Cycling dangers – a lawyer’s perspective
News article published on: 14th February 2019
Cycling in London can be a dangerous business, but risk is like half a glass: some of us will think an accident will never happen to us, others may anticipate a collision at every turn.
I run the cycling team (and cycle the work run) at Osbornes Law and so get to see all the cycling injury cases that come in to our office, and it is pretty clear, sadly, that accident and injury can befall the invincible and the nervous cyclist alike.
But there are a number of common scenarios that arise. The purpose of this article is to set out those scenarios in the hope that whilst it wont improve the behaviour of the at-fault driver it may possibly help other cyclists to better anticipate the danger situations and perhaps avoid the critical impact.
Much and more has been said, but little has been done, about the danger of death and serious injury posed to cyclists by lorries in London.
TFL’s Direct Vision Standard is a promising development, but the problem remains that most lorries and trucks in London are not cycle friendly – they are poorly designed to allow the driver to easily see a cyclist.
Commonly a cyclist will be caught on the inside of a lorry at a junction. The lorry driver may fail to indicate or may do so too late so the cyclist is already alongside, and then cut across the cyclist’s path, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Getting caught on the offside of a lorry at a junction whilst filtering is clearly also a dangerous position, and even waiting in stationary traffic behind a lorry can be perilous. We have a particularly horrific case in the office where a lorry driver decided to reverse back along the road but failed to see the cyclist waiting behind his truck.
Avoiding lorries entirely is not possible, but hanging well back near junctions and taking up a road position that allows sight of the driver via his mirrors would be good practice.
Opening a vehicle’s door ‘to danger’ (more commonly referred to as ‘dooring’) is actually an offence, but this is unfortunately a common scenario for cyclists, and we have acted for many people injured by a car door carelessly flung open into their path.
The danger cannot always be avoided, but consciously allowing a car door’s width when overtaking parked or stationary cars at the nearside will usually mitigate the risk.
Side turnings to the nearside present a particular risk to filtering cyclists, even if they are in a cycle lane. What often happens is that a vehicle coming the other way turns right across the cyclist’s path without seeing the approaching bike.
Typically there is stationary or slow moving traffic and one of the vehicles in the cyclist’s line of traffic has allowed a space for the right turning vehicle, and neither of those vehicles has been aware of the cyclist coming up the nearside. In the litigation that may follow a collision, the car driver will counter-allege that the cyclist failed to anticipate the danger and to look properly or stop.
It is easy to assume that a cycle lane is inviolable, and indeed the Highway Code says that other vehicles must not drive or park in a driving lane (unless it has a broken white line), but that is scant consolation to the cyclist knocked off and injured by a right turning vehicle.
Being alert on the approach to a nearside turning and watching out for adjacent vehicles leaving a gap for turning traffic may allow a cyclist to avoid a collision with a careless driver.
Another common situation is where a vehicle emerges from a side turning ahead (or onto a roundabout) without checking thoroughly for oncoming traffic, and drives into a cyclist going straight ahead. Sometimes there is little that can be done about this, but watching the driver as he/she approaches the junction can be a give-away – if they don’t look your way they haven’t seen you!
There is a recurring theme, and it is simply that drivers just don’t always look properly and don’t see cyclists. High viz cycling kit, multiple (flashing) bike lights and a glass-half-empty constant vigilance are a cyclist’s best defence.
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