Bradley Wiggins, road safety and myth

Yesterday Bradley Wiggins added another gold medal to his impressive collection of gold medals and his Tour de France victory. Well done, Wiggo! But this morning as I’m listening to Radio 4, there’s an item about Wiggins calling for all cyclists to be compelled to wear helmets. While his sentiment is well-intentioned, there is more that could be done to ensure that cyclists are safe on the roads. Helmets do not magically protect the wearer from harm. If you don’t look around or signal and ride in the gutter and jump red lights, then no amount of safety gear is going to protect you. You’re already a dangerous cyclist.

Wiggins’ call came after a cyclist was killed by a bus driver on the A12. The official Olympics bus was carrying journalists between venues. I understand that the driver, a man in his mid-60s, has been arrested for causing death by careless driving. On any other day, this death would have been confined to the local press. Today, because of Wiggins, it’s national news.

Here’s Wiggins in The Times,

Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don’t have a helmet on, then you can’t argue,” he said. “You can get killed if you don’t have a helmet on.

Brad, you can get killed even if you are wearing a helmet. Perhaps you haven’t heard of the many deaths caused by left-turning lorries at road junctions? Helmets won’t help anyone who is badly positioned on the road.

He adds,

You shouldn’t be riding along with iPods and phones and things on. You have lights on. Once there are laws passed for cyclists then you are protected and you can say, ‘Well, I have done everything to be safe’.

I’m one of those who wears headphones. I don’t have my music on loud and I can hear everything. But being able to hear is only a small part of staying safe on the road.  I haven’t always listened to music while riding. In fact, I was just like all the other naysayers who’d say, “But I want to hear everything”. A few years ago, as I was cycling through Kingston, I thought I heard the sound of an engine behind me, I turned around and saw nothing there. After making a turn down a side street, I found the sound that I’d heard. So much for using my ears. I began riding wearing headphones.

What Wiggins and the others have failed to mention is on-road cycle training. If more people accepted the fact that they need training to ride on the roads, we’d be in a better place. The other thing that doesn’t get mentioned is the woeful provision for on-road cyclists. We have Advance Stop Boxes that are routinely encroached by motorists, badly designed and sited cycle lanes – most of which are the useless Advisory Cycle Lanes.

The Advisory Cycle Lane below is fairly typical. Notice the width of the lane as well as the drain cover. There is no minimum width for a cycle lane and many councils just slap down a bit of paint and leave it at that. This cycle lane look as though it is only half a metre wide. Cyclists are told to cycle approximately 1m from the kerb (Thanks to Croydon Cycling for this image).

Here’s a lorry that’s pulled completely into the ASB. For the inexperienced cyclist, this is an invitation to put their life at risk.

If we are going to have a debate about cycle safety, let’s have an informed one. Many motorists drive with their music turned up full. Can they hear everything? No. But then the motorist who drives around listening to loud music would probably tell you that “it’s safer to be in a car”. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t and it’s unlikely that these people have ever seen a car that’s been in a serious accident in which the driver has to be cut free of the crumpled wreck.

Do you think the driver of this vehicle thought he/she was adequately protected? Probably.

The man who was killed was 28 years old. It isn’t known if he was wearing a helmet. However, according to the Telegraph,

Witnesses said that both the bus and the cyclist were turning left on the same corner.

A fellow unidentified cyclist, who claimed to be riding on his way home next to the dead rider and gave a graphic account of the accident.

Writing on a riding blog, he said: “As we approached a bus he went inside while I held back.

“The lights changed as he was in the buses blind spot and as he was attempting to go straight the bus turned left.

“He didn’t really have anywhere to go and no time to do anything anyway… he got pulled under the wheel and dragged around 10 feet or so [all sic].”

My bold. Once again, we have a situation where the cyclist did the wrong thing and ended up paying for it with his life. A helmet would not have saved him.

If the authorities ban cyclists from listening to music while riding, then they need to do the same for drivers who have their music turned up on full volume. It’s only fair. There’s a law against texting or using a mobile phone if you’re driving but this law is not as rigorously enforced as it should be and on most days of the week, I pass several motorists who are on their phones. I once actually saw a van driver eating food from a container while he was driving. He wasn’t driving responsibly.

Rather than get into a “them and us” situation, isn’t it time all road users were treated equally? Bad road users are bad road users, whether they’re riding a bike or driving a tanker lorry.

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Filed under Cycling, London

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