Crash!

This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 47.

Following advice in earlier Newsletters about what to do if you are injured in a cycle accident, here are some further suggestions.

Firstly let’s get things in perspective. Evidence suggests that you are ten times more likely to extend your life by cycling than to shorten it, and that the state of health of a typical regular cyclist will be similar to a typical non-cyclist ten years younger. Also, statistics suggest that as a cyclist you are far less likely to be involved in a crash in Cambridge than if you cycle in other cities in the UK (except perhaps York).

When should incidents with motorists be reported to the police?

If a motor vehicle is involved in an incident where anyone other than the driver is injured, the incident must, by law, be reported to the police. This must be done within 24 hours and a valid certificate of insurance produced, or an offence has been committed by the driver of the motor vehicle. This is the case even where the cyclist is at fault. It is not good enough to exchange addresses or, as one case I know of, to exchange money. The police have to record the details on a STATS19 form, and it is this information which is used to create the statistics of ‘Road Accidents’ that are so often quoted.

What should you do?

This may sound like a cheat, but I believe much of the following is sound advice. Long ago I had a friend who was involved in ‘on the spot’ accident research. He was often the first on the scene of an accident and he followed up details long after the event, not to apportion blame, but to look at causes and effects. He unofficially advised all who were involved in an accident where injury might have occurred, to say that they were injured and not to admit blame.

Shock, with its attendant ‘fight or flight’ reaction, will often cover symptoms. You may only discover serious bruising later, and a strain or sprain that passes unnoticed at the time, may have long-term consequences. If the accident involves a motor vehicle, it is the responsibility of the motorist to report the incident. It is always possible to say later that you are OK, but it is difficult to back track 12 hours later when you realise how badly bruised you are.

But I’m not convinced about his advice on blame; I think saying ‘Sorry’ when you know you have made a mistake can reduce stress, and often results in a forgive-and-forget attitude by the other party.

If the driver is reluctant to report the incident or to give you their details, note their registration number and try to get the name and address of an independent witness. Getting these details can be difficult: after one incident of aggressive driving, I tried to write down the vehicle number (I always try to carry pencil and paper), but my hand shook so much, I could not read the number later. Report these details to the police, make sure you get an incident number, and follow it up to see what has happened.

If you are involved in an incident with another cyclist or a pedestrian, there appears to be no obligation for the police to record it even if serious injury results. All the rules relate to ‘motor vehicles’.

Finally, remember that just as they say for driving, a good cyclist can often avoid an accident that would have been someone else’s fault.

Jim Chisholm