Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Ambulance trip avoided

I am always on bikes and have been for years.  In my youth cycling on bmx, trying to pull off silly tricks; had a moped at age 16; and while at University I spent three years commuting through London on two wheels, motorcycle and bicycle. I had a break from two wheels for about a decade and now I currently split my commutes between bicycle and motorcycle, travelling about 3000 miles a year on each, and at the weekends I fit in more cycling: road cycling or off road cycling.  If somebody asks me if I can ride a bike, I can confidently say yes.

I think I have been riding bikes through traffic for so long, I have developed a 6th sense, an amazing ability to avoid danger by predicting the mistakes of others, especially those of car drivers. Here is a classic, the approach to a mini roundabout at Madingley Hall. 

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Whilst approaching on my motorcycle, with oncoming traffic, I can tell which cars are going to turn across my path without indicating.  The cause: I believe the drivers' approach has one of those corners that cancels the indicator, but then a driver is distracted by the grand hall off to the right of the picture, then simply turns across your path believing they have right of way. I can tell who is going to turn across me, not by indicators as they lie, but by assessing their road positioning.

Most cycle commuters have countless tales of near misses, I rarely have moments that close, but today was my turn. I was off my game, feeling a little run-down, the cycling was an effort and perhaps I was on auto-pilot. Arriving at a static queue of cars but somehow carrying plenty of speed I decided to avoid the deviation of the cycle path and the additional effort required, and opt for filtering down the right side of the static traffic queue.

I can tell you from experience that the biggest dangers of filtering past traffic queues are:

  1. Drivers joining the back of the queue panic and decide they want to do a u-turn. They do this without using mirrors. Easy to predict.
  2. A driver in a queue is eyeing up a right turn ahead, wondering if they can use the oncoming lane to get to it. Easy to spot, as their vehicle is positioned slightly to the right of everybody else. 
  3. At side roads and driveways, a gap can open in the queue which means a driver has left a gap to let a turning driver in or out. The turning driver never looks for filtering traffic. The most common form of the left or right hook. Easy to predict when you spot the gap.

Today, without warning, whilst I was filtering down the right hand side, a car turned right out of the queue without warning. The car was turning into a track - a road junction I had failed to properly take account of.  They might have been indicating but they were obscured by the car behind them, invisible to me. I was probably doing 18mph and had close to one car length of warning. I had failed to predict this right hook. The car came out quickly but not fast enough to get out of the way.  I dabbed the brakes but within a split second I knew they wouldn't stop me in time.
Highway Code Rule 189 Turning Right says:
Wait until there is a safe gap between you and any oncoming vehicle. Watch out for cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and other road users. Check your mirrors and blind spot again to make sure you are not being overtaken, then make the turn. Do not cut the corner. Take great care when turning into a main road; you will need to watch for traffic in both directions and wait for a safe gap.
Through motorcycling and mountain biking, I have learned whilst entering a corner too fast, if you panic and simply grab the front brake it sits the bike up and forces you into a straight line. After some time, you learn to not panic and control your bike.

Automatically, whilst on collision course with the side of a car, I release the brakes, lean the bike over and manage to steer round the rear back of the car, into the gap it left in the queue, then slalom right again.

It's an incident that for inexperienced cyclists would have been a panic moment, and a certain accident.

Filtering does come with risk, but also reward which brave and experienced two-wheelers can benefit from. But, with thin on-road cycle lanes, ever increasing amounts of risk-averse cyclists are finding themselves passing slow moving traffic and being exposed to car drivers who have failed to take account of filtering cyclists.

Sadly, in any filtering collision, you will likely find yourself in the hands of insurers. In many cases I have read about, the Police are not interested in ticketing careless drivers. Fault will be a long drawn out process argued by insurers and quite likely the most injured party (the cyclist) will find themselves having to prove that a driver is negligent. Without video evidence I can imagine absolute proof being difficult if not impossible to achieve.

There is an interesting article on Motorbikes Today which reviews case law. The most recent summary is:
"a filtering motorcyclist passing stationary or very slow moving traffic could not be to blame if a collision occurred if the rider had no chance to take avoiding action".
Whatever the law, you are far better off avoiding an accident in the first place. Presumed Liability would help with compensation, but is unlikely to reduce the chances of these types of accidents or physical injury.

Ride safe.


  1. Glad to hear it was a miss. Another driver not paying attention to Highway Code Rule 211. My view is that many drivers either fail to make that extra check for smaller road-users or seem incapable of assessing the speed of motor bikes and bicycles.

    Although I regularly cycle on the roads I go off-road because it is more pleasant. It also helps my bike handling and falling off skills as well :-)

  2. Yep off road is far more pleasant, challenging and rewarding. I can career downhill over rough terrain at quite a speed on my mountain bike, and fall off my mountain bike quite a lot too, but it always seems to be a roll off at low speed rather than a crash. I always fear road traffic more than an off-road tumble because of the potential consequences.

    I wish that drivers were re-assessed at regular intervals. Recently I was first-aid trained and that certificate is valid for three years, then a refresher is required. Why not something similar for driving?