Inquest hears of 40mph head-on crash that killed Junior Heffernan during Severn Bridge Road Race

Accidental death conclusion in case of rider who hit car at speed during descent

by Simon_MacMichael   April 18, 2014  

Broken bike (CC licensed image by garryknight, www.flickr.com)

A coroner has recorded a conclusion of accidental death relating to Junior Heffernan, the 23-year-old cyclist killed in March 2013 when he crashed into a car while descending at more than 40 miles an hour during the Severn Bridge Road Race, reports the Plymouth Herald.

The inquest heard that the promising young rider, who was taking part in the race for the Herbalife Leisure Lakes team, was on the wrong side of the road as he came down Vattingstone Lane near Olveston, South Gloucestershire, and was unable to react in time to avoid the collision.

The fatal incident happened on the third lap of the ten lap race, which is not held on closed roads. The inquest, held at Flax Bourton in Somerset, was told that Mr Heffernan, from Yelverton in Devon, was unable to get onto the left-hand side of the road due to other riders also tackling the descent.

The front wheel of his bike hit the car, causing him to be pitched onto its windscreen. The motorist, Nigel Thomas, told the inquest that he was driving at 15 miles an hour, while it was reported that the cyclist was riding at 46.5 miles an hour immediately before the collision.

The driver said: "I saw two cyclists come out from the group and to my side of the road. I immediately braked and the first rider looked up and moved back into his lane.

"The second rider was not going to miss my car."

Race organiser Brian O’Kelly said: "The advice is you don't cross the road, you stay on the left-hand side of the road, but it is a race – that doesn't always occur."

Motorcycle escorts were present on the race, and Richard Jarrold from its promoters, Bristol Road Club, said the weather was good, full risk assessments had been conducted, and described the state of the road surface in the approach to the crash location as "reasonable."

Terence Moore, assistant coroner, delivering his conclusion, said: "It is fairly obvious to me that, on approaching the left-hand bend at the bottom of this decline, the lead riders began to slow slightly.

“It is fairly obvious to me that they might slow because of a bend or because there is a BMW approaching.

“The effect of these lead riders slowing is a knock-on effect, compressing the peloton. With that compression, Junior and another rider were moved out into the right-hand lane.

“Junior’s line of sight in approach of that bend would have been obscured by the rider in front of him.

“He saw the car at the last moment and, realising he couldn’t pull on to the left, he tried to veer to the right quite deliberately to try to avoid a collision,” he added.

18 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I find it insane that races are held on open roads.

Angelfishsolo's picture

posted by Angelfishsolo [116 posts]
18th April 2014 - 15:43

33 Likes

When you start closing roads you inconvenience huge numbers of people. Look what's been happening in the New Forrest!
Its a fine balance.

posted by Bishop [15 posts]
18th April 2014 - 15:54

20 Likes

something like a race, a rolling road block would work and be less disruptive.

posted by rogermerriman [35 posts]
18th April 2014 - 16:13

8 Likes

It has nothing to do with 'a fine balance' what the UK needs to do is radically change its approach to road racing and introduce closed roads, but not the stupid closed roads system we have in the UK due to our stupid protocols and health and safety procedures all organisations have to follow. In many other countries their 'closed road' system is not anything like in the UK, where I hear they will be closing the roads the Tour de France will use from 7am in the morning till 7pm at night. That strikes me, as it must do many, as completely mad.

Here, where I am racing in France, for point to point races you have a rolling road closure, 2/3mins in front of the race and nothing behind the convoy following the peloton except maybe a motorbike or two if there's no room on the broomwagon.

The circuit races and finishing circuits to some point to point races allow for traffic to be on them, but they are stopped by a couple of barriers and marshals on approach to the circuit. They are then let on to the circuit once it has been deemed safe enough by the marshals to let anything through and these marshals are in constant communication with each other. The majority of races in the UK are held in quiet spots like France and like France, the UK also tries to keep the number of junctions cyclists have to deal with to a minimum to allow for traffic to be as unaffected as possible.

All we have to do is learn from what everyone else is doing so successfully and just implement it in the UK, it's not difficult. Safer racing and safer driving will result with no anguish because I raced the SERRL 3 day stage race last year on a brief period away from France. First day, race cancelled due to an out-rider's head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle, like what happened to Junior. Nothing like this has happened whilst I have been here in France for 2 years, the biggest crash involved 5 people, in a sprint, after a touch of wheels and it was also wet. No one was hurt.

Everyone else from Portugal to the Netherlands thinks we're stupid for racing on open roads.

posted by Lawlei123 [10 posts]
18th April 2014 - 16:21

48 Likes

Angelfishsolo wrote:
I find it insane that races are held on open roads.

Hundreds of road races are held every year on open roads. This is the first death that has occurred in over 20 years so statistically it is safe.

Road races have good marshalling and good outrider and vehicle support to help manage races and keep them safe.

This was an unfortunate and tragic event but thankfully a rarity.

posted by seanbolton [145 posts]
18th April 2014 - 16:55

13 Likes

Funny how marathon's manage to secure road blocks or rolling road closures.

posted by SB76 [90 posts]
18th April 2014 - 17:03

20 Likes

Angelfishsolo wrote:
Hundreds of road races are held every year on open roads. This is the first death that has occurred in over 20 years so statistically it is safe.

However sadly this was not the only death of a rider in road racing last year.

posted by gazer117 [26 posts]
18th April 2014 - 17:42

9 Likes

SB76 wrote:
Funny how marathon's manage to secure road blocks or rolling road closures.

Significantly greater number of competitors though. Even a grand tour only has a couple of hundred riders, whereas a marathon has at least a few hundred, if not a few thousand. Different scale of event!

posted by joules1975 [76 posts]
18th April 2014 - 17:42

16 Likes

SB76 wrote:
Funny how marathon's manage to secure road blocks or rolling road closures.

That's because runners aren't seen as vermin. And of course all runners own cars so they pay their 'ROAD TAX' ooh sorry VED. But if you own a bicycle you are obviously not contributing to the countries tax pot because you obviously can't drive that's why you have bicycle. Even though I like to say to 'them' that my Fcuking bib shorts cost more than their VED. And my bike is worth more than 'your' car.... And of course runners are not expendable like cyclists..... Obviously runners are more ethical and green than cyclists.. Look at mo 'the t##tbot' farrah, he eats qourn.

Or could it be that the councils have a stake in the city marathons? Hmm am I sounding bitter? Angry

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

― George Carlin

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”

― Euripides, Bacchae

Cyclist's picture

posted by Cyclist [226 posts]
18th April 2014 - 17:50

14 Likes

IME There's too much tolerance of riders crossing the central white line in races - putting themselves and other riders at risk never mind pi$$ing-off drivers coming the other way. It's not 'advise' that riders don't cross solid white lines - it against the rules but abused by riders and ignored by commissaires. If comms starting taking numbers and issuing sanctions at races it would stop.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [384 posts]
18th April 2014 - 18:13

21 Likes

monty dog wrote:
IME There's too much tolerance of riders crossing the central white line in races - putting themselves and other riders at risk never mind pi$$ing-off drivers coming the other way. It's not 'advise' that riders don't cross solid white lines - it against the rules but abused by riders and ignored by commissaires. If comms starting taking numbers and issuing sanctions at races it would stop.

Well said sir, I agree fully.

My condolences to juniors family and also to the driver who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [679 posts]
18th April 2014 - 20:07

6 Likes

I agree and also would point out that in many of the races I rode from the 70s to the 90s that too lenient approach by commisaires was rife. There were a number of races where white line crossing was so prevalent that I dropped back to have "words" with the commisaire and on two occasions I pulled out of races where I felt they had completely let go with regards to our safety.

The problem with taking numbers is that is is not instant. Riders should routinely be removed from the race for solid white line infringement and it wouldn't take to long for behaviour to adjust accordingly.

I'm not having a go at the officials really as they all do the best they can. Like the riders they've got used to the way things run and mostly races have got away with it.

When a sad event like this one happens it should be a reminder and it is an apt time for proper enforcement of the rules for the benefit of all the riders.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [254 posts]
18th April 2014 - 20:32

6 Likes

monty dog wrote:
IME There's too much tolerance of riders crossing the central white line in races - putting themselves and other riders at risk never mind pi$$ing-off drivers coming the other way.

I guess you are taking a purist racing perspective.

I believe you are mistaken (whilst it might not be directly applicable to this incident); regardless of racing, there is too much tolerance of drivers crossing the white line.

Car drivers generally assume automatic rights to drive down the middle of the road bridging the white line, despite oncoming traffic/cyclist only occupying the one side of the road.

I suspect that incidences of cyclists and/or racers crossing central white lines & impeding oncoming traffic, are a minuscule percentage compared to the daily occurrence of drivers doing the same. (albeit I concede your point re. safety & road race regs)

posted by jefefelipe [2 posts]
18th April 2014 - 22:52

8 Likes

Nothing to do with the race and the way it was done.
Sad to say it , but just like the chap who was killed just across the river, he pushed his luck and got it wrong.
I now both roads, living roughly in the middle and these incidents were just a case of the wrong actions at the wrong places.

Horrified out bursts about the sense of racing on the roads show no grasp of the way cycle racing works.
Go and check the % of racers killed. There are hundreds of issues in cycling alone that are more dangerous.

posted by mattsccm [280 posts]
19th April 2014 - 8:02

3 Likes

@ shay - Re: riders crossing the white line.

I had the same experiences when I was racing in the 70s and 80s. We'd be flying along, with regular (but largely ineffective) exhortations through the commissaire's vehicle mounted public address system to "keep to the left". To a neutral observer, it must have looked like an early Ealing comedy.

I've always thought that a good solution would be for riders to pay a "safety deposit" (perhaps £100) which would would be forfeited by any rider who crosses the white line.

Since there's a small hardcore of sportive riders willfully engaged in some seriously dangerous behaviour out on the road, I'd personally like to see the "safety deposit" idea applied to sportives as well. It's very easy to enlist help with pics along the route, which could then be immediately emailed to the organiser via a smart phone.

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

Neil753's picture

posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
19th April 2014 - 11:09

11 Likes

A rare case where I think the 'think of the trauma the driver suffered by hitting someone' argument does actually apply.

Furthermore the 'cyclist collides with car' description so beloved of mainstream media reports might actually be the right way round for once, given the stated speeds.

Doesn't sound like there was any way the driver could have avoided this.

Tragedy for the deceased of course.

I am a bit surprised that racing on open roads is apparently normal. For one thing, do pedestrians not have to walk on some of these roads?

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [751 posts]
19th April 2014 - 13:32

2 Likes

You might get the odd walker, but the risks should be low, and probability even lower of meeting walkers crossing.

posted by rogermerriman [35 posts]
20th April 2014 - 8:52

2 Likes

The risk is not that low. If there were no risk there would be no fun. There's a long descent near me that has several miles of very very smooth very widely sweeping S bend tarmac that was put in to support the heavy plant for an open cast that is no longer operating. From top to bottom it's 5 minutes of madness and I know that if I make a mistake I am going to put myself in hospital or worse as I am topping 40 mph on a fixed. Thats why I scan ahead and make sure I am not about to stuff myself into a Nissan Micra belonging to some poor old dear backing out of the drive. Controlled risk is the name of the game - there is no such thing as "low risk" in sports or pass times involving very high speeds and tarmac.

posted by MKultra [286 posts]
20th April 2014 - 17:25

0 Likes