Boris Johnson accused of victim-blaming over London cyclist deaths

Round-up of reaction to news of fifth cyclist fatality in London this month

by Simon_MacMichael   November 14, 2013  

Barclays Cycle Superhighway (source - Transport for London)

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has said cyclists need to take responsibility for their own safety following a nine-day period in which collisions with large vehicles claimed the lives of five cyclists in the capital. While he clearly states he wasn’t trying to blame the victims in those specific incidents, an opposition politician has accused him of doing just that, describing his remarks as “an insult to the dead.”

Speaking to radio station LBC’s Nick Ferrari this morning, Mr Johnson maintained that cyclists were obliged to follow the rules of the road and to comply with traffic signs.

He said: “Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed because you can see that people have taken decisions that really did put their lives in danger.

"You cannot blame the victim in these circumstances. But what you can say is that when people make decisions on the road that are very risky – jumping red lights, moving across fast-moving traffic in a way that is completely unexpected and without looking to see what traffic is doing – it's very difficult for the traffic engineers to second-guess that."

No suggestion has been made by police investigating the five fatalities this month, three of which occurred on or near Barclays Cycle Superhighway CS2 in east London, that the people who died were riding their bikes in such a way as to endanger their own lives.

On Twitter this morning, Labour’s former transport secretary Lord Adonis had urged Mr Johnson to take action, saying: "The mayor should appoint a rapid independent review of superhighways after the horror of all these cyclist deaths in London."

However, rejecting calls for an urgent review of the safety of cyclists in the city, Mr Johnson said that unless riders complied with traffic laws, "there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives."

Quoted in the Guardian, Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson accused the Mayor of victim blaming and of "dodging responsibility."

He pointed out: “Four out of the five deaths of cyclists in the last nine days have involved either his blue paint or his red buses.

"The mayor's comments this morning which targeted cyclists breaking the law as the primary cause of death and serious injury is an attempt to blame the victims, rather than tackling the real problem of HGVs, buses and dangerous junctions.

"It is an insult to the dead and injured that the mayor continues to blame victims in this way, rather than accepting his responsibility and getting on with fixing the things he has direct control over."

The succession of fatalities has seen other high profile politicians call for segregated cycle lanes, such as that on the new section of CS2, opened last week. The original route from Aldgate to Bow has no such segregation.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told LBC: "Distressing as all this is, I really hope it doesn't discourage people from bicycling – it's got to be made safer and we have got to have more of these bicycling superhighways which physically separate cyclists from roads.

The Liberal Democrat leader added: "We as a government have said we want to make new road schemes fit for cyclists and at the same time we'll look at every other suggestion to make this a safe thing to do."

The Mayor’s own Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, whom he appointed to that position earlier this year, cautioned against taking hasty action but criticised CS2.

He told BBC London: "The danger in the current atmosphere of understandable alarm and concern is that we rush into some panic measure which actually makes things worse.”

However, Mr Gilligan added: "From the beginning, Superhighway 2 has been little more than blue paint and I've been pressing to change it."

National cyclists’ organisation CTC meanwhile called for new drivers of large vehicles such as lorries, buses and coaches – all three types of vehicle have been involved in fatalities of cyclists in London this month – to have to undertake cycle training before they are granted a licence.

The appeal comes as the government prepares to publish a green paper regarding the training and testing of such vehicles.

CTC’s policy director, Roger Geffen, said: “We will investigate further options for reducing the number of large vehicles in urban centres at busy periods.

“Options that the organisation has considered in the past include banning lorries from city centres at peak periods and locating  distribution centres on the outskirts of cities.”

Its chief executive, Gordon Seabright, added: "CTC and all cyclists are sickened by the continuing failure to protect cyclists, in particular from the  dangers caused by lorries in our towns and cities. We want to see The Mayor of London and all those responsible for the safety of our streets living up to their promises.”

Martin Key, campaigns director at British Cycling, called for a national cycle awareness initiative to be launched.

"The fact that five cyclists have been killed in London in the last nine days is shocking news and an urgent investigation needs to take place into what could have been done to prevent these deaths," he commented.

"We have to do a better job of looking after each other on the roads.

"That includes significant investment in a nationwide cyclist awareness campaign rather than a few posters in a handful of cities.

“This is about changing the culture of how people get around, making cycling a more attractive and safer option for millions of people across Britain."
In its editorial today, the London Evening Standard says that “We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen.”

The newspaper says:

The cyclist killed last night on one of London’s cycle superhighways, at Aldgate, is the fifth to die in nine days. The total killed this year in the capital is now 13. It is a reminder of the inadequacies and dangers of the blue cycling superhighways. As Debbie Dorling, the widow of the first cyclist to be killed on one, observes, these are little more than “comfort blankets”, giving cyclists a false sense of security on dangerous roads while mostly failing to segregate them from traffic.

The fatalities are tragic — though they should be put in context. Most London cyclists get to work each day without incident. Annual deaths have stayed roughly the same over the past decade, despite a huge increase in the numbers cycling: cycling is proportionately safer than it was. And motorists generally seem to be more conscious of the vulnerability of cyclists than they were even five years ago. This is, moreover, a dangerous time of year, with cycle commuters riding in the dark or dusk.

But a cycling city, which London aspires to be, cannot be safe only in summer and in optimal conditions: it must be safe in the dark and rain too. The Mayor has already launched his scheme for a safe cycling network, and says he will install CCTV at Bow to study the problems. Now he must go much further. We should consider an independent review into cycle safety in London. And we need a plan to transform the city’s cycle lanes and junctions, making much greater use of segregated lanes. TfL must now treat this as a transport priority.

This is a question of political will, not physical road space: other changes to our roads once branded unthinkable, such as bus lanes and the congestion charge, are now accepted parts of the system. London is a working city with a multiplicity of road users — cyclists, pedestrians, car and lorry drivers. Yet it should be possible for all of us to share the roads, given decent provision and mutual consideration. We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen.

 

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Mad Dog

British Justice relies on the principle of innocent until proved guilty.

The opposite could mean open season for vigilantes. God knows it has happened already with the situation in Bristol a couple of years ago.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-12092600

Do you really want to go down that road? I feel that is totally wrong.

posted by freespirit1 [138 posts]
14th November 2013 - 19:15

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I was listening to the radio when driving home (yeah, I know - wuss) and that prat came on. I had to change channels or explode.

I've not ridden it but I've seen pictures of that Bow CS2 thing and it looks like it was designed by a psychopath (not in the mood for a quip on sounding like cyclepath).

posted by SteppenHerring [150 posts]
14th November 2013 - 19:16

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Looking at the statistics on the BBC the numbers this year are not really any different from other years. The only difference is that there has been a significant statistical cluster this past week.

I can imagine that Boris is under a lot of stress to do something about what has happened in the last week or so, but he is right to wait until we all know more.

If we are not to victim blame I think we should wait until we have something conclusively to discuss as to the causes, and then point the finger.

Knowing the media, they want to be judge, jury and executioner….i.e. drum up all kinds of fuss following anomalous events, and drive the public into a fever, and so have pushed and pushed Boris for a sound bite or controversial statement - it seems the context of what he said is perhaps not entirely honestly portrayed (happy to be proved wrong with actual transcripts if that's what someone wants to do - I don't really care, it is not entirely important what he has been goaded into saying).

I am in no way defending the CS's (I don't like them and don't use them). But what we are looking at here may or may not be a result of using them. But what if statistical analysis shows that actually they are safer (I doubt this - and am being devil's advocate) and do their job - but due to poor cycling/poor driving these events have happened? If people had there way they would pull them up tomorrow, and create something more dangerous….

Ultimately I hope that these deaths are all reviewed, and explanations provided. I also hope that an independent review of the CS does show that they are pieces of blue paint which have no further use than to win the votes of cyclists (but are useless at that too). But I actually think that the events of the last week are all independent of each other.

Hopefully the work will crystallise efforts to be pushed in the right way, whether it be cycling education, driver education or changes in infrastructure. We can all do with being safer out there, and hopefully the deaths will stop.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1059 posts]
14th November 2013 - 19:21

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@Colin Peyresourde

I agree that the figures are not hugely different from previous years. But I only recently noticed that this year's casualty figures seemed set to be lower than last year - then within a week they'd caught up and could (God forbid) end up even higher before the year is out.

The 'clustering' in time perhaps isn't' the point, the point is the figures are too high and have been slowly creeping higher for many years now, even as figures for those _inside_ cars have been dropping. For a moment it looked as if that trend might not continue this year, but now that hope seems dashed. At some point something has to be done to change this.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [617 posts]
14th November 2013 - 19:24

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@FluffyKitten the statistics are still lower than some other years. But I know that another statistical anomalous week and they would well over shoot other years. Hopefully there will be no more this year.

I'm sure something wil be done. I just hope that it is coordinated and effective. Unfortunately I think that the TFL will be forced into half measures by political/public pressure to do something and nothing constructive will be formulated, which will be a travesty for the victims and their families.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1059 posts]
14th November 2013 - 19:50

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Always the cyclist Angry
Anyone see the recent episode of the gadget show? They had a 3 bike review. Trek/ribble/+1 with that very we'll known cycling athlete/expert Helen Skelton!

However preceding that segment of the show they had a London taxi driver on who stated that HE, I quote "hates cyclists" 5 dead in the last 9 days, can it get more tasteless and tactless than that, obviously the editor had a degree in the Atomic levels of a paper clip and their effects on global warming, so we know they are educated people. What a bunch of A-holes.

The trouble with real life is that there is no danger music.

The Cable Guy

Cyclist's picture

posted by Cyclist [119 posts]
14th November 2013 - 20:14

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squired wrote:
To be fair to Boris, it may well be that he has had access to more detail about each incident and how exactly it happened.

I see little evidence that Boris really 'does' detail! So I'm a mite skeptical.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [617 posts]
14th November 2013 - 20:28

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:

I'm sure something wil be done. I just hope that it is coordinated and effective. Unfortunately I think that the TFL will be forced into half measures by political/public pressure to do something and nothing constructive will be formulated, which will be a travesty for the victims and their families.

There's certainly a lot of "something must be done"

posted by Ush [377 posts]
14th November 2013 - 20:33

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I've spent a week in london this week, couldn't take my bike as I'm in a hostel. I haven't seen too much bad cycling and mostly fairly considerate drivers but it is mental here - its truly scary! I consider myself a competent cyclist but I'm not sure I could deal with it here! I'm sure I could but still, little un-nerving. I think a lot of people would be put off. There's easy changes

-No HGVs or Cars, neither are needed. I don't believe you need to have a car in the capital, the tube links are good - theres taxis and buses

-Cycle only roads

-Speed limits down to 20mph, most of the time traffic is moving slower and if you can get to 30mph - your more than likely not driving fit for conditions/situations

Thats 3 pretty much over night changes and you'd see more people getting into cycling.

posted by Cycle_Jim [281 posts]
14th November 2013 - 21:57

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If Boris has any extra info, then it's coming from TfL who are claiming the rider who was hit last night rode out of a one-way street, Leman Street.

But 1) TfL are not in the crash-investigation biz, that's the Met's job

b) TfL are not exactly known for failing to talk bollocks about cycling. See their evidence at recent inquests, for example.

iii) TfL dodged a bullet recently when CPS decided not to prosecute for corporate manslaughter over the design of the King's Cross junction where a cyclist got killed, because the junction was built before the corporate manslaughter law was introduced. They have to be crapping themselves over the design of CS2, especially given the wealth of expert advice they had that it was dangerous. Anything they have to say about any cycling death is therefore totally suspect.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [950 posts]
14th November 2013 - 22:17

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Surely getting about without getting squished isn't too much to ask?

posted by IanW1968 [131 posts]
14th November 2013 - 22:45

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This bit

'Mr Johnson maintained that cyclists were obliged to follow the rules of the road and to comply with traffic signs.'

this bit,

"We have to do a better job of looking after each other on the roads."

and this bit

“We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen.”

Pretty much sum up the whole thing.

posted by Nzlucas [88 posts]
14th November 2013 - 23:02

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"You cannot blame the victim in these circumstances." [goes on to blame victim]

Even IF there was an element of blame attributable to the cyclist in any of these cases, these comments are clumsy and crass in the extreme.

And the whole point is that of course we know that human being's f*ck up - this will never change - but civilised infrastructure ensures that small vulnerable road users are separated from big heavy fast road users (especially on busy roads), so when f*ck-ups happen, they are that much less likely to result in the kind of tragic senseless deaths we've seen here.

Boris was warned how bad some of these facilities were by very qualified people. He did nothing and more people have died. He has blood on his hands and he's making a bad thing worse with comments like this.

posted by pmanc [112 posts]
14th November 2013 - 23:26

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Redesigning roads will not solve the problem of cyclists being killed in London. ALL road users have to be better educated about city driving. I do like the idea of curfews on HGVs in rush hour - worked well during the Olympics and reduced congestion too. As there is a clear link between HGVs and the timing of the deaths over the past four years this has to be worth a try?

Note....There were no cycling deaths in Paris in 2012: a city where they also banned HGVs between 08:00 and 20:00.

posted by mattanthony [10 posts]
14th November 2013 - 23:45

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mattanthony wrote:
Redesigning roads will not solve the problem of cyclists being killed in London.

Vast swathes of evidence from the Netherlands and Denmark prove that claim utterly, totally and spectacularly wrong.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [950 posts]
15th November 2013 - 0:33

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John Stevenson wrote:
mattanthony wrote:
Redesigning roads will not solve the problem of cyclists being killed in London.

Vast swathes of evidence from the Netherlands and Denmark prove that claim utterly, totally and spectacularly wrong.

Well, it's arguable that once you've got a society that is civilized enough to want to change it's infrastructure away from the antiquated, victorian idea of horseless carriages then the important shift in thinking has already happened. I don't know how it happened, but the ending of KinderMorder (child killing) by cars in the 70s shifted the Dutch into a more civilized way of living.

Segregated lanes (which in Denmark seem merely to deplace collisions to intersections) may not be the only factor. They also have apparently a legal system which shifts the onus onto the motorist to avoid collisions with cyclists.

The biggest problem is that car use is too cheap and too casual. Vast subsidies are given to the people that choose this mode of transport. To the great detriment of us and them in terms of health, economic well-being and efficiency.

posted by Ush [377 posts]
15th November 2013 - 4:02

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Wow, I hope Boris is being called as a police witness into each of these events as he was obviously present to observe exactly what happened at each of them.

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [332 posts]
15th November 2013 - 7:51

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We need full facts and learning from every single one of these terrible incidents so that we can break the pattern of repetition.

Have a look at this website:http://www.maib.gov.uk/home/index.cfm

Whilst it is not the most exciting, every single serious marine incident/fatality is investigated and the learning disseminated. We need the same for vehicles as 3000 death a year are too many and the political complacency towards the combustion engine is totally unacceptable. Cold hard hard unavoidable facts are needed to implement changes across the board and at least Mary Hassell is trying to do something to change the status quo.

posted by arfa [435 posts]
15th November 2013 - 9:08

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It was too soon for Boris to make a judgement. We don't know the facts.

I do know that a work colleague has stopped cycling to work in London after seeing a fatal cycle crash. How many others are thinking the same?

Many roads and junctions are primarily designed to move vehicles swiftly around. Cyclists and pedestrians are largely left to fend for themselves.

posted by Neil Smith 48 [16 posts]
15th November 2013 - 9:24

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Quote:
They also have apparently a legal system which shifts the onus onto the motorist to avoid collisions with cyclists.

Too much is made of this legal system. Its for civil claims only.

We already have a similar system in place for rear-end car collisions (if you hit the car in front, you are assumed at fault unless you can prove otherwise).
Its done absolutely nothing to stop tailgating!

posted by ribena [131 posts]
15th November 2013 - 11:04

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Cycle_Jim wrote:
I've spent a week in london this week, couldn't take my bike as I'm in a hostel. I haven't seen too much bad cycling and mostly fairly considerate drivers but it is mental here - its truly scary! I consider myself a competent cyclist but I'm not sure I could deal with it here! I'm sure I could but still, little un-nerving. I think a lot of people would be put off. There's easy changes

-No HGVs or Cars, neither are needed. I don't believe you need to have a car in the capital, the tube links are good - theres taxis and buses

-Cycle only roads

-Speed limits down to 20mph, most of the time traffic is moving slower and if you can get to 30mph - your more than likely not driving fit for conditions/situations

Thats 3 pretty much over night changes and you'd see more people getting into cycling.

Agree! I was in London watching cyclists in rush hour; a whole different 'ball game' to other cities. In order to improve traffic flow a lot of London roads have no parking on them which means the traffic moves a lot faster. My brother got knocked off by a left turning coach on the Edgeware Road (v v lucky to get away with a broken leg) and he now uses quiet roads and Hyde Park (TfL route planner). Similar time and less stressful.

Shades

posted by Shades [159 posts]
15th November 2013 - 11:18

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It still surprises me that there are not more deaths given the standard of riders we have on the road combined with the standard of driving. Given that its cyclists that always come of worst we need to be proactive with our own safety. We can display our personal view of Boris all we want but cannot ignore his valid comments on our own actions on the road. Having said that some sort of action needs taking on improved road design and driver/cyclist behavior should be done urgently.

Safe cycling

mt

posted by timothy [32 posts]
15th November 2013 - 11:33

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Boris has recently said that London needs an exclusion zone for vehicles not fitted with the relevant safety warning equipment, similar to Crossrail, no vehicle would be allowed within the inner limits. What are other cyclist’s views on the top safety features that a hgv or bus should have? One of mine would be one of the alarms that I’ve heard, if I’m out on my bike and sometimes not paying complete attention then the sound of a 100dB voice of somebody barking vehicle turning left has made me shift pretty damn quick… It will always be somebody's fault, whether the driver or the cyclist, but 9 times out of 10 it will be the cyclist that comes off worse.

posted by Marlene Marlow [1 posts]
15th November 2013 - 11:38

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The number of cyclists in London has increased enormously since the late 80s, when I first moved here and started cycling commuting in the city. The reporting seems to ignore that fact. It also ignores the fact that since the 1980s, cycling fatalities have fallen in the UK and also in London.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2109 posts]
15th November 2013 - 12:48

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MadDog Madill wrote:
The fault of any accident should automatically lie with the motor-vehicle driver until proved otherwise.

GoingRoundInCycles wrote in reply:
"What exactly would be the point of blaming the (potentially) innocent for an accident that could not be avoided?"

The point is called "strict liability" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_liability

and it applies in all kinds of safety laws. It's a pretty common concept to apply to dangerous equipment, facilities etc. One example might be say an old pit shaft that has the possibility that someone could fall down. It wouldn't be enough for the liable person or company simply to put up a notice or a small barrier and then say that people had ignored the notice and kids should not have climbed over the barrier. They are liable by default if someone falls down the hole.

They do have a defence to that. If they showed that they installed a virtually impregnable fence and maintained it and that the victim had taken extremem measures to get into the hole then that is a good defence.

What is the purpose? To ensure that people or organisations operating hazardous equipment or facilities act in a way that they can show that they took every possible precaution to avoid that hazard becoming a problem.

This would help cyclists and pedestrians if applied to motorised transport. Their responsibility would change to having to operate the vehicle not merely within the law but in a fashion that put the duty of care at the top of their concerns.

Practically it would mean that in an accident with a pedestrian or a cyclist the motorist would need to show that they took every possible precaution to avoid a collision not merely that they didn't technically break any rules or that if they did it was only one person's word against another.

Another example might be a gun owner out shooting at pheasant or rabbit who ends up shooting another person. Currently they are under strict liability. They can't merely say they weren't expecting someone to be behind a hedge or that a beater wasn't wearing bright enough clothing. If someone gets shot it's their responsibility. They are the ones operating the lethal weapon. Much like drivers are.

Oozaveared Cyclist, motorcyclist, motorist and pedestrian member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the CTC.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [495 posts]
15th November 2013 - 18:01

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oozaveared wrote:
Practically it would mean that in an accident with a pedestrian or a cyclist the motorist would need to show that they took every possible precaution to avoid a collision not merely that they didn't technically break any rules or that if they did it was only one person's word against another.

For sure, a mining company can demonstrate that they have installed the correct equipment and produce a paper trail to demonstrate that sufficient maintenance and training are regularly carried out.

But in the case of a collision, how could a motorist prove that he is innocent? Short of having 360 degree external cameras with night vision permanently recording, live audio recording, telemetry recording every driving input and cameras recording the activities of the driver and passengers within the car ... I don't see how what you ask for is at all feasible.

Of course after an accident, the car should be checked thoroughly for roadworthiness, the driver for the presence of drugs/alcohol and CCTV and eyewitnesses used to gather independent data but I see no benefit to assuming that the driver is guilty rather than innocent, while this investigation is carried out.

Never in a hurry on a bicycle.

posted by GoingRoundInCycles [134 posts]
15th November 2013 - 18:19

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TfL's own survey shows 60% of cyclists following CS2 corridor go over flyover at Bow - risk of left hook or drive through crash on flyover = 0

Almost all motor traffic on roundabout is turning on/off A 102 - so hazard of nearly 100% of motor vehicle movements driving across CS2 route and high risk level for motor-cycle crashes when one or other fails to behave to planned regime.

TfL will have planned an alternative route over the flyover - what drove the choice of the slower and more dangerous route?

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [468 posts]
16th November 2013 - 8:50

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GoingRoundInCycles wrote:
but I see no benefit to assuming that the driver is guilty rather than innocent, while this investigation is carried out.

Drivers attitudes, it isn't about when it's too late and an accident has happened, the reason for this system it to recognise the HGV -> Car -> Bike - Pedestrian hierarchy of vulnerability, currently when I complain at drivers for passing too close or other bad moves the attitude is quite often 'I don't give a sh*t'. The change in law is to make the bastards give a shit.

If drivers/cyclists understand that when an accident happens, they will be held responsible and have to account for their actions, they might just change their ways. Right now drivers don't have to properly account for their actions, they can just give a flippant excuse and that's it, they're done, responsibility be damned.

I don't mind being held responsible for the safety of pedestrians that I cycle round in this way, why should any good driver mind?

25% of cyclists deaths are attributable to a motor vehicle driver attempting to drive too close to the cyclist.

posted by kie7077 [419 posts]
16th November 2013 - 10:08

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I haven't seen much from The Times, have they got bored with cycling. Was it just a pushing to sell papers when one of theirs is the story?

Tripod16

posted by Tripod16 [109 posts]
16th November 2013 - 10:35

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I arrived at the Bow Roundabout on the morning of the 13th about 20 minutes after the accident happened. A terribly sad day. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything else for most of it, particularly once I read the news. Only two weeks before at that same location I had a near miss with a lorry who failed to stop for their red signal:
View: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMtxGrfUdTU
. I have written to my MP, Boris, TfL, DfT, CTC, British Cycling requesting a review of the CS2 Extension design so that cyclists can again access the Flyover and have asked for a review on the restriction of the movement of large vehicles during peak travel hours. Lessons must be learned from the spate of tragedies that have happened this month.

posted by kmcyc [1 posts]
16th November 2013 - 11:44

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