Lawyer says motorists claiming cyclists "came from nowhere" is an unacceptable excuse

Cambridge solicitor says drivers need to learn how to minimise risk of collisions

by Simon_MacMichael   March 15, 2012  

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

A Cambridge lawyer has maintained that motorists need to be aware of what they can do to minimise risks of hitting cyclists, and that to say the rider “came from nowhere” is an unacceptable excuse following a collision, reports Cambridge News.

Daryl Robinson, who works as a personal injury litigator at law firm Barr Ellison Solicitors and was himself described as a cyclist, made his comments as Cambridgeshire County Council published figures showing that during 2011, more than 468 cyclists were injured on its roads, 218 of them in Cambridge itself.

That latter figure was 12 less than the number of incidents recorded in the city during 2010, although Mr Robinson believes that many collisions go unreported by the cyclist.

“My experience is that collisions involving cyclists, both in Cambridge and surrounding areas, are not decreasing,” explained Mr Robinson.

“News reports regularly cover incidents involving motorists driving without due care and attention, speeding, drunk-driving and even blaming the sun in their eyes.

“The most blatant evidence in negligence is usually the statement that the cyclist ‘came out of nowhere’, which is not scientifically possible,” he pointed out.

The phrase, of course, is reminiscent of the 'Sorry mate, I didn't see you' which gave rise to an acronym, SMIDSY, and subsequent campain from national cyclists organisation, CTC.

Mr Robinson went on: “The locus for such accidents arises commonly at junctions, fast roads, and even in front of the motorist’s own driveway.”

While Mr Robinson is correct in highlighting junctions and vehicle speed as factors in many incidents leading to the death or serious injury of bike riders, however, he went on to display, perhaps not surprisingly given his profession, a faith in the legal system that is at odds with what many cyclists perceive often to be a lenient approach taken by the authorities when a cyclist is killed or badly hurt, as many reports featured here on road.cc underline.

“Cyclists are afforded the protection from the local courts and motorists are regularly fined, banned and even imprisoned for extreme recklessness,” he insisted, concluding:

“In respect of civil claims, liability is not always straightforward as the cyclist may be partly to blame – hence the need to educate both parties.”

The lawyer revealed that he heard about the Cities Safe For Cycling Campaign launched by The Times newspaper last month at the same time as he was appearing in court on behalf of a cyclist who had been severely injured in a road traffic incident, although Cambridge News did not elaborate on the specific details.

“My client suffered significant brain injuries and spent many weeks in Addenbrooke’s Hospital fighting for his life,” he revealed.

“The legacy from this single moment can have a devastating effect. Understanding of the preventative measures needed to avoid these accidents cannot be understated.”

16 user comments

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The biggest problem is drivers have the attitude 'screw you - im going anyway' - you see it at any traffic lights where cars jump thru on red, or lanes where they will squeeze past you rather than waiting 2 seconds til its safe to do so. Then when an incident happens - they quote the above excuses - and are waived thru by the courts

posted by fiftyacorn [91 posts]
15th March 2012 - 9:21

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I've decided that for mid-week training rides the safest time to ride is post morning school and work traffic and pre-lunch, less cars in a rush helps. This means there are more trucks and vans vs cars, but less in general. Eye contact and riding assuming that they've not seen you when backing out or turning left from a minor road has saved me twice in the last few days.
@fiftyacorn, the I'm coming anyway attitude does frustrate me, often they'd not do it if there was a car coming towards them, but squashing you into the gutter seems to be fine in their eyes. The chicane contraflows on barking essex border come to mind particularly for this sort of behaviour. Better ones have a pass thru lane for cyclists.

Cannondale CAAD10, Condor Terra-X and an orange Brompton.
Ride for East London Velo

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posted by zzgavin [208 posts]
15th March 2012 - 9:57

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It's funny but I experience vehicles appearing from out of nowhere all the time. It usually occurs when I'm on the approach to a crossroads and intend to either carry on straight across or turn right. I've gauged my stopping distance, based on my speed and what's in front of me, and I've positioned myself according to where I'm going (centre of the lane for straight across or to the right of the lane if I'm turning right). Then, out of nowhere, a car appears in front of me. All of a sudden my stopping distance has significantly decreased and I have to slam on the brakes. Turns out it's not a magic car but just another impatient, inconsiderate motorist.

Cars also appear out of nowhere when I'm cut up by motorists overtaking me then turning sharp left or when they try and overtake me when it's not safe/practical to do so. The roads seem to be overrun with vehicles that appear out of nowhere.

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posted by cavasta [202 posts]
15th March 2012 - 10:26

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“In respect of civil claims, liability is not always straightforward as the cyclist may be partly to blame – hence the need to educate both parties.”

No - what is needed is strict liability, or "proportionate liability" - in civil claims, the operator of the larger vehicle carries the burden of proof that the more vulnerable party is to blame for the incident. That is not an automatic "gulity" verdict on the driver, but it removes the need for a vulnerable road user, unsupported by an insurer as the respondent will be, to prove the negligence of the respondent to civil standards of proof.

There is no civil liberties issue here for the motorist. We are not talking about changin the rules for criminal proceedings, where beyond readonable doubt still reigns. We are not talking about significant personal financial loss, as motorists are required by law in any case to be insured for third party liabilities - and driving uninsured is a criminal offence. We are only talking about an estimate £50 pa average increase in premiums (compared with the estimated £90 pa cost of fraudulent "whiplash" claims) and of course greater risk of losing a no-claims discount. The potential for an increase in premiums, and the embarrassment of being fingered in court and perhaps in the local paper, should have some moderating effect on driver behaviour.

posted by Paul M [308 posts]
15th March 2012 - 11:00

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Well I'm lucky the car drivers on my commute seem to have an awarness of cyclists and give me some respect and room on the road. However I'm constantly having near misses with "school" busses! Today of all days you would have thaught they would be more aware? The thing that annoys me & I guess the car drivers is the road furnature that forces us through the same tight gap.
As for being seen ... flashing lights allover and brightly coloured lycra where's the excuse! There is a good ad campain on the TV at the moment for Motorbikes why is there no cyclist awarness campain on TV?

posted by GrimpeurChris [59 posts]
15th March 2012 - 11:34

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Drivers need to remember that they have a legal obligation to drive with "due care and attention" and that includes looking before they pull out.

If a driver say they didn't see a cyclist, pedestrian, motorcycle or other driver, it is reasonable question if the driver was actually paying "attention". If they can not show that the other party was exceeding the speed limit and therefore behaving recklessly, they should be charged with driving with without due care and attention.

posted by Kim [131 posts]
15th March 2012 - 12:05

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He's right about driveways being a hazard, I have a lot of close calls with people reversing out without looking.

Another thing is that I live on the corner at the end of my road. When I approach on the way back from work, I have to turn right into my road then immediately right again into my driveway. The amount of people who are also turning right and overtake *as I'm going round the corner* then nearly swiping me as I turn into my drive is really appalling, it got to the point where it's just too much of a risk and I have to take a slight detour so that I come in from the other side of the road.

posted by sporran [39 posts]
15th March 2012 - 14:37

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“The most blatant evidence in negligence is usually the statement that the cyclist ‘came out of nowhere’, which is not scientifically possible,”

##Applause###

posted by james-o [190 posts]
15th March 2012 - 14:57

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NHS minibus went past me today so close I could have picked up a prescription. On the back it said, "Please donate blood." Think he was looking for donors.

jaunty angle: bikes and communications
http://ragtag.wordpress.com

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posted by ragtag [154 posts]
15th March 2012 - 20:35

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I'm sure that the worst offenders of squeeze passes and SMIDSY are BMW drivers, 25 years ago I would have said Volvo but they seem to be pretty good now. What did Volvo do that BMW could copy? Or are BMW drivers just arrogant?

I love the smell of cleats (mexican accent, you do the jokes)

posted by paulfrank [80 posts]
16th March 2012 - 6:32

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sporran wrote:
The amount of people who are also turning right and overtake *as I'm going round the corner* then nearly swiping me as I turn into my drive is really appalling,

I got shunted off last weekend with a guy trying to turn tighter inside than me and realising there was a car coming to the junction. He obviously swerves to avoid a head on, I have to brake and swerve, hit an oil patch and before I know it my right leg is my main braking aid. OUCH!

Shut up legs

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posted by slow-cyclo [74 posts]
16th March 2012 - 10:06

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paulfrank wrote:
I'm sure that the worst offenders of squeeze passes and SMIDSY are BMW drivers, 25 years ago I would have said Volvo but they seem to be pretty good now. What did Volvo do that BMW could copy? Or are BMW drivers just arrogant?

BMW drivers have been pretty bad for the last 20 years I think. I'd be curious to see a breakdown of accidents in the UK that includes makes of car, then correlates the numbers of those cars registered on the road to give an indication of risk by brand. Volvo drivers don't seem as bad as they once were. That said. the Telegraph published a report from one of the major UK vehicle insurers with the top 10 private car models for insurance claims. The Volvo XC90 was in at number 2, can't remember what number one was but I think it was an MPV. It was noticable how MPVs and 4x4s figured highly in the top 10. The type of insurance claims were not revealed though, so some might have been simple incidents such as reversing into low walls or whatever.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2189 posts]
16th March 2012 - 12:19

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along with "I did not see you as you were wearing black"...

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
17th March 2012 - 22:20

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The SMIDSY excuse is nothing more than an admission of guilt of Driving Without Due Care and Attention and should be viewed by courts as such.

Ride like you're invisible, not invincible!

posted by Big Softy [15 posts]
19th March 2012 - 12:21

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OldRidgeback wrote:
paulfrank wrote:
I'm sure that the worst offenders of squeeze passes and SMIDSY are BMW drivers, 25 years ago I would have said Volvo but they seem to be pretty good now. What did Volvo do that BMW could copy? Or are BMW drivers just arrogant?

BMW drivers have been pretty bad for the last 20 years....

In central London at least, both when cycling and driving a car, Prius drivers are by far the worst at not giving way, cutting corners, turning without indicating, changing speed erratically.. I blame a heady mix of "holier than thou" attitude created by somebody having paid over the odds to be green but are so daft they do not realise they have been green-washed, coupled with an obsession of looking at the dash to see just how holy, sorry green, they are, even if it is at the expense of road safety, indicating, looking in mirrors, etc.

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
22nd March 2012 - 10:10

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I have taken to recording my rides on a gopro and keeping on my NAS the offending footage.

This article got me thinking, and when I look at all the footage of drivers not seeing me come from nowhere, they all have one thing in common: not looking even once in the whole time I was behind them in their mirrror: not once, not the rearview nor the side mirrors. So then I looked at more footage and have even been cruising behind cars at a distance where I can see them, I have yet to have even a glance in the mirrors from hours of footgae:

"Cyclist come from nowhere" is driving without due care and attention, a car is a 1-2 tonne weapon, a lorry a higher calibre, and so if you kill someone because you were not fulfilling your duty as a motorist to look, signal, etc. before acting and physically harm or kill a cyclist then I cannot see how it is anything short of "X" bodily harm to manslaughter???

I have a classic piece of footage from the gopro of a light lorry that invaded the cycle lane without looking nor seeing me there just behind him. Fortunately I was on the alert, had seen through his mirror for a few hundred metres that he was paying no attention to any of his mirrors and I evaded an accident. The lorry driver was very apologetic, extremely so, maybe because he saw the camera???. I said it was OK, but he should look next time as that is exactly how cyclists get killed and his reaction was incredible; he went pale white and took a while to move off until the cars behind started beeping behind him. he must have been in his early thirties and never stopped to think that he could kill someone by being careless with a 3.5 tonne vehicle...

We have a situation like the wild west, where ignoramuses of all walks of life are running round with what can only be called a weapon, and no idea the harm it can cause, not just to cyclist but to other motorists and pedestrians. Worse, when the bricks are down they recourse to evading their responsibilities with "the cyclist came from nowhere" which is just plain immoral.

We have got there with drink driving, (at least in the UK) now we have to drive home (forgive pun) that driving without due care or attention is also equally unacceptable, and punishable by law.

But for god's sake, in the meantime, put a gopro or other hd camera and a decent memory card on the list of your next hundreds and thousands you spend on upgrades....

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
22nd March 2012 - 10:39

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