I must preface this blog by saying that I deplore the cyclist Charlie Alliston for riding a bike with no front brake, and for his callous comments after the collision which killed Kim Briggs. The death of Kim is a tragedy and Alliston is culpable.
In my many years cycling I did once collide with a pedestrian. It was in the middle of town, I was going (I guess) about 15mph when she stepped off the pavement directly into my path. She fell and I was thrown over the handle bars landing directly on my head. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet: not many cyclists did in those days. The poor women was unconscious. It happened right outside the police station, so an officer was immediately in attendance. He quite correctly checked the bike and interviewed me. I was fortunate that two witnesses came forward of their own volition to explain that the pedestrian was entirely at fault: she had simply stepped into my path on the main road without looking. The police officer was satisfied that I was not in any way to blame for the collision. All it cost me was an hour of my time, a new helmet and a lot of stress. I was delighted to learn the woman recovered completely.
Following the case of Charlie Alliston, prosecuted after his fatal collision with a pedestrian, there has been a vitriolic attack by some in the media on cycling in general. This Morning, on ITV[i], invited Nick Ferrari and Donnachadh McCarthy to speak on the question, but rather than balanced debate we saw Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford line up with Ferrari to attack McCarthy’s considered argument and accurate statistics with anecdote and fact-free opinion. (The item was titled “Are dangerous cyclists taking over our roads?”) Ferrari asserted (against the evidence) that atmospheric pollution on the embankment has become worse since the cycle way opened. Holmes spoke of a war with cyclists, claiming as evidence that many cyclists bang on his car roof. If this is a war, Mr Holmes, the casualties are all on one side.[ii]
Cyclists are best advised not to react in a hostile fashion to drivers who nearly kill them, because a motorist can retaliate by pulling into a moving cyclist: some do, even without provocation. The ‘disappearing gap’ is a frightening experience that every cyclist is familiar with. Earlier this summer, I was almost taken out by an HGV on the A65. I guess the driver had not spotted the traffic island until he was half way through overtaking me. Rather than brake, the driver pulled in until the back of his trailer actually brushed my shoulder as I grazed the curb. What could I do? No vehicle number, no video clip, no car driver stopping to lend support or sympathy. I couldn’t even bang on his roof. However, the positive side of this is that I was very lucky not to be killed or injured.
McCarthy pointed out that many hundreds of pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles to every one fatality caused by a bike. This figure however is modest compared with the astounding number of deaths and the amount of poor health caused by traffic pollution. The three motorists on the programme replied with fact-free anecdotal argument about cyclists on the pavement and jumping lights.
The Alliston case exemplifies the negative reporting of cycling in the main-stream media. For example, the Telegraph headlined the case with:
Cyclist who killed pedestrian in high speed crash
Martin Evans, crime correspondent, 14 Aug 2017
In court, it was shown that Alliston was going about 18mph. If it had been a car that collided with Kim Briggs at 18mph would it have been reported as speeding? No. One ton or more of metal is far more dangerous than a cyclist at 18mph, but even 30mph is considered OK for cars in towns.
I have looked for similar cases to that of Alliston’s, but with a car instead of a bike. One case I found was Mohammed Rashid who killed Laurence Gunn on a zebra crossing. Rashid was not wearing his prescribed glasses. The cases are similar in that the court believed the illegal actions of the driver and cyclist contributed to the collision: Alliston did not have the front brake he should have had on his bike, Rashid was not wearing the glasses that made his vision meet the standard the law requires. Rashid was fined £500, banned for one year and given 140 hours unpaid work. The penalty imposed on Alliston should be less, because Rashid’s victim had the right of way on the crossing, whereas there is no doubt that Kim Briggs should have given way to Alliston.
The Daily Mail, 8 January 2014: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2535897/Short-sighted-driver-killed-dog-walker-pedestrian-crossing-wasnt-wearing-glasses-gets-just-140-hours-COMMUNITY-SERVICE.html
We cyclists are frequently criticized for riding on pavements and jumping red lights (‘Not guilty’) but I am never criticized as a motorist for the actions of those drivers who use their phones. Not only is this an offence, but the serious risk this entails is well known. Cyclists are at particular risk from phone using drivers. For example, a minicab driver ran over cyclist whilst distracted on his mobile phone. Fortunately, she ‘only’ suffered serious injuries, so he was spared jail. Guilty of careless driving, a 15-month driving ban was imposed and costs totalling £1260.
Chloe Chaplain, 21 April 2017
Philip Sinden, an HGV driver, was recently acquitted of causing the death of cyclist Daniel Squire. The jury acquitted him of both Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and the alternative lesser charge of Causing Death by Careless Driving. This was despite evidence of his texting just before the collision. No witnesses supported Sinden’s claim that the cyclist had caused the collision.
I wonder how the penalty imposed on Alliston will compare with these? ‘Experts’ in the public bar may claim that a cyclist cannot face a ban, but this is not quite true. It would be possible for the court to impose a Criminal Behaviour Order (what used to be an ASBO) with specific conditions like ‘no cycling’. The fine and community order, if imposed, should be much less than those imposed on Rashid, and a custodial sentence would be completely inappropriate. Phillip Sinden, if he reflects upon Alliston’s case and his own, will agree that the jury should have acquitted him.
[ii] See this list of ‘casualties’: http://twowheelsandbeyond.blogspot.co.uk/p/cyclists-obituary.html