Now that the snow’s gone, I’ve been back on the bike again this week. It feels like bloody ages since I last cycled – probably because it is. With the exception of one day last week (which doesn’t count as it was the first day back after Christmas, and everything about that day is a bit of a blur generally) I think the last time I cycled was sometime mid-December. So it’s been a while.
Anyway, it being the first time on my bike in some time, and there still being some snow left on the ground, I was a little more fearful than I usually would be of having an accident. I slowed down to a crawl going downhill, in case I hit a hidden patch of ice; I stopped to let cars go past me on narrow roads, lest I skid and fall off in front of them; I even took to getting off my bike and walking it at certain points. In short, I was careful to the point of perhaps being a little over-cautious. And then what happens? Some idiot nearly knocks me off my bike by trying to turn left as I was alongside him.
Silly me. With all my fussing about the snow, I’d forgotten that my biggest danger while I’m on my bike was – and still is – careless drivers.
An article in the Guardian last December focused on exactly this issue. Looking at a study carried out by the Department for Transport into the causes of cycling accidents, it essentially proves my point – that drivers and bad driving are far, far bigger hazards to us than we could ever be to them. Only a tiny minority of accidents are caused by so-called ‘risky cycling’ – such as running red lights, cause of a mere two per cent of accidents. Whereas in collisions with adult cyclists, drivers were found to be solely at fault in between 60 to 75 per cent of all cases. So take that, ye Top Gear watching, Daily Mail reading cycle haters.
To say that the Guardian article made me very happy indeed would be an understatement. I wanted to jump up and down and shout ‘I told you so!!’ to anyone who would listen. I wanted to wave a copy in the face of anyone who’s ever complained about ‘bloody cyclists’, or beeped at me for being in their way, or cut me up while I’ve been cycling. Or even the guy who nearly knocked me off the other day, if I knew where to find him.
But once I’d got over my excitement, I started to wonder if this study will make any difference at all. I’d like to think it might start up a debate about how the roads can be made safer for cyclists in cities like London. But realistically I know that’s not likely to happen. For starters, cyclists and non-cyclists can’t even agree on what ‘safer’ actually means, or that cyclists aren’t the ones at fault. You just need to read some of the comments underneath the article to see that.
Take running red lights as an example. Drivers hate cyclists who run red lights. Pedestrians hate cyclists who run red lights. Hell, even I sometimes hate cyclists who run red lights. It’s the one thing that stirs up the most bile and vitriol against cyclists – a sign, apparently, of our flagrant lack of regard both for the rules of the road and for our own safety.
But the thing is – as the study points out – running red lights doesn’t actually cause that many accidents. In fact, it may actually avoid accidents, although of course that’s impossible to prove (unless we lived in a Dr Who-style parallel universe).
If I’m waiting at a junction with a long line of traffic behind me – or worse still, alongside me – I want to make sure I’m well clear of any left-turning or lane-changing vehicles before they start moving. Or if I’m turning right, I want to make sure I don’t get stuck in the middle of the road with cars whizzing just inches by me. So I’ll set off a few seconds before I know the lights are going to change. Or I won’t always stop if I know the road ahead of me is clear. It’s just safer that way.
You see the problem? I’m trying to stay safe, yet so many drivers will just see me and think, ‘Bloody cyclists, they’re a bloody menace. Always running red lights. Don’t they know the rules of the road apply to them too?’ Or something to that effect. And then if something were to happen to me – I got knocked off or something, it doesn’t matter where – of course it must be my fault. Right?
Nope. Well, not always – not even most of the time. So if there’s one thing that I’d like to happen as a result of this study, it’s that people realise this. That they stop pointing the finger of blame at cyclists and start paying more attention to what they’re doing (like checking your blind spot before trying to turn left, Mr-Nearly-knocked-me-off-my-bike).
Perhaps I should start waving copies of the article in people’s faces after all.
*This is what Mr-Nearly-knocked-me-off-my-bike said to me. Yeah, mate, that’s because you weren’t looking!