This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 120.
Something happened to me last May while cycling in my own street which has dented my confidence and made me question whether the streets are safe to ride where I live.
It was early on a Friday evening and I was heading into Cambridge to meet my wife for dinner. I was cycling briskly down Thoday Street approaching Mill Road when I heard the familiar sound of a motor vehicle behind me being driven hard over the speed bumps in this 20mph street. The vehicle came up very close behind me, I turned to look and saw three people on the front seat of a van. I braked gently to slow down as I wanted to stop and challenge the driver about the way he was driving. He crashed into my back wheel causing it to implode and my bike to stop. I did not fall over and was uninjured. The front number plate of the van was hanging off and the bumper may have been dislodged.
He was hostile towards me and said that I braked suddenly. I denied that, saying that because he had crashed into the back of me it was his fault and that any court would agree. At the window of his van I explained that he was driving too close. He turned to look at one of his passengers to support his arguments but she looked away. I resisted moving my bike from in front of the van until he accepted responsibility. During this time a queue of cars built up behind the van and another driver appeared and threatened to call the police and claim I was causing an obstruction. I asked the van driver to call the police on his car ‘phone which had a loudspeaker so we could both hear and talk to them. The officer explained that in this case their statutory duty had been met when we exchanged name and address details; they said they were not going to attend and that it was OK to move my bike, and that it was a civil matter as there were no injuries. I suggested to the driver that if he paid £50, that would cover the damage and we could move on. He seemed horrified at the idea that he should give me any money.
As I’m a member of CTC, the national cycling charity, I later called their legal service and was sent a pack which explained my options. I wrote to the driver holding him responsible and demanding a payment of £150, which was the quotation I’d received for the repair. I followed through by calling him and had an unpleasant ten-minute conversation which ended with him hanging up. He had offered to take my bike away to have it fixed, but I explained that that was not acceptable to me. He said that his insurance excess was £250 and so was not covered by that.
I decided to initiate a small claim using the Court Service’s www.moneyclaim.gov.uk website, which cost £25. He responded to them admitting partial liability. I refused to accept that and so it was set to go to court. He did not respond to the court’s papers and so ultimately a judgment was issued against him for £175.
The court advised me that there were four options remaining open to enforce the judgment and make him pay. One did not apply to amounts less than £600 and the others only worked if he had employment or property, and seemed to require me having knowledge about him.
I have now decided not to pursue the payment any further as I think the balance of effort to reward has diminished below a point where it is worth keeping on my agenda. I am satisfied that a judgment has been made against him, and that that now appears on a register (I paid £10 to check that), which I think will affect his credit rating. The cost of postage (e.g. for recorded delivery items) and photocopying was around £15, which means this affair has cost me £200 in total. I am very grateful for the advice of a barrister friend who has helped me understand the options and proofread my letters.
The narrow streets of North Romsey can be quite unpleasant places to walk or cycle. Unfortunately, people have taken to leaving their cars on the footways and the remainder is taken up with parked bikes and bins. Cycling with the flow can be unpleasant because of impatient driving and this incident is an extreme example of that. Cycling against the one-way flow can be more pleasant as quite often the traffic yields and is sometimes accompanied by a friendly wave from the driver. However, other drivers see contra-flow cyclists as being illegal (as they currently are in some of the streets) and barge down the road as though they are not there, resulting in risky situations.
I’ve witnessed impatient behaviour between drivers too, indeed it is not uncommon in these streets. Even though there are quite sharp speed bumps and a long-established 20mph limit, there is something about these streets that makes some drivers think they can speed and behave aggressively. The tools for challenging that behaviour seem weak and limited.
Some of the streets are being converted to two-way cycling, although that has been a long and drawn out process. The police seemed to be totally uninterested in this collision and I can see why, because there were no independent witnesses. However, now that there is a judgment against the driver my side is strengthened and perhaps if there were, for instance, options to ban him from driving for a month or two, then he might be persuaded to pay up.