Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Column, August 8, 2006

LIFE'S cheap when you're a cyclist.
In fact it's worth a few quid and six penalty points.
The relatives and friends of the four members of Rhyl Cycling Club have been dignified in their silence since the accident that killed their loved ones.
They allowed the judicial process to take its course and what a fine day for British justice it was when we find the driver charged with having three defective tyres.
What's more, three defective tyres that did not contribute to the accident. So that's it then? Four lives lost and the driver involved gets a fine and a few penalty points. And not enough penalty points mind you to take him off the road, for as his solicitor explained, he would suffer extreme hardship if he lost his licence.
The magistrates could only sentence him for what he was charged with, and so that's what they duly did. The statement released by the families afterwards was the modicum of reason and dignity we have come to expect, expressing their disappointment with the decision to go with such a low charge.
Like them I await the inquest into this case with great interest, because the way things are going it is yet another example of no-one being to blame when cyclists come of worst.
It may well be that this was a pure accident. I just find it strange that when motorists come into conflict, their insurance companies somehow manage to work out who it is that's to blame. But when a cyclist gets involved in an accident, they have to accept that accidents happen.
And accidents do happen to cyclists in ever greater numbers nowadays don't they? Accidents involving injury and death to cyclists is the one group of accidents that is growing and yet we see case after case where drivers are able to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the accident.
How many times has a lorry driver/motorist/bus driver elegantly excused themselves for any blame for wiping a cyclist off their bike in one easy manoeuvre by claiming “I didn't see him/her.”
Has anyone in court thought of saying to them: “Yes, and that's because YOU WEREN'T LOOKING PROPERLY WERE YOU?!” And whenever I write these columns bemoaning the fact that drivers claim they can't see something that is actually bigger than a pedestrian, the letter writers come out of their holes.
I was particularly amused by the recent correspondent who complained about cyclists 'riding two abreast.' Gasp, is that the sound of Western civilisation crumbling round our ears I hear? What, two-abreast, as is allowed in the Highway Code? The fiends, you should have run them off the road, and if you didn't, don't worry, odds are someone will soon anyway.
And it isn't long before someone complains about us riding on pavements as well. Look, the reason anyone rides on a pavement is because it's probably been made to dangerous to go on the road in that particular stretch by selectively blind car drivers who don't give us enough room to ride.
There have even been calls recently by particularly idiotic correspondents in national newspapers, for cyclists to have number plates on their bikes, just like cars.
Oh yes, that's the answer to the carnage on our roads isn't it? Never mind about the 3,000 plus deaths caused by drivers every year, let's crack down on the handful of cyclists who cut up journalists on national newspapers shall we? And while we're at it, could
I have good reason to write this as up until recently I had confined most of my cycling to mountain biking on bridleways and tracks far from traffic.
However, a few months ago I decided to do part of my daily commute by bike. As this involved a train journey too, I bought a handy folding bike which would stow away on the train. This is essential on most train journeys as most train companies seem incapable of getting their heads round the idea that someone might want to carry a bike on their journey and so there's never enough room on their trains unless you're bike is junior size with stabilisers, or a folding bike that you an hide so that the conductor doesn't look at you like you're a terrorist attempting to cripple the railway system by means of a solitary bicycle.
Anyway, as if cycling wasn't bad enough, now I'm guilty of riding a 'weird' bike, and you know what that means don't you? Even less leeway given by buses, lorries and cars, that's what. Well, it's a small bike, with small wheels, so I need a small clearance don't I?
Alton Towers could introduce it as a new white-knuckle ride – BikeCommuter – it wouldn't be so bad if you were taking your life in your own hands, but you're placing your life in the hands of drivers who seem to find endless new ways of taking their eyes off the road.
I was travelling in the other day and I saw a woman leaning over into the centre of the car, while using the rear view mirror, I kid you not, to brush her hair – at 60mph.
Of course, if she had wiped anyone out while coiffing herself at the national speed limit, I somehow doubt her defence solicitor at trial would have highlighted her grooming habits and that if she was going to kill someone, she may as well do it with her parting in the right place.
No, no, hers would be the usual excuse – I didn't see the cyclist/the other car/the pedestrian/the barn door before I hit it.
I'm sure the driver of the car that killed the Rhyl cyclists is haunted by what happened, although, not, it's fair to say, as haunted as those who are bereaved.
While one doesn't want to launch a witch hunt of one driver, it would be nice, just once in a while, if the prosecuting authorities contemplated throwing the book at a driver involved in cyclists' deaths, instead of letting them off with what looks like the lowest charge available.

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