Almost a cycling statistic – twice

Twice in the last 24 hours I have been involved in an incident while cycling from my home in Patcham in the Brighton suburbs to the town centre.  In both cases I could have been seriously injured – the first time I got away unscathed, the second time I came off the bike but somehow walked away from a really nasty incident without serious injury.  And both were at the same junction on Brighton’s Preston Road, with Harrington Road, on a route I use every day and where I feel comfortable and confident.

Not very good screenshot (from Google Maps) of where the incidents happened. In both cases I was a couple of metres behind the position of the cyclist in the picture

Not very good screenshot (from Google Maps) of where the incidents happened. In both cases I was a couple of metres behind the position of the cyclist in the picture

The first occasion was yesterday lunchtime. A woman in a blue Peugeot had pulled up at the double white lines and was talking on her mobile phone.  As I went past she suddenly started forward – still immersed in her phone conversation – and I was forced to swerve and narrowly missed being struck by a passing bus.  I’m still not sure how I managed to stay on the bike or avoid being struck – and I cannot imagine what the poor wretch of a bus driver thought.  It was seriously unpleasant and I felt very shaken afterwards; as I pedalled on the woman in the car drove past, still on her phone. I was too shaken to get her registration number.

This morning’s was much more serious.  I was in exactly the same place when almost the same thing happened; a man drove his car across the cycle lane forcing me to swerve out of the cycle lane into the main road.  But at the same time a woman driving north along Preston Road decided to turn right into Harrington Road, without signalling or stopping, and was heading straight at me.  This time I couldn’t stay on the bike and flew off, landing in the road in front of the second car.

It must have looked spectacular. I am not a small man and the passing dog-walking pedestrian who helped me asked whether I had ever had parachute training, so perfectly-executed was my roll (for the record I haven’t and it was pure instinct but it’s probably what saved me from breaking any bones). I hauled myself up, delivered a few choice words of good honest Anglo-Saxon at the woman behind the wheel before she sped off, and it was only once I had picked myself up that the pain kicked in. Once again, no chance to get the registration number.

I was lucky.  I have painful bruising all down my right side, from my shoulder to just above my right knee.  But I don’t appear to have broken anything, and it could easily have been so much worse.  I wasn’t actually hit, although it was a near-run thing. And the bike was undamaged – fortunately it’s a beast of a road bike, 35 years old and steel-framed and would probably survive Armageddon.  And I managed to get back on it and ride gingerly, slowly, painfully back home – it seemed  important to do that.  (Just to reassure the victim-blamers I was wearing a helmet – I always do –  and a reflective blue jacket; visibility was good and there was no excuse for not seeing me).

A few hours later, a couple of thoughts.  I am a careful cyclist; this junction is on my daily route and I have negotiated it hundreds of times.  The sole cause of both the near miss and the actual accident was stupid, negligent driving – an in either case I could have been very seriously injured.  On the second in particular I was extremely lucky.  And yet cyclists who call motorists’ behaviour – even when, as in both these cases it is in the literal sense of the word criminal – are branded as extreme or strident.  In fact it is about something very simple – the right of vulnerable road users to space on the streets.  (I note in passing that in neither case did the driver deign to stop).

Second, this is an entirely unrecorded incident.  I did not go to hospital and there was no police involvement; as far as official statistics are concerned, it did not exist.  It’s a reminder that thousands of unreported near misses happen every day.  If cars are involved in an incident there is a statutory duty to report and if insurance claims are involved, there will always be a record; the daily experience of vulnerable road users does not have the advocacy of statistics, because for the most part incidents will not involve a formal report.

Finally, a thought on language.  We talk about death and injury and damage on the road in terms of “accidents”; as if they were somehow an unavoidable collateral of the benefits of mobility.  They’re not; in almost every case they are the fault of people acting irresponsibly or negligently.  It may not always be possible to untangle who is doing what, and there is absolutely no point in setting up a blame culture.  But we do need a culture of responsibility, and our current language avoids that.  And it means those who are least vulnerable stepping up to the plate and taking their responsibility for the vulnerable.  The roads in Britain remain a sort of paradigm of neoliberalism: a devil-take-hindmost environment in which the weakest must expect, without complaint, to go to the wall.  Britain remains a country where if you want to kill with relative impunity, you just need to get behind the wheel of a car (or, in particular, a lorry in London).  It need not be like that, and I’ll be back on my bike on Monday morning to reclaim my right to road space.

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10 thoughts on “Almost a cycling statistic – twice

  1. Great post, and I’m sorry about what happened. Really not cool, not cool at all. And you’re right — these “close calls” to serious injury go unreported. I’m lucky that a couple groups in Chicago (USA) started a website for people to upload all close calls, as a way to start tracking this data. I hope something like that becomes more mainstream and systematic!

    But, glad that you are generally okay. Safe travels!

  2. Likewise glad you are OK. As a cyclist myself, I have many of my own close calls to recount, although thankfully only twice come off my bike in all the years of riding and both times walked away.

    On your point about it not being an accident, the Fire and Rescue Service have moved away from the Acronym RTA using RTC instead. No longer a Road Traffic Accident, rather a Road Traffic Collision. This reflects exctly your point – these aren’t acts of god, or a set of circumstances beyond anyone’s control – this sort of incident is entirely human made.

    I like Echo’s idea of a website for reporting incidents. Will pursue that later. But in the meantime, you SHOULD report it. Even if you have no number plate to name, it needs to be recorded.

  3. I’m no longer fit to cycle; and years ago was taken out by Qatari’s (from their London embassy), making a left turn across me as I cycled over an intersection, so I empathise.

    Last week, my taxi steered from lane to curb outside H&M area of Western Road and stopped for me to get out after paying. Almost simultaneous then with me opening the door, a cyclist shot past it. Sheer luck that she was not banged off her bike and onto the pavement sideways. She must surely have seen the car veer leftward and stop to deposit someone? But she did not stop to wait or move from curb to lane to go past the taxi that way. Each of us was unconscious of the other.

    Cars and cycles do not travel at the same speed and it is surely a numbers game. The sheer weight of numbers of cars on the road stacks the deck against cyclists. Hence pavement cycling that endangers us pedestrians.

    We muddle on. But your tale kind of demonstrates that cycle lanes are not the answer!

  4. Poor you – hope the bruising is starting to fade. Many drivers are in a world of their own as soon as they get behind the wheel. Having been a regular cyclist, I am now too intimidated by thoughtless drivers, to set out on my own and so now stick to off-road. Even on quiet lanes, I have been forced into the hedge on numerous occasions! Talking to our local hunky cycle club chaps, THEY now only ride with one, or more, companions, just in case of accidents!! Looking at the cycling mags, seems that cyclists need to be covered in flashing lights and with a video camera fitted to helmets. All rather expensive and time consuming if you’re just going to pop down the road.

    • I think those flashing lights are very bad. At night it makes it very difficult to judge how far away a cyclist is as there is no constant point of reference.

  5. P.S. CTC run a site roadjustice.org.uk/report to log incidents and they also have (had?) a SMIDSY – sorry mate, I didn’t see you – campaign. See ctc.org.uk. And, apparently, Sussex Police are running Operation Crackdown to reduce these incidents – worth a word in their ear?

    • Thank you very much for your comments. I’ve tried Operation Crackdown in the past but for reasons I completely understand they can’t do much without a full registration number. I will check out the other sites.

  6. I gave up cycling in London about six years ago after a number of near misses. I moved to London after cycling in European, Australian and US cities and although there is terrible road behaviour everywhere, it’s only in London that I’ve found such an active hostility to cyclists. And to respond to the Clarkson-ist dickheads, there’s also a (perhaps defensive) equivalent response from some cyclists to drivers. I’m about to move to Brighton as my six month job in the UK ended up being 15 years (and counting) where I was planning to get back in the saddle. However, I’m now in my late 40’s. Mortality looms when the metal boxes get too close and after reading this post I’m reconsidering. Perhaps it’s not so actively anti-bike in Brighton but incidents like this (and two of them in short order) make me feel the risk might not be worth it.

  7. Don’t use a cycle lane through the junction. Ride in the middle, as if you were driving. Drivers are *much* more likely to see you because that’s where they look for traffic. Bikes are traffic.

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