Coroner Mary Hassell yesterday warned of the dangers of ignoring traffic signals after finding that the death last year of Venera Minakhmetova was caused by her riding through a red light at Bow Roundabout.
The Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall reports that a Metropolitan Police crash investigator told the court that it was “most likely” Venera had ridden through the red light before being hit by a left-turning HGV.
Ms Minakhmetova, 24, was the third cyclist to die at Bow Roundabout since the opening of Cycle Superhighway 2 in 2011 and one of six riders killed in a two-week period during November of last year.
But Ms Minakhmetova’s family said they doubted she would have jumped the lights. Her sister Dina told BBC London after the inquest: “She was always suspicious about this roundabout... When Venera went there it wasn’t safe.”
With no CCTV footage to help establish the exact events that led up to the crash, police had to rely on GPS and tachograph data from the tipper truck, and the testimony of the driver.
Recording a verdict of death by road traffic collision at Poplar coroner’s court, Ms Hassell said: “I conclude that the fundamental cause of this collision was Venera going through a red light.”
She said many cyclists went through red lights but did not suffer the same “devastating consequences” by “virtue of luck”.
Ms Hassell said: “It’s important that I’m open and honest about the cause of this collision, for no other reason that other cyclists need to understand what dangerous behaviour contravening a red light is, and that there are potentially devastating consequences.”
The court heard from Metropolitan Police collision investigator PC Michael Andrews who told the inquest that it was most likely Ms Minakhmetova had ridden in the cycle lane, on the lorry’s left, as she arrived at the roundabout from Stratford.
He said: “Venera must have come down his side at some point to get in front of him. Therefore, and assuming Venera has used the cycle lane, I believe it’s most likely she has contravened the red traffic light.”
After the the deaths of Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko in 2011, the lights at Bow were modified to provide cyclists with an early start. These lights were criticised by safety campaigners for being confusing. It's therefore possible that Ms Minakhmetova rode through what she believed was a green light.
HGV driver Mark Stoker was travelling from picking up rubble at a site in Stratford and turning left at Bow toward the Blackwall Tunnel. Venera is thought to have been riding straight across the roundabout toward central London.
Mr Stoker said: “I was three-quarters of the way round and then I just heard a metal noise and stopped straight away and realised what had happened.”
Data from his vehicle showed he was doing 13mph at the time of the collision. His lorry was fitted with sensors to detect cyclist at its sides and a left-turn audible warning.
Bow Roundabout was remodelled after the deaths of Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko in 2011 and further modified after Ms Hassall issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report after the inquest into Brian Dorling’s death last year.
She said yesterday she had “nothing useful” to say to Transport for London as the roundabout had since “been altered to such an extent that it’s very significantly safer for cyclists”.
Cyclist and lawyer Martin Porter has represented bereaved families at several inquests and has posted a commentary on his blog explaining the limits of the inquest process. It’s well worth a read.
Among the problems with the system Martin points out are that coroners are no longer allowed to point the finger of blame at specific individuals or organisations.
He writes: “Following a road traffic collision the Coroner will inevitably rely very heavily on the evidence of the police (who have investigated a collision with a view to finding if there is evidence of a criminal offence). A report will be admitted which may well conclude (say) that the collision occurred as a consequence of the deceased running a red light and no fault has been disclosed on the part of any other person. The Coroner then, mindful of [the rules under The Coroners and Criminal Justice Act 2009], will say something like "I find the deceased died as a consequence of running a red traffic light but I must stress that I am not attributing any kind of blame to him". Which is, of course, doublespeak.”
Martin also points out that the inquest may be the only opportunity for the driver’s account to be properly challenged. He writes: “Quite often, if not usually, the Coroner will come to the end of his questioning of the witness without making an effective challenge himself.”
Martin stresses he's talking in general, but you have to wonder whether, in this case, the accounts of the driver and police were challenged at all, given that Venera Minakhmetova's family appears to have had no legal representation at the inquest.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.