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Listening to music on iPhone may have led to cyclist's death, says coroner

Emily Norton's death "an entirely avoidable incident," says coroner who ruled that cause lay "entirely with the cyclist"...

A coroner has said that a woman who died after falling from her bike as she tried to avoid a collision with a lorry on a roundabout may not have been aware of the vehicle until it was too late because she might have been distracted by music being played through her iPhone.

Keen cyclist Emily Norton, 38, entered a roundabout without looking right at the same time as a DAF HGV lorry was exiting the roundabout and may have panicked trying to avoid a collision, Hull Coroners’ Court heard.

Ms Norton, who had a 16-year-old daughter, had her earphones in and was “riding purposefully” before she wobbled at the nearside of the lorry and fell fracturing her skull and spinal cord. She fell on the verge and died instantly without hitting the lorry. She was not wearing a helmet at the time.

Despite resuscitation being given immediately her eyes were dilated and she never showed signs of a pulse. The lorry driver did not stop and said he had never “felt, heard or saw” the cyclist.

East Riding of Yorkshire Coroner Paul Marks ruled listening to music could have been a distraction and contributed to her misjudgment. He also said her injuries may have been lessened if she had worn a helmet.

Rule 148 of the Highway Code, which falls within the General Advice section which “should be read by all drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders” advises road users to “avoid distractions when driving or riding such as ... loud music (this may mask other sounds.”

Use of a cycle helmet, while recommended in the Highway Code, is not compulsory for cyclists in the United Kingdom, unlike in certain other jurisdictions including Ms Norton’s native New Zealand.

Ms Norton, a hairdresser, who took up cycling two years ago, cycled regularly before work and knew the road around her home well. She normally wore a helmet and had earphones in playing music and was cycling along Flatgate in Howden, part of the A63 which becomes Hull Road.

Initially she was on a cycle path and then on the road. She was seen to enter the roundabout at speed as she rode at the side of the lorry and the wobble as the road began to narrow.

Her brother Hans Hargroves confirmed in a written statement to the inquest that his sister had normally listened to music and used a cycling app on her phone.

He said she had bought the bike around two years ago and, as far as he was aware, kept it maintained.

“She would cycle most days before work and was competent and knew the local area,” he said. “She has lived in Howden all her life and knew the junction. She would listen to music and have a cycle app.

“I am told at the time she was not wearing a helmet,” he added. “I cannot understand why she did not wear it that day. We later found it in the house. She was a stickler for safety.”

The incident happened around 7.40am on June 23 as Ms Norton was on her way home from an early morning ride. 

Turners lorry driver Alexander Lamb of Featherstone told the inquest he was only using the road because the Selby bypass was closed. He said: “As I approached the roundabout, I paused to look for traffic to the right. As I went I saw nothing. I checked my mirrors.

“The first I knew about it was when the police called me and asked me to stop. A motorcycle policemen told me what happened. I couldn’t believe it happened. I didn’t hear anything, feel anything or see anything. If I had seen anything I would have stopped and tried to help.”

Eyewitness Martin Ward, of Howden said: “From what I saw she did not appear to look left or right as she entered the roundabout.

“The cyclist kept in a straight line. The wagon kept in a straight line. I saw the cyclist lift in the air and go on to the verge. The way the road is they were converging. In my opinion the wagon driver did not do anything wrong.”

PC Sally Acomb said a full accident investigation had taken place and the lorry driver was not facing any charges. A police accident investigator found the cycle had a defective from brake which touch the handlebar – which could have been a manufacturing fault – as the cable outer was cut short. The cycle also had no front reflector and a loose bell on the handlebars which was missing a bolt.

The 18 speed Carrera racing cycle was found in its lowest gear with the chain still in place. Ms Norton’s headphones were picked up at the scene.

Coroner Paul Marks told the inquest he found that Ms Norton went on to the roundabout without looking right and was seemingly unaware of the HGV. He said “It seems likely when she realised she would come into conflict with the lorry she made some input to the steering and activated the brakes.”

He said because of a fitting defect in the front brake caused by the cable being too short, she may have applied the rear brake causing a skid, adding that at no point did witnesses see the two vehicles make contact.

He continued: “I cannot determine if she was on her iPhone listening with earphone at the time, but if she had been, it could have caused a distraction and could have contributed to the cause of the accident.”

He said the fact she was not wearing a helmet may have meant she had suffered worse injuries, but made no criticism of her decision.

Professor Marks concluded: “I accept this was an entirely avoidable incident and the cause of the events that lead-up to the accident rest entirely with the cyclist. No charges have been brought against the HGV driver and he has been totally exonerated.”

He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

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49 comments

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tritecommentbot replied to downesdesign | 7 years ago
8 likes

downesdesign wrote:

Tragic, of course, but this just underscores how foolish it is to be wearing headphones whilst cycling. All senses need to be fully engaged with the immediate environment, which should be bloody obvious to anyone who's ever ridden a bike in any kind of traffic.

I am all for agitating for the rights of cyclists, but some among us are still out there doing fundamentally stupid things  (just like car drivers) for which there can be no defence.

Lot of balls. Wearing headphones doesn't mean you 'aren't engaged with the immediate environment'. The sort of mindless dribble that gets passed around for common sense these days. 

I wear earbuds on solo training rides and I guarantee you I'm way sharper than the majority of riders on the road who get geared up and go through the motions. For a start, you can still hear traffic and other riders, but that doesn't matter, even deaf people can bikes safely. What matters is how you read the road ahead and behind mostly, ie. looking out for the mistakes that drivers might make. Majority of cyclists getting left hooked, doored, riding into the side of a car are not wearing headphones. Also controlling traffic, with an eyeball over the shoulder or moving into primary position, so they don't get tempted to overtake on certain stretches. These are skills that are helmets, high vis, or riding without headphones cannot help with and are what actually get riders from A to B safely every day.

 

It's the mindless lot who think that gear = safety that need a reality check. You're a bug out there, hardly matters what a bug wears. What matters how smart the bug negotiates its journey.

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ClubSmed replied to tritecommentbot | 7 years ago
4 likes

downesdesign wrote:

Tragic, of course, but this just underscores how foolish it is to be wearing headphones whilst cycling. All senses need to be fully engaged with the immediate environment, which should be bloody obvious to anyone who's ever ridden a bike in any kind of traffic.

I am all for agitating for the rights of cyclists, but some among us are still out there doing fundamentally stupid things  (just like car drivers) for which there can be no defence.

I have to admit that I cycle with my headphones in all the time and theses are the reasons for this:

  1. I frequently have the sat nav function on so am listining to occasional directions
  2. I suffer from ear ache and they block out the wind without blocking out as much noise as earplugs (plus I always have earphones on me but I lose earplugs regularly)
  3. I need to be contactable so earphones allow me to hear the phone ring and pull over to take the call (it's also easier to take a call using a headset than without when wearing a helmet)

I do not believe that any of the above reasons that I wear earphones stop me from being fully engaged with my immediate environment. You could argue that listening to satnav directions is distracting but I do not believe that it is more distracting than being lost and concentrating on looking for signs and reading them instead of looking for traffic situation.

We do not know why the person in this instance was wearing headphones, so while it is worth discussing these points to try and learn from the incident lets not jump to conclusions.

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Yorkshire wallet | 7 years ago
3 likes

She'd had that bike for 2 years and supposedly kept it in check so the faulty brake thing can't have been that faulty. 

I'd also take the lowest gear thing with a bit of trepidation. Lowest gear overall or lowest gear in big ring or was 'lowest gear' just the small ring?

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cbrndc replied to Yorkshire wallet | 7 years ago
1 like

Yorkshire wallet wrote:

I'd also take the lowest gear thing with a bit of trepidation. Lowest gear overall or lowest gear in big ring or was 'lowest gear' just the small ring?

That did occur to me but bear in mind that this was the statement of the crash investigator who should know the difference between the lowest gear and the smallest ring on the cassette.  This is probably a crash investigator who's knowledge fall a little short when making statements about bicycles.  Very worrying. 

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bendertherobot | 7 years ago
2 likes

it's a narrative verdict and, shockingly, the text in the Daily Mail article is a bit clearer. 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4000838/Cycling-mother-one-died-...

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ChrisB200SX | 7 years ago
6 likes

There seems to be a lot of conjecture and assumptions here, all blaming the person who cannot defend themself, accidental death is one thing but to blame (essentially) the victim based on what she may have done seems wrong to me.

I can look to my right or left without turning my head, I don't see how the witness can say she didn't look. Do regular cyclists really just roll through roundabouts without looking?

There is something weird about this, from the driver, too:
"As I approached the roundabout, I paused to look for traffic to the right. As I went I saw nothing. I checked my mirrors."

She was on his left, what has what's on his right got to do with anything? It sounds to me like he's admitting not looking left, or even ahead where he is going if he didn't see her at all.

Apparently, she entered the roundabout at speed but was in the lowest gear. That doesn't add up.

Looks like it happened here:
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@53.7489426,-0.8529808,3a,75y,74.7h,75.34t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1syDfQ8aLt0arX_ANrCACsrQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

She would have to look practically behind herself to give way to the road that runs parallel up to the roundabout.
I can only hope the inquest has helped the family somehow.

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Bluebug replied to ChrisB200SX | 7 years ago
1 like

ChrisB200SX wrote:

There seems to be a lot of conjecture and assumptions here, all blaming the person who cannot defend themself, accidental death is one thing but to blame (essentially) the victim based on what she may have done seems wrong to me.

I can look to my right or left without turning my head, I don't see how the witness can say she didn't look. Do regular cyclists really just roll through roundabouts without looking?

There is something weird about this, from the driver, too:
"As I approached the roundabout, I paused to look for traffic to the right. As I went I saw nothing. I checked my mirrors."

She was on his left, what has what's on his right got to do with anything? It sounds to me like he's admitting not looking left, or even ahead where he is going if he didn't see her at all.

Apparently, she entered the roundabout at speed but was in the lowest gear. That doesn't add up.

Looks like it happened here:
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@53.7489426,-0.8529808,3a,75y,74.7h,75.34t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1syDfQ8aLt0arX_ANrCACsrQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

She would have to look practically behind herself to give way to the road that runs parallel up to the roundabout.
I can only hope the inquest has helped the family somehow.

You give way to the right on UK roundabouts so you look right.  

Obviously you look in front of you on the approach but once you are at the entrance you concentrate on what is coming to the right of you so you can get on the roundabout.   

You only give a quick glance left to check your exit is clear however once you are on the roundabout anything to the left of you still on the roundabout is now in front of you.  On larger roundabouts and even smaller roundabouts with tall barriers on them, it is not always possible to see your exit.

There is a roundabout I cycle round which TFL advises me to get off and walk because the tall barriers on it mean you cannot see anything to the left of you.  However the roundabout is smaller and easier to navigate than the one at the end of my road.   The barriers also ensure drivers including buses go slower around that roundabout than the one at the end of my road.

The headphones in this case don't really have anything to do with it. It is because she didn't look right she didn't see the HGV.  

 

 

 

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Peowpeowpeowlasers replied to ChrisB200SX | 7 years ago
2 likes

ChrisB200SX wrote:

Looks like it happened here:
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@53.7489426,-0.8529808,3a,75y,74.7h,75.34t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1syDfQ8aLt0arX_ANrCACsrQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Here's a working link:

https://goo.gl/maps/M9jCcjYVwQC2

Look at the first exit and where the lines are painted - motorists are encouraged to stay to the left of the lane.  And for the following 400 metres or so, the centre of the lane is occupied by diagonal lines forcing motorists over to the kerb.

These road layouts are intended to make oncoming collisions less likely but they have the unfortunate side effect of pushing motorists towards the kerb, where cyclists are likely to be.

There's absolutely loads of space on that roundabout for a fully protected left turn lane, but instead the council spent money on white paint that "protects" motorists.  If money had been spent differently, this lady's mistake would never have occurred.

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cbrndc | 7 years ago
4 likes

The bike was found to be in it's lowest gear, doesn't  quite fit with entering the roundabout at speed!

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CygnusX1 replied to cbrndc | 7 years ago
0 likes

cbrndc wrote:

The bike was found to be in it's lowest gear, doesn't  quite fit with entering the roundabout at speed!

Unless what is meant was it was in the smallest ring on the cassette.

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DaveE128 | 7 years ago
3 likes

Terrible incident  2 Condolences to any family members that may end up seeing the article.

(My thoughts on contributing factors are purely out of wanting to avoid a similar end myself and not apportioning blame.) Out of all the things mentioned, the one that sounds most likely to have contributed (from my otherwise completely ignorant-of-the-details perspective) is a defective front brake which could be pulled to the bars. Either the cable slipped from the anchor bolt in the crash, or the cyclist was riding with a seriously compromised ability to stop in an emergency, which may have been a factor, and could have been at least partially Halfrauds' fault, eg if they didn't tighten the cable anchor bolt properly and it slipped under force of emergency braking. I don't get what they mean about the inner cable being cut short - perhaps they are saying that the bars couldn't be turned fully without the front brake cable getting snagged on other cables. I suppose in a crash this could lead to the inner being pulled through the pinch bolt.

I suppose it's possible that the music might have made a difference, but it seems hard to tell from the information above - it isn't even that clear how the paths of the lorry and cyclist looked.

Avatar
easilydistracte | 7 years ago
3 likes

Got to be careful out there - keep your head on a swivel. Car radios do make noise, but not at the expense of plugging out all other noise as headphones or earbuds do. If you must listen to music, try bone conducting headphones FFS.

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FluffyKittenofT... replied to easilydistracte | 7 years ago
4 likes
easilydistracte wrote:

Got to be careful out there - keep your head on a swivel. Car radios do make noise, but not at the expense of plugging out all other noise as headphones or earbuds do.

That's not always the case. In my experience some car stereos make so much noise they blot out all other sounds even for people outside the vehicle. I can hear some of them well enough to identify the track being played, from my living room as they pull up outside.

Also, the lorry driver wasn't to blame, I'm sure, but I'd say some of the blame lies with the system that decreed cyclists and HGVs have to share use of this roundabout.

Edit - the poor woman may have made an error, but it shouldn't have ended in such tragedy.

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ktache replied to easilydistracte | 7 years ago
4 likes

easilydistracte wrote:

 Car radios do make noise, but not at the expense of plugging out all other noise as headphones or earbuds do.

Maybe, but combined with the sound proofing and the glazing, it pretty much eliminates most of the sounds from around the car.

Avatar
Bluebug replied to ktache | 7 years ago
1 like

ktache wrote:

easilydistracte wrote:

 Car radios do make noise, but not at the expense of plugging out all other noise as headphones or earbuds do.

Maybe, but combined with the sound proofing and the glazing, it pretty much eliminates most of the sounds from around the car.

Depends whether you are one of these idiots who likes to be heard 5 streets away.

People are actually taught not to have their radio/music too loud as they need to hear their engine but some drivers don't care.

 

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wycombewheeler replied to easilydistracte | 7 years ago
5 likes
easilydistracte wrote:

Got to be careful out there - keep your head on a swivel. Car radios do make noise, but not at the expense of plugging out all other noise as headphones or earbuds do. If you must listen to music, try bone conducting headphones FFS.

No its been proven that car windows block everything out more effectively than earphones. Even with no car stereo.

listening is no substitute for looking.

on busy roads the noise is fairly constan regardless of the exact positions of the individual vehicles.

and there are also near silent electric cars and bicycles. Look before any manouvres don't assume quiet = safe.

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Yorkshire wallet | 7 years ago
3 likes

I can't really find any way to blame the lorry driver here. The cyclist seemed to have been in lala land and had a perfectly avoidable accident. The physical injuries seem to be one of those roll of dice things, do it again you only get bruised pride. 

The defective vehicle bit is a load of crap though, as is nonsense about not having a bell and front reflector. 

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Russell Orgazoid | 7 years ago
6 likes

It sounds like the lorry driver wasn't to blame, but how many drivers have their stereo volume mentioned after an incident? None.

Bit of victim blaming from that perspective.

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joules1975 replied to Russell Orgazoid | 7 years ago
1 like

Plasterer's Radio wrote:

It sounds like the lorry driver wasn't to blame, but how many drivers have their stereo volume mentioned after an incident? None.

Bit of victim blaming from that perspective.

It strikes me that the victim was to blame, and the headphones might have been a factor. It was just a very unfortunate result.

Maybe I shouldn't, but I rely on my hearing quite a bit when on the bike. I've noticed this because I've recently begun riding a motorcycle, and I've had to force myself to look around much more instead of automatically thinking 'I can't hear something therefore nothing's there' - maybe we all need to work on that basis when cycling regardless of quality of hearing or use of headphones?

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