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Cyclist Fatality Spike Is More Than Just One Wobble

Man riding bike in middle of road
18th November 2013

The sixth cyclist to be fatally injured on London’s roads in just the last two weeks occurred on the morning of Monday 18th November when a male in his 60s was in a collision with a lorry in South London. The tragic loss of life brings this year’s total of cyclist deaths in London to 14 - the same number for 2012 – of which nine involved HGVs.  A cyclist was also killed in Bath on November 18th, highlighting the fact that cyclists are at risk anywhere.

One cycling death happened at the Bow roundabout, East London, the scene of another cyclist fatality in 2012.  Urgent concern and fresh calls to investigate cycling safety – especially at known hazardous locations – have been given increasing media airtime since the present “spike” in cycling fatalities began.

Following Friday’s fatal accident at the Bow roundabout,  the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said, "It's a tragedy that we've had so many deaths in the last few days...”  who also warned that  “large vehicles can be killing machines, and cyclists can find themselves in the path of a lorry or bus with one wobble."

Other factors far more likely to cause harm

While “one wobble” can certainly give rise to a lightning chain of events leading to a collision, many cyclists would point to other factors far more likely to cause serious harm and lead to bicycle accident claims. Recent Department of Transport figures for national road casualties show that the total number of pedal cyclist casualties – killed, seriously injured and slightly injured – rose by 12 per cent in April-June 2013 compare to the same period in 2012.

Previously, a Transport for London report stated that 56 per cent of fatal and serious collisions involving cyclists were caused by the motorist driving in an “unlawful or anti-social” manner. Coincidentally last week also saw the conviction of Emma Way from Norfolk. She was found guilty of failing to stop after a collision and failing to report an accident but the incident would never have reached the courts if she had not tweeted: "definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way - he doesn't even pay road tax!" using the hashtag #bloodycyclists.

Motorists and cyclists can often appear to be locked into a ‘blame game’ that divides road user perception and colours driving behaviour. On the one hand, many drivers simply do not comply with statutory speed limits and deliberately drive too close to cyclists, while cyclists may suddenly swerve across the road to take up position right in front of a motorist or ride through a red light.   

Measures to help cyclists, from increasing fines for vehicles encroaching upon the advanced stop lines of cycle boxes in front of pedestrian crossings to the government’s £77 million investment plan for road safety infrastructure in eight cities are thought by cycling organisations to be inadequate.

Cyclists may be less optimistic about real changes

There is a particular problem with lorry drivers not being able to see a cyclist from their cab when turning left at a junction. The police, local authorities, motoring organisations and vehicle haulage firms have been working more closely together in campaigns to raise awareness of the problems spotting cyclists during critical manoeuvres and particularly poor road layouts. Yet many daily cycling commuters feel less optimistic about any real changes in road traffic culture and behaviour, pointing to drivers of all types being routinely seen talking on their mobile phones and texting.

It may be no surprise that there are now increasing calls to entirely separate proposed cyclist routes from other road traffic or even change the times when lorries are allowed to make their deliveries to avoid the morning and evening commuter traffic completely.