Saturday 28 April 2012

Josie is right, Jon, it's the motorists

Over the past few days I have been following with increasing incredultiy the trial of David Grogan, a lorry driver who killed cyclist, Tim Andrew, near Hull in October 2010.  There have been daily reports of the trial in 'This is Hull'.  The witness evidence is clear that Mr Andrew was brightly lit and conspicuous on this dark early morning.  An eyewitness said "He was cycling towards the edge of the grass verge and we saw this lorry come up behind him and we heard a bang."  [Please, please do not ever ride at the margins of the road].  A police officer was on the scene minutes later and spoke to Grogan,  "He said words to the effect of, 'I didn't see him until it was too late'. He was quite shaken and in shock. The road is quite hazardous for cyclists, whether it is illuminated or not."  [Is it the road, officer, or some of the drivers on that road?].
The driver's explanation, provided through tears, was reported here.  "I caught something in the corner of my eye in front of me.  I caught a glimpse of what looked like a small red light just in the corner of the screen.  As I looked across I could just make out the silhouette of a person cycling along.  He was four to five feet away, maybe less. I saw his arm holding on to the bike and his helmet. I only had a second.  I remember seeing the light and the cyclist and straight away I thought 'Oh Christ', and just 'bang'.  A minibus was going by and I couldn't swerve.  The cyclist was there and I thought if I swerve I will hit the bus. I knew straight away I had hit something or someone."  The report goes on "When his barrister asked if he was driving carelessly, Mr Grogan said: "No, I was not using a mobile phone, messing around with any controls on the vehicle."
My incredulity is over his plea of Not Guilty.  How could this driver possibly think he had a defence?  He was not of course able to claim that at 0640 on a mid October morning the sun was in his eyes.  Instead he claimed, making matters rather worse for himself, that his view was obscured by a smudged windscreen caused by defective wipers.  I can only imagine that Grogan, and motorists like him, imagine that motorists on a jury may not convict.  Happily our jury system is better than that.
Following his conviction yesterday the Judge is reported to have said "This was not in my view momentary inattention, it was a decision to press on regardless of being disadvantaged through his visibility.  If you press on at excessive speed with poor visibility, you are creating a substantial, significant risk."
Not much mitigation in relation to the circumstances of the offence or the plea then,  I will update my table when I learn the sentence[Subsequent note:  apparently some mitigation was found in that the cyclist's rear light was not as bright as it might have been and Grogan avoided an immeidate custodial sentence].

This brings to mind the evidence given to the Transport Select Committee last Tuesday video here.  The President and a Vice-President of CTC, Jon Snow and Josie Dew were there together with the Times Editor, James Harding.   Josie was marvelous.  She is a storyteller and a writer and had a story to illustrate every point she made about poor driving and the inadequacies of law enforcement.  Ministers, though, were on their way and the Committee got off to a late start so they only heard one of Josie's stories (the trip with small child to school and the conversion of the selfish 4 x4 driver who used to get up late and make up for lost time by overtaking Josie and her child on a blind bend).  I would have liked to hear all Josie's stories but she was consistently cut off by the Committee Chair who preferred the soundbites from the other two.  Jon was stressing the dangers of cycling and how, whilst Josie rides her child to school, he dissuades his children from cycling because of the danger.  the solution he hatched up with James Harding was 20 mph limits in residential areas but only where there was no segregated cycle track.  Even the Committee Chairman checked whether they were sure they were asking for that.  Yes, they were, it is how to get motorists on board to press for cycle tracks so that they can go faster where they are provided.  As a road cyclist I am appalled at the implications of this.  One good idea from Jon, though, turn traffic lights to flashing give way signs at off peak hours.

Of course what the session will remain infamous for are the later remarks of Mike Penning, the Minister with responsibility for Road Safety, that the Dutch could learn a lot from us on road safety for cyclists as the cycling casualties per head of population are greater in The Netherlands than the UK.  Perhaps Mr Penning's plan is that we, like he, will leave our bicycles in our garages so as to improve upon this non-target (this Government doesn't do targets - just as well with it's Minister's grasp of statistics).  I would very much like to see some statistical analysis as to whether we have many time the KSI for cyclists per billion kilometres traveled because the Dutch have more segregated lanes or because the Dutch have more considerate drivers.  After all a large proportion of drivers in the Netherlands must also be cyclists.

I now place politicians on the Pickles-Huppert axis to prove the remarkable correlation between enthusiasm for cycling and good health.  Julian Huppert is at 1 and Eric Pickles at 99, with the Chancellor and Prime Minister at about 25.  I am afraid our Minister for Road Safety is up in the 80s, though his colleague the Brompton riding Norman Baker might score a 50.  Just to prove there is no political bias here, the LibDem Mr Huppert is joined at the correct end of the scale by Ben Bradshaw (Lab) and Alec Shelbrooke (Con).

My CTC membership is up for renewal.  I admire the work that CTC staff do and will renew in honour of Josie Dew.


  1. Where would Damiano Cunego lookalike John Furey go on your axis?

  2. One thing that struck me on reading the details of the aforementioned accident is that, at the moment of impact, according to the testimony of the lorry driver, Grogan, a minibus was passing his vehicle on the opposite side of the road, leaving him with no opportunity to take evasive action. From this one fact, one can obviously deduce that the road was narrow, which leads me to wonder why the cyclist did not anticipate a problem given he would have seen the minibus approaching and heard the HGV bearing down on him, knowing there was not room for all three to pass safely simultaneously.

    Personally, whenever I am cycling, and I judge that the vehicle coming up from behind is going to pull level with me at the same time that an oncoming vehicle will pass, I always check with a quick backward glance that the vehicle behind me has made adequate provision to pass me safely. Where the road is narrow and the vehicle behind has not modified its speed or pulled over (and one can generally hear the sound of the catseyes in the middle of the road being crossed where this happens) I will then look to take evasive action, either by pulling off the highway or braking in order to avoid being part of a three way sandwich.

    While not in any way exonerating Grogan from blame, on whom I hope an exemplary custodial sentence is passed, I think that all details of any accident involving a cyclist should be publicly released in order to understand whether the cyclist could have anticipated potential trouble or taken evasive action.

  3. I think it would be a mistake to attach much credibility to Grogan's evidence. Every prosecuted driver claims not to have seen the cyclist until too late. Although this claim, by its nature, cannot be disproved to the criminal standard in individual cases, I think it highly unlikely that it is true as often as it is claimed. I doubt the road was narrow.
    I do agree with you that as vulnerable road users we need to be adept at avoiding the consequences of very bad driving. The lesson I draw from this is, though, different from yours. I doubt it was easy to jump onto the grass verge. I would have been in the middle of the lane unless and until sure that it was safe for the lorry to pass. If he approached regardless I would have accelerated and moved further out and finally dived for the gutter at the last moment. He may well still have got me but it works in most cases.
    As I often say the main thing is to deter this kind of very bad driving.

  4. Regarding taking evasive action as a cyclist, I'm not sure Martin I would be pulling further out into the middle of the road if I were concerned that the vehicle behind had not seen me, unless I was certain that it was going to be able to reduce its speed before it reached me. However, I do think a small movement in lane by a cyclist can help to attract the attention of drivers whose concentration is impaired. Indeed, sometimes a quick glance or movement of the head to the side, as if to check for overtaking vehicles, can be sufficient to make them notice your presence.

    I agree with Youthinasia that the road was probably narrow. Otherwise, either the police report or the minibus driver would have been able to refute Grogan's claim. Grogan would have been on oath, so to lie about what would have been a straightforward fact to corroborate would have been perjury. Moreover, why would Grogan have said that he saw the cyclist about 5 yards before impact if there had been sufficient room for him to have taken evasive action? Wouldn't instinct take over in these circumstances and for Grogan to have at least attempted a last minute swerve if he had seen the cyclist as he claimed? Better for him, I would have thought, to have just said that he'd not seen the cyclist until impact. One needs to be careful as a cyclist that we don't fall into the trap of thinking ourselves invulnerable just because we have all the safety gear (viz helmet, cycle lights and hi-vis clothing) and use all our senses to anticipate potential danger.

    1. "Barrister Patrick Palmer said it was the Crown’s case that Mr Grogan’s driving fell below that expected of a careful and competent driver that morning. He said the road was 7.95m wide – enough for two vehicles and a cyclist to pass at the point of the collision."

  5. Going by the picture on the newspaper the road was a bit of a worst case scenario. The road was that awkward width where there is space for a cycle and two vehicles to pass each other but little room for error. A car is roughly 2M wide. A bike 1M a lorry 3M. Leaving about 500mm each for a gap at each edge of the road and the two gaps between the three vehicles.

    This is cutting it fine in ideal circumstances but in the case of this accident the lorry and cyclist were going round a LH bend. By riding near the edge of the road the cyclist left less time for the driver to see him compared with riding further out.

    I think he safest approach is to ride far enough out that it is clear to following drivers they need to overtake properly. I combine this with using a mirror so I can assess overtakes before they happen. I have had to ride onto the verge to avoid being hit by a speeding camper van on a dead straight road in the USA.

    There is no question about the drivers culpability but a cyclist riding further towards the centre of the lane should reduce the risk. I often ride almost at the centre line on the approach to blind left hand bends. Even the n I get a few nutters overtaking into a blind corner.

  6. I admire your blog Martin, but on this occasion I am puzzled by some of the things you say.

    "the solution he hatched up with James Harding was 20 mph limits in residential areas but only where there was no segregated cycle track. Even the Committee Chairman checked whether they were sure they were asking for that. Yes, they were, it is how to get motorists on board to press for cycle tracks so that they can go faster where they are provided. As a road cyclist I am appalled at the implications of this."

    Why? I don't see what's wrong with the principle of separation on fast roads and integration on slow ones. That is regarded as common sense in most of Europe. Nobody is saying we will facilitate motorists going faster than the do now, just that we wish to protect cyclists from that speed on the type of road where integration will never be safe.

    "I would very much like to see some statistical analysis as to whether we have many time the KSI for cyclists per billion kilometres traveled because the Dutch have more segregated lanes or because the Dutch have more considerate drivers. After all a large proportion of drivers in the Netherlands must also be cyclists."

    I don't understand what statistical analysis you are asking for. There would be no way to separate the effects of driver behaviour and cycling infrastructure on Dutch roads. The effects are interlinked, and I think we would be unlikely to achieve one in the UK without the other.

    Is your final paragraph about CTC renewal intended as a backhanded comment on Jon Snow?

    1. Thansk for that. I intended the focus to be praise for Josie Dew rather than condemnation of Jon Snow. We are after all trying to make a better world for cyclists. I will try to elaborate in a future post soon.

  7. Martin,

    I agree with you that, while I have great respect for Jon Snow and know that he cycles round London a great deal on a beautiful Condor, I was disappointed by his line. For those puzzled by the argument that segregation can be problematic, I make it at some length (but with, I hope, some wit) here:

  8. The more I think about it, the less I'm inclined to agree that cycling in the middle of the lane is a good idea when one is on a road where the national speed limit applies. While I am inclined to agree to this in built up areas as a legitimate way of holding your position,the speed differential between a cyclist, doing at best 20-25 mph, and the following traffic is likely to be between 30 and as much as 50mph on the highway. You are putting far too much faith in the ability of motorists to be able to judge the speed differential and make the correct decision, as to whether to brake or attempt an overtaking manoeuvre.

    From my experience, you also run the risk of being the recipient of abuse from a large proportion of motorists who will see you as taking up an unnecessarily large part of the highway, particularly where the road surface is reasonable. Moreover, you will be susceptible to the boy racer, and WVM, who will attempt to show who's boss by passing as close to you as they can get away with. Neither scenario is conducive to a pleasurable, and relaxing bike ride.

    It's a sad fact but someone will undoubtedly drive fast up behind you and then swerve at the last minute, leaving the following vehicle, which may also be doing the national speed limit, literally a split second to see you and take the necessary evasive action. Moreover, from your position in the middle of the lane, you will find it very hard (impossible I would say) to accelerate and move further out, or to dive for the ditch. You simply won't have time.

    The tactic I have devised, is to cycle approx 3 feet from the kerb on out of town "A" roads. This allows for most motor vehicles to pass me, with a reasonable degree of clearance, at the same time as the oncoming traffic. Sure I know the Highway code (rule 163) instructs motorists to give the same room when overtaking as for another vehicle, but, as we know, too few do this. Where the road surface has failed I will look behind, signal my intentions to move out and complete the manoeuvre. Moreover, I retain the ability to dive for the verge if all else fails.