New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport is said to be considering a coroner’s request to make high-visibility clothing compulsory for cyclists. The coroner, who described it as a "no-brainer" and said it should apply to all cyclists riding in public at all times, made his recommendation in the case of a senior police officer originally from the UK who was described as “the face of road policing” in the country.
Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald, who began his career with Leicestershire Police in 1967 and moved to New Zealand seven years later, was killed by an articulated lorry as he negotiated a roundabout on his way home from work one evening in late June 2008, midwinter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Cycling campaigners had been lobbying unsuccessfully for a decade and a half for a safe, off-road route to bypass the roundabout, and Inspector Fitzgerald, aged 57, was wearing a helmet as required by law, was displaying lights on his bike and had reflective strips on his backpack and clothing, reports Stuff.co.nz.
The lorry driver involved in Superintendent Fitzgerald’s death, Desmond Wilson, was found guilty of careless driving causing death and ordered to pay NZ$2,000 reparations and banned from driving for nine months.
He told Wellington coroner Ian Smith that he believed cyclists should keep to designated cycle lanes and discouraged from using the roundabout where Inspector Fitzgerald was killed.
Some of the coroner’s comments criticised Hutt City Council for its failure to make the location safer for cyclists, whom he said “"are literally taking their lives in their hands".
He continued: "The intersection is, in my view, a most dangerous area for cyclists to use, no matter how experienced the riders are.
"Cyclists using this cycle/traffic lane area are literally taking their lives in their hands and a complete rethink and design of this area is required."
The coroner added that while Hutt City Council had tried to make some improvements, those "still fall short of making the road safe for cyclists".
He also called for improved cyclist education, the introduction of a one-metre gap to New Zealand’s highway code, and rules regarding when cyclists should be obliged to use cycle lanes.
Hi-vis clothing, he said, “is in my view a no-brainer. It should be compulsory for cyclists to wear at all times when riding in public."
Jane Dawson, representing the Cycling Advocates Network, insisted to the coroner that hi-vis clothing would not have prevented Superintendent Fitzgerald’s death.
However, Brenden Crocker, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transport, commented that it was giving serious consideration to the coroner’s comments.
On the same day that Superindent Fitzgerald was killed, a 61-year-old cyclist lost his life a few miles away in Silverstream. A press report at the time says that the rider was thrown into the path of a lorry when a motorist opened the door of her car as he approached.
At the time, Robert Ibell, chairman of Cycling Advocates' Network, told the NZ Herald: "Neither of these tragic deaths should have happened.
“In the case of the Petone crash [the one that claimed Inspector Fitzgerald’s life], continuing procrastination by Transit and buck-passing by several other authorities in the Wellington region have meant that the Ngauranga to Petone cycle track is still incomplete.
"Local cyclists have been asking for at least 14 years for something to be done on this route."
A poll on Stuff.co.nz asks whether it should be compulsory for cyclists to have to wear hi-viz clothing finds respondents overwhelmingly in favour, with 55 per cent agreeing as of 10pm GMT on Thursday evening.
Some 23 per cent of those voting said it wouldn’t make a difference, 11 per cent believed it couldn’t be enforced, 7 per cent said only at night, and just 4 per cent said they didn’t mind either way.
In the UK, as we reported last week, insurer Churchill is appealing to the Court of Appeal in a case relating to a teenage girl who suffered brain injuries after she was struck by a driver it insures while she was walking home at night along a country lane.
Churchill is not disputing the driver's liability, but says that contributory negligence was present on the teenager's part because she should have been aware of the need to take the precaution of wearing hi-vis clothing.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.