press isn't a reliable source of information.

Comments:

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From:simplypeachy
Date:April 3rd, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
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Driving a car has become so commonplace that people seem to think it's acceptable to do so whilst tired, under the influence of drugs or during bad conditions when it is not necessary. This amazes me! To be in charge of something with such momentum when you do not have your senses about you is a morally reprehensible act.

Tired? Kids screaming at you? Hungry? Bad day at work? Get a taxi home. You're putting everyone in danger by driving when you're not able to do so safely.

I do wonder why the cyclist was on her left side when she mentions "he shouldn't have been trying to overtake me so quickly, either". I've seen lots of cyclists undertaking and I think that in almost all cases it's a very bad idea.

Some motorists simply do not appreciate how vulnerable non-motorists are. We're just fleshy bags without air bags, impact bars, roll cages or ABS. They can kill us without trying very hard at all. Owing to this under-appreciation they think we exaggerate, think that they can drive very closely or aggressively and simply cannot understand our needs. Someone should be put on a bike, as part of the driving test, and subjected to close passes, roaring engines and huge swells of water, all before they are passed. At least that way they could choose to ignore us, rather than doing so by misunderstanding.

I'm also dismayed by her statements that if you "don't take cycling seriously" or "ride an old or silly bicycle" then you deserve to be terrorized, and that learner drivers are allowed to endanger other road users.

I'd be screaming at her if I'd just had my life put in danger - such an experience tends to strip you of your sensibilities for a time, until you can regain your composure.
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From:Liam Redmond
Date:April 3rd, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Just ban car driving - job done!
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From:stagknight
Date:April 4th, 2012 11:00 am (UTC)
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Get a taxi home.


"I could drive home slightly tired, and probably nothing bad will happen, or I could spend so much money that I can't afford to eat this week and get a taxi."
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From:simplypeachy
Date:April 4th, 2012 11:27 am (UTC)
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Ah so it's acceptable to put every person you go near at risk of injury because taxis are expensive? I don't know what your taxis are made of (gold? diamonds?) but although taxis aren't cheap here, they're not so astronomically expensive that a single trip precludes eating for a week.
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From:stagknight
Date:April 4th, 2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
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Given London taxi prices I would say that a return taxi trip replacing a normal commute could easily cost 30-40 pounds. Some people have weekly food budgets around that value.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 5th, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
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I think this is what Schneier calls an externality, i.e. the person making the decision isn't the person who suffers the most. If someone drives while tired, and crashes, they will probably survive but the person they squash won't be so lucky. Generally speaking, the solution is to move the cost back to the decision maker, but in this context I'm not sure how well that would work. I've reported a few near misses to the police (via RoadsafeLondon) and in theory they could crack down on the drivers. That way, if drivers know that being careless will have unpleasant consequences for them (even without actually crashing) it would give them an incentive to pay attention or take a different form of transport.

I do sympathise with people who are on a tight budget, although in London I'd say our public transport system is good that you wouldn't need a taxi, and cheap enough that it shouldn't force you to starve (particularly as petrol prices keep rising).
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 5th, 2012 09:17 pm (UTC)
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Unless you have a mobility impairment; the disabled access for public transport in London is not exactly fantastic.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 5th, 2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
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True, that does make things a bit more complicated. Mind you, I think there's a bit of overlap with cyclists here. I often take my bike on the train, and step-free access means that I don't have to carry it up and down stairs, so I pay attention to that: a lot of stations already have it, and the situation is improving (e.g. every platform at Clapham Junction now has a lift). Similarly, the disabled space on trains doubles up with the bike space, and most trains have that. The main exception is the Gatwick Express, which sometimes has a disabled section but also has a big climb and narrow doors to get onto the train. I often see wheelchairs/pushchairs/prams on buses, and I don't recall ever seeing a wheelchair user turned away because the space was already in use. There is certainly still room for improvement, though.
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From:sulkyblue
Date:April 6th, 2012 07:07 am (UTC)
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I think it's a bit unfair to presume that anyone is so callous that they don't care that they've hurt someone else or caused someone else stress. I get frustrated with people being stupid (drivers speeding, cyclists not wearing helmets or lights, pedestrians darting out between cars) because although if something happened it would be there fault, I would still feel awful.

I think there is plenty of legislation that already targets specific carelessness (mobile phones usage for example) but maybe it needs enforcing a bit better. Speed cameras work because they have noticeable effects (cash fine, points on licence -> increased insurance) but for some stuff there's no spot checks. I would also extend that to cyclists though - riding on pavements, jumping red lights. As a pedestrian I've had several near misses with cyclists and they've reacted exactly the way that car drivers have reacted to you as a cyclist in near misses. Car drivers are at least regulated, you have to pass your test, and your licence can be revoked, there's no such issue for cyclists.

Sorry, I get a bit frustrated because I often hear the "2 wheels good, 4 wheels bad" arguement (partially because I know so many cyclists so it is self selecting admittedly) but there is also a counterpoint. As an occasional driver but much more frequent pedestrian I just try to balance things up a bit.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 6th, 2012 08:37 am (UTC)
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That's all fair, and I hope I don't sound too militant in these posts. When I've driven an ambulance, I've seen people push their prams out into the road ahead of me without looking first, so I've had to brake to avoid a collision, and I don't think that the driver is always at fault in situations like this.

Mind you, there was an interesting thing I heard about a while ago: if people cycle with a baby on the back of their bike (child seat), drivers tend to give them a wider berth, i.e. the drivers are being extra careful because they don't want to harm the baby. That sounds like a good thing, but it implies that they'd be willing to risk the adult cyclist's safety normally by passing closer. I'm sure it's not a conscious decision, but it does say something about underlying attitudes.

I agree with you about enforcing existing legislation. In particular, (adult) cyclists who ride on the pavement can get a £500 fine, and I'd be happy for the police to crack down on that, confiscating the bikes if necessary. Jumping red lights can be a bit more of a grey area, e.g. here's a report I submitted of a traffic light that doesn't react to cyclists. I've been in touch with the council, but 4 months on they still haven't fixed it, so I treat that particular red light as a "give way" sign.

Oh, and for what it's worth I sometimes have 4 wheels, when I'm towing my trailer :)
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From:Liam Redmond
Date:April 9th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)

Road reporting

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John - there's a podcast about evidence for and against helmits: BBC Radio 4, $) Inside Health: 'scripts, HPVs, Tatoos, Helmits
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 9th, 2012 11:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Road reporting

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Thanks - the recording is here and the relevant bit starts at 19m45s.

Basically, the GP is talking about Ian Walker's research from Bath in 2006. He found that other vehicles got closer to him when he was wearing a helmet, compared to when he was wearing a blonde wig. However, other people have criticised his research, e.g. because he may have varied his own cycling style depending on his headgear.

The GP poses some questions and freely admits "I don't know", which rather undermines her claim to rely on evidence in decision making. So, there's no particularly useful information about the merits of helmets.

My main concern is that cycle helmets may only be useful at low speed. However, the helmet gives me a useful place to mount my camera, and it may demonstrate to a court that I've taken steps to protect myself. Compare this guy who sued his employer and was found to be partly liable.
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From:sulkyblue
Date:April 4th, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
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I've not read read the article (not going to give them the page views to be honest) but my first response was... What was the driving instructor doing in all this? Not least because as far as I'm aware all BSM cars are dual control.

Option 1- she had a bad instructor, who was allowing her to drive while tired or stressed and who potentially was contributing to her stress), didn't spot the hazard, didn't take his own preventative action, and didn't explain to her what went wrong. If that's the case then her response is understandable, if the instructor tells you it wasn't your fault and the other driver/cyclist/pedestrian/small animal was in the wrong, then you believe them.

Option 2 - despite her hazy and confused account, the cyclis really was doing something daft and it wasn't her fault. Ive had near misses and have struggled to understand them afterwards, there's a lot going on and if you're a learner you're still having to think about absolutely everything and you're not as aware. That's why you have instructors, if the instructor wasn't a bad one and he neither did anything or explained the problem afterwards, maybe the cyclist was wrong. I'm sorry, but I've seen plenty of cyclists do borderline suicidal things (both from the pov of a driver, a bus passenger and a pedestrian). As with driving and cycling (and human beings in general) a minority give the group a bad name).

I neither case though is that to say her comments and wild extrapolations are appropriate, but as you say, that's what tabloids do.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 5th, 2012 08:58 pm (UTC)
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Fair point: I'd be interested to hear from the BSM, although I assume that it would be against their policies to discuss individual cases like this.

I'll also admit that I've seen some idiot cyclists out there. I think the "record" was when I saw two people on one bike: one on the saddle and the other sitting on the handlebars. They were out after dark, with no lights on the bike, wearing dark clothing (and with dark skin). They were on the wrong side of the road, turning right, i.e. they were going around a blind corner. Frankly, if they'd been hit by a car then they'd have only themselves to blame. If the Express writer had described a similar situation then I'd sympathise with her, but her description is so muddled that I don't trust it.
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