Both passengers and the pilot were seriously injured and the driver of the car faces lawsuits, at least it is said. But it was a reminder of the vulnerability of cyclists.
It also reminded me of a near miss I had. In the late afternoon twilight, I was driving into Edinburgh, slowing down at the approach of a red light when, out of nowhere, a cyclist crossed my path, missing me by a few inches.
From the preview I got, I could see that the bike was stripped down, no lights, and mounted quickly. The rider wore dark clothing and no hard hat.
After I caught my breath, I started to think about what would have happened if we had collided. As a long-time motorcyclist, I know what happens when two wheels hit four. Two wheels are invariably the worst. The cyclist who almost hit me would certainly have been injured, possibly seriously.
Would I have enjoyed the presumption of innocence, or would it have been a case of two good wheels – guilty four wheels?
And what about third party liability insurance, would my rider have been covered for third party risk? Unlikely. It is no comfort that dozens of legal claims companies are touting online for businesses to make bodily injury claims on behalf of cyclists against motorists. Vulnerability goes both ways.
The way we regulate road users is largely historical and strangely unbalanced.
The point is, while all motor vehicles require registration, a driver’s license, and insurance coverage, even electric bicycles do not. Cyclists are not even legally required to wear protective helmets.
This becomes more and more important because as the power to the pedals increases, the risks to all road users will increase.
The increase in cycling is a very positive development from both an environmental and health perspective, but bringing all road users together safely requires careful, intelligent and consensual engineering.
If the effort is praised, you cannot blame our local councils for inactivity. It was hard not to notice that during the lockdown, considerable sums of our money were spent on major tinkering with our road system. Public toilets have been closed and sold but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of cash to cover our streets with cones, bollards, huge wooden planters and the most imaginative road markings.
Some of our road surfaces now look like the London Underground map. The confusion does not cover it and it is dangerous.
During the pandemic, bicycle sales have skyrocketed, and while our advice has increased equipment for cyclists, it hasn’t necessarily improved safety for them or the rest of us.
Most cyclists, like motorists and pedestrians, are considerate and law-abiding, but for the few who aren’t, we already have legal remedies.
New legislation is not necessary, existing road traffic laws provide for bicycle and motor traffic offenses. It’s just that cycling laws are rarely enforced.
As we enter this new era where many bikes share spaces with us, a balance must be found. For all our good.
Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Police Chief
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