The following story was written by someone I know and trust. I asked him to write it down after he had told it to me over the telephone. I reproduce it here as he wrote it. He is not a “cycle campaigner” and does not follow the kinds of on-line debates and discussions that are familiar to cycle campaigners. I mention this because the report seems to me to contain both corroboration and further insight for those who do write and speak about the changes our road culture is going through at the present time. The irrelevant photograph is one of my own and so is the significant footnote.
Them and Us
Whilst cycling home the other day I was hit by a car. I was in a cycle lane with a solid white line in between the cycle/bus lane and the other traffic. I was traveling at 20mph, which was a lot faster than the traffic in the lane to my right, as it was “rush” hour. Suddenly, and without any indication, a car turned left, driving straight into my path. I had absolutely no chance to avoid the car, or even apply brakes. As I slammed into the tail light of the BMW I just had time to hope that my injuries wouldn’t be too bad. Once I landed, I dragged myself (whilst voicing my discomfort) to the pavement, trying not to look at the gaping hole in my knee.
The driver and his passenger got out immediately and phoned for an ambulance. I am very grateful that they didn’t just drive off, and that they stayed to ensure that I was OK. This was refreshing as the last time I got hit by a car, the drivers first reaction was to shout at me and ask me if I had my lights on! One thing they said, that was a little off, was along the lines of “the council should do something about that cycle lane, move it onto the pavement”. It seemed off to me because they where already trying to shift the blame onto something other than the driver just not looking for, or not seeing me.
When the police arrived, as first on the scene, they immediately took on the role of paramedics, asking the important questions to verify the extent of my injuries – where did it hurt, had I passed out, did I bang my head, was my neck injured, could I move my toes… Clearly they are well trained and had plenty of experience being first on the scene of Road traffic accidents. Once they had dealt with my main injury, they then asked me whether I was wearing a helmet. At first I thought this was to double check that I had no head injury, but as he made a note in his book, I realised the purpose was not to help me, but must be for some other purpose. The next question sealed it – Were you wearing headphones?…. What would that tell them? How would that help them understand my injuries? I realised then that they are trying to collect data about accidents involving cyclists to see if wearing a helmet or headphones contributes to accidents in some way. At first you might think this would be useful and may help inform good policy or code changes. But there are two issues I have with this. The first is that wearing headphones had absolutely nothing to do with the accident. The headphones I have are designed for cyclists and do not block the ear canal, so even though I could hear the traffic around me it still did not help predict the sudden change of direction that the car took. The second issue I have is about balance. Why should a cyclist have to hear what’s going on around them anyway? A car driver with windows closed and radio on cannot hear anything outside the car.
So, I was now a bit more sensitive to imbalance in the views of those that where there to help me, some more subtle and others being openly anti-cyclist. Both the paramedic and ambulance driver declared that they disliked cyclists. “Why?” I asked, “do you peel many cyclists off the road”, “yes” was the answer. So why, I thought, do they hate cyclists and not the unobservant drivers that crashed into them? The ambulance driver asked me, more than once, about how much I’d spent on my glasses and whether I’d spent more on my glasses than on my bike. When I admitted that indeed my bike was more expensive she seemed to think that this explained why I got hit by a car, and advised me to get new, more expensive ones. When we arrived at the hospital she even passed on this piece of wisdom to the person that helped remove the trolley I was on from the back of the ambulance.
When I was delivered to A&E one of the first doctors to see me was another cyclist. He was much more understanding and asked to see my helmet. Rather than checking the outside of the helmet for breaks and cracks as the police had done, he checked the inside and found a large crack in the lining. Not only did this tell me that my helmet had probably helped prevent a head injury it also brought some balance to the proceedings and provided good advice. Here was someone who understood my plight, made no comments about who was to blame, was informed about what to check for and advised me to replace my helmet. Sadly he was not my doctor, but just a concerned fellow cyclist.
The next comment, from a doctor that passed the trolley I was on, really annoyed me. He announced that I must be “another bloody cyclist who had run a red light!” He knew nothing about what had happened, yet here he was presuming to pass judgement for a crime that I did not commit (and one that I myself get annoyed by whenever I see a cyclist do it).
Finally, after a very long wait in A&E, the doctor that patched me up (and did a fantastic job of the stitching), told me about all the times that she saw cyclists running red lights. As I myself get annoyed by this I understood her and agreed, but I got the impression that she felt that this was something all cyclists do rather than just a few idiots who take stupid risks. What about all the indiscretions of drivers, I thought: turning without indicating, driving whilst talking on mobile phones, trying to stop children fighting on the back seat, accelerating to beat the lights as they change to red, weaving through heavy traffic, having their lunch… the list goes on. None of these things seem to create a dislike of car drivers generally, they just annoy us about that particular driver, at that time. The key difference here is that every time one cyclist does something stupid it taints people’s opinions about every cyclist.
So, what’s the point of this spleen venting? What conclusions might be derived from this experience? The main conclusion that I myself draw is that people seem to want to blame cyclists for getting hit by drivers. At no point was I blamed directly, no one said that I was in the wrong specifically, but I got the distinct impression that people generally believe that cyclists are dangerous and do not observe the Highway Code. If this impression of people’s views towards cyclists is correct then I am concerned about the way transport policy and planning might develop if informed by the data and views collected and given by emergency services staff “on the ground”. It is likely to end up in tighter controls for cyclists rather than also considering development of better guidance and training for drivers and better design of our transport infrastructure.
Another conclusion I draw from this, as well as observation over time, is that some cyclists do not follow the Highway Code and in so doing not only put themselves at risk of injury or worse, but their behaviour also reflects on all other cyclists. In contrast, when drivers flout the Highway Code this not only endangers themselves, it also endangers other road users, some of whom are less well protected than themselves. The other key difference between cyclists and drivers is that the indiscretions of those few bad drivers (or those that are simply momentarily distracted) does not reflect on all of us. This is because, for the majority, cyclists are Them and drivers are Us. What I hope is for a change in philosophy, to one where each road user is aware of how their actions may affect others, not just how other users affect them, that better design of our transport infrastructure can reduce the risk for more vulnerable road users. Finally I hope that considerate road users can become Us and that unobservant road users who drive or cycle without due care and attention become an increasingly rare Them.
Footnote: In a subsequent email conversation I have learned that the driver has already admitted fault to his insurers and they have contacted the cyclist to find out what the damage is.