Having read with dismay the transcripts from recent trials involving drivers who have collided with cyclists and killed them, it struck me that the cyclist rarely had a voice in the proceedings. No one asked the dead victim about the quality of their riding, no one asked the dead victim about the charity work they did or whether they needed their life to support their family and to help care for their loved ones.
Instead the testimony and witness statements in the court room take on a distinctly one sided slant. A consistent effort can be seen for all present to be apologists for drivers and create a myth of blameless accidents, unfortunate events due to poor infrastructure and events where the victim themselves was to blame for their own demise.
From reading through the events in court, it is quite clear that the CPS has a habit of drawing upon the “experience” of the local authority traffic police. I do not know whether this is related to costs or a blind belief that the police have an ounce of understanding of cycling. It is clear from some of the testimonies given by so called “expert witnesses” that there is a failing in the evidence being put forward against drivers.
So, I decided that I would set out my testimony so that in the event that I am unfortunate to have my life taken from me, my voice can be heard in court.
I rode bicycles, a lot. I rode on average 100km to 200km a week with roughly half of that being my daily commute. I have competed in “professional” level mountain bike races, I ride on-road, I ride off-road during the day and at night. For my commute I ride a simple fixed wheel bike, I ride a carbon fibre road bike and off road I ride a full suspension bike with 26” wheels or a hard tail with 29” wheels. I rode on my own through sunny days and the depths of winter. I rode with packs or riders through all weathers. I crashed sometimes, but got back on my bike. I was a competent, enthusiast amateur cyclist, a commuting cyclist and a leisure cyclist.
Perhaps the barrister for the defence has suggested that I was a cocky rider. Over confident perhaps, riding on a road which was unsafe, perhaps. Let me lay that to rest. I differentiate between the different types of riding. Off road I took calculated risks, I was responsible 100% for my off-road riding and I knew my limits. On road, I adjusted my cycling to the time, place, reasons for riding and the road / weather conditions. I didn’t race on my commute, I rode with care and adapted to the relevant risks.
Maybe it was suggested that the road I was on was too dangerous If I was riding on a road where it was legal to ride (ie not a motorway) then I would have adjusted to the risks of that road. No cyclist enjoys riding on a dual carriageway, the gutters are full of broken glass, stones and bits that have fallen off vehicles. Being buffeted by cars and lorries is horrid, it is not something a rider seeks out. I never sought out that kind of route. Sometimes it happens though, you make a wrong turn, you need to cut back early from a ride, or you just need to link between two quieter roads. I would not have ridden on that road if I had not assessed the risks, considered the alternatives and deemed it the least worst option. I would have expected some respect as a road user from other road users. I would expect them to be vigilant, to look out for vulnerable users and to be prepared to act. Perhaps I expected too much.
If it was suggested that I or other cyclists often treat the traffic laws with contempt, please allow me to assure you that if I was riding through traffic, perhaps on my commute, I respected the law and the Highway Code. I obeyed traffic lights; not just red lights but amber lights as well. I used cycle lanes when they were provided and when they were appropriate. I “took the lane” when necessary and positioned my bike with confidence and respect for other road users. I did not unnecessarily delay other drivers, I provided them with space to pass when I could, but I also read the traffic ahead and I may well have not swerved out of the way to allow a car to speed past for 50m into the back of the stationary traffic ahead.
If it was suggested that I was not easily seen or that I carried out a maneuver that was dangerous, let me assure you that I signaled my intentions after checking my six, I respected pedestrian crossings and did not ride on the pavement. I wore lights on my person and fixed to my bike when it was dark or approaching dark. I had my bicycle festooned with reflective materials and I wore hi-vz. I wore a helmet. Occasionally, on long quiet rides I might listen to some music or the radio, but never during my commute and never in a manner which distracted me or at a volume that affected my traffic awareness any more than the air rushing past my ears.
If it was suggested that the weather may have played a part in making my riding unpredictable or reduced the quality of my riding, then let me assure you that in sunshine I wore shaded glasses, in rain I wore clear glasses. I wore clothing to protect me from the elements and made sure that I was comfortable on my bike.
If my competence in being able to control a bicycle was in question, let me assure you that I was blessed with a brain which has better than average spatial data handling capacity (it’s been tested and that was found to be the case).l also happen to have better reflexes and motor skills than average (again, that was tested to the level of a military pilot and found to be the case). I was stronger than the “average” cyclist and could typically pull quickly away from junctions and pace match traffic and other riders.
In case my bicycle was damaged in the crash, let me assure you, I looked after my bicycles. I kept them clean and in good order. I checked the brakes, drive-chain, wheels and steering before each ride. I am a qualified engineer and maintained my bicycles, seeking professional support where necessary.
In summary, I did all that I could to protect myself. Please bear that in mind when you consider whether the driver did all that they could have reasonably done to protect me.
The barrister for the defence has probably talked about one of the following:
“The sun was low in the sky, the driver was blinded, he had no chance of seeing the cyclist” : really, is that an acceptable situation? Should the driver have carried on when he was blinded? Would a blind person drive down the road?
“The driver was not to blame, it is down to the poor infrastructure” : really, is that acceptable? If a road was heavily potholed and a driver barreled down it too fast and broke their car, is that the fault of the infrastructure? No, of course it isn’t. The driver should have modified their behavior to match the road conditions.
“The driver could not have anticipated a cycle to have been there” : really? Given that the cycle pre-dates the car, given that cycling is the second most popular participation “sport” in the UK, given that tens of thousands of people commute every day, that many roads have pictures of cycles painted on them, that there are road signs warning of cycles, and that almost every driver at some point in their life rode a bicycle, really, honestly they never expected a bike to be there? An elephant, that would be unexpected, but a bicycle, the single most common “vehicle” in the UK. That is not in any way shape or form unexpected, ever.
“The driver had a momentary lapse” : that’s the golden joker card. For the very split second that the incident happened, the driver happened to have a momentary lapse. That is most unfortunate, but purely coincidental and accidental. Let’s consider that for a moment.
The probability of a single “momentary” lapse that coincides exactly with the point in time when the driver could have avoided the cyclist is infinitesimally small. I was probably not hit just riding along the road if the barrister is using this defence. I was probably hit at a junction, or maybe I was turning or a car ahead of me was turning and that masked the view of the driver who hit me and they see me because of this monetary lapse. Well that is utter rubbish. A momentary lapse when driving along a straight road is credible, it’s unfortunate and should not happen, and has an almost nil chance of happening at the same split second that the drive might have hit me. However, a momentary lapse when you are maneuvering through traffic, or approaching a road feature like a junction, that is not a lapse, that is a careless, dangerous failing. It is laziness well beyond the standard that you or any other driver was taught to apply when you learnt to drive.
“The cyclist was in the driver’s blind spot, he had no chance of seeing them”: this was probably accompanied with a picture showing a lorry and a row of cyclists lined up all within a massive blind spot. First of all, what is the lorry driver doing driving a huge vehicle around a city environment when you cannot see round the vehicle and what is the owner doing allowing that on the road. Health and safety law deems that irrespective of specific guidance and law, there is an overriding principle that everyone takes responsibility and takes action to remove or mitigate hazards. Should the company have sent a large lorry into a city, could they have sent a smaller vehicle? Should the company have fitted extra mirrors or cameras to eliminate the blind spot? Should the driver have received specific training on driving a large vehicle in the city environment? All of those things were the responsibility of the driver and his employer. They could have done something about it.
It should also be noted that the image they showed you in court, that lorry was cranked. The cab and body set at an angle, the lorry actually blocking the adjacent lane. That is not how lorries line up at junctions. The blind spot in reality is way smaller than that image suggests and as an experienced cyclist I was not in the blind spot, quite simply the driver did not look properly. That doesn’t mean he didn’t point his head at the mirrors, it takes more than that to actually see something, you have to move eyes, stop them moving allow the image to be processed, then and only then can you see things. Ask whether the driver stopped and examined his mirrors or was it a quick glance before setting off. If the driver did the former, they would have seen me, if they did the latter, they would not have noticed me.
I do hope that someone asked whether the junction had parabolic mirrors fitted? In the case of my collision, it probably happened in Manchester where most junctions now have anti-blind spot mirrors. So did the driver use it? Similarly, was the driver over the line of an Advanced Stop Zone?
The final statement that the defence barrister probably made was something along the lines of “The driver was just doing what any driver would have done” : that put you edge didn’t it. After all, as a driver you have probably done some of those things. This was the “there but for the grace of god go I” argument. That scares you doesn’t it. It could have been you in the dock, rather than that other driver. Can you really say that their standard of driving was worse than other peoples? Well luckily you don’t have to.
What you should be considering is what standard of driving do you want to be the norm. Every time someone gets away with poor driving, the normal standard expected of drivers slips. You live in a time when cars are safer than they have ever been. Drivers face many distractions, phones, drinking, smoking, children shouting, aggressive other drivers, music and food. Cars drive better, stop faster and have better lights and better visibility. It has become all too easy to relax in the cosseted personal space of the private car or the driver’s cab of a lorry. The result has been a death sentence for other road users.
As a member of the jury or a judge, you sit at the pinnacle of societal expectations. You are responsible citizens. The decision you make will shape the future of society. You can draw the line. You can be the change.
Do not accept the palming off of the blame onto the tarmac, society or the victim. Instead, convict and, set the standard that you want to be held to. Draw the line. Be the change.
Or alternatively you can look my wife and my children in the eye and say “well, I would have killed him as well”.