‘OK’ for car to hit cyclist outside cycle lane

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 77.

For nearly a year I’ve been struggling with the consequences of an incident. I’ve had sleepless nights, not because of the consequences for me, but for the consequences for the many thousands of pedestrians and cyclists in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, and throughout the country, who believe that as vulnerable users the law gives them protection from careless or inconsiderate motorists.

I’ve not reported this formally within the Campaign, or written anything for the Newsletter lest publicity should prejudice anything, but I’ve now decided to commit my experience to paper and damn any consequences, especially as I’m not identifying the driver concerned or naming any other individuals, and traffic offences cannot be prosecuted unless ‘notice of intent’ is issued within six months.

Map showing Regent Street

In mid March last year, whilst cycling down Regent Street, I was hit by a motor vehicle that was overtaking me. I didn’t go flying over the bonnet, but the mirror caught my handlebar and I was thrown to the ground. I had grazes and bruises but despite my 60 years I was able to bounce up, although I certainly suffered in the few days that followed. My bike suffered less than I did.

Avid readers might guess where this was, especially when I say that this was just days before the bollard lane bypass for cyclists was closed. It wasn’t at the exit from the lane where we thought a crash was likely, as I was taking the advice an Officer in the County Council gave, and was published in a previous newsletter: “many cyclists might prefer to use the traffic lane”. (For those who don’t know the area please refer to the diagram on the right.)

I was hit approaching the entry to the 3.1m section, and was sure the incident would be captured on the CCTV. I had no doubt that the driver had either been extremely careless, or that he had deliberately intimidated me, even if it was not his intention to actually hit me. I certainly didn’t think I could be to blame for being hit by a vehicle attempting to overtake me.

Many drivers still seem to think that if cycle facilities are provided cyclists must use them and have no right to be on the road. Of course they are wrong, and it is only in exceptional cases that cycles are not permitted to use normal traffic lanes. The latest edition of the Highway Code makes this clear saying: “Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer”. But even if such drivers have never read the Highway Code, and it seems likely that this is the case, it gives them no right to use their vehicle as a weapon, or to intimidate cyclists.

I got up and chased the driver, who I thought at first was not even going to stop, whilst a friend dialed ‘999’. He did stop, but never bothered to get out of his car simply saying “You should have been in the cycle lane”.

The police arrived promptly and efficiently, taking brief statements from the driver and myself, as well as taking the names and addresses of a couple of witnesses.

I later received a form to fill in, and patiently awaited a response from the police. Imagine my surprise when five weeks later I received a letter from the police Collision Enquiry Unit saying “no further action is being taken by the Police against any person involved”. I immediately rang them, and was told: “No action, cyclist not in cycle lane”.

I then took some advice, and it was suggested that my next steps should be to view and possibly get copies of any CCTV footage, and also get a copy of the Collision Enquiry Unit report. Getting the CCTV footage was easy, although I did have to sign to say it wouldn’t be used for “Entertainment” so you won’t see it on ‘Police, Camera, Inaction’. I was concerned that the footage might show some unreasonable change of direction on my part, so I was accompanied by another experienced cyclist, as an arbiter. We both considered my actions and positioning were reasonable; hence I was very surprised to get an email from the Head of the CCTV Unit saying:

“It also shows that you are over a metre outside the cycle lane towards the centre of the road and that the vehicle is quite clearly driving in a straight line towards the vehicle bollards lane.

Because of your position on the road, you have effectively hemmed in the taxi which cannot take evasive action without crashing into the side bollards marking out the vehicle lane.

I think from the CCTV images I have seen, they would appear to show that the fault for this incident rests with the cyclist.”

This statement seems to support the view that if you don’t think someone has a right on the road, it confers on you, the right to hit them with your motor vehicle.

I don’t see how a CCTV operator who will have had no training in Road Traffic Collision Investigation should be making such an opinionated statement, and I was concerned that, if such a statement had been made to a naïve police officer viewing the footage, it might have biased his or her view.

Stills from the CCTV footage of the incident
Image as described adjacent
Image as described adjacent

The CCTV footage (see stills left) did show that I didn’t swerve out suddenly but continued on past the vehicle in the loading bay keeping parallel to the kerb occupying the ‘primary’ position as suggested for such locations in the National Cycling Guidance.

My attempts to get a copy of the Collision Enquiry Unit report were long and difficult. Letters go astray, Freedom of Information doesn’t work for things that were previously chargeable, and such reports can only be released to a solicitor, and of course no one explains the steps required, just rebuffs the requests as they arrive.

As I still hadn’t got the report, and I was concerned that time was running out to take action against the driver, I wrote directly to the Chief Constable. I explained my concerns stating (for example) “I’m concerned that the officer who investigated this incident failed to understand both the right of a cyclist not to use a cycle facility, and the responsibility of the driver to leave adequate space for vulnerable road users as clearly stated in the Highway Code”.

I also asked to meet informally with a senior officer to see if we could have a satisfactory closure of this incident. No such luck… The reply I received, at the same time as the long awaited Collision Enquiry Report, was dismissive, stating: “{cyclist} is further out towards the centre of the road. A position I believe to be unnecessary and showing no consideration for following traffic” and “As the {vehicle} was passing, the cyclist is clearly seen to move further to his offside. There was no apparent reason for this deviation… The cyclist makes contact with the {vehicle}… In my opinion the cyclist is the more blameworthy”.

We were at the end of September, and I’d hoped for a closure, and some admission that the first decisions was based on incorrect knowledge of the Highway Code, but no, so I’m still stressed and suffering some almost sleepless nights, as I still can’t see how a cyclist going in a straight line can be hit from behind and be ‘more blameworthy’.

I decide to contact the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), but also to ask John Franklin, the leading Expert Witness in the field, author of Cyclecraft, and a member of the group that developed the National Cycle Training scheme, for his advice.

He’s produced a 14-page report and in his conclusions says: “The…. driver drove without proper consideration for the safety of cyclist 2 from the time of first encounter. In his haste, he passed the cyclist leaving insufficient space under any circumstance and thus increased the possibility of conflict no matter how the cyclist subsequently rode” and “The collision enquiry report displays a lack of understanding of basic cycling safety issues and of established guidance on how to cycle safely. There is an undercurrent of bias against the cyclists and a failure to distinguish between actions that threaten the safety of others and actions that delay motorists”.

Both he and the solicitor involved have done this work without charge ‘Pro Bono’ (In the Public Good).

What of the IPCC? I heard just before Christmas that my complaint was being referred for ‘Local Resolution’ and met with a Superintendent on February 12th.

That officer clearly had never seen a copy of Cyclecraft and still didn’t think the case should have been taken to court, although he didn’t suggest I was to blame for the crash. He claims the ‘evidence of witnesses would make it difficult’ as the passenger in the vehicle and a delivery vehicle driver at the kerb both stated I wasn’t in the cycle lane. This means that the superintendent, despite having a copy of John Franklin’s report in advance of the meeting, STILL either believes that a cyclist is at fault if he rides outside a cycle lane, or that witnesses’ interpretation of the law must be correct. In addition one of the reasons for considering a charge of careless or inconsiderate driving by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is: “Driving inappropriately close to another vehicle”. Surely, if you are hit by an overtaking vehicle they MUST have been too close?

A friend took notes at the meeting, and these have been sent to the officer complete with some action points. At the time of going to press I’ve not had any confirmation that these are agreed, and reading down the provisional list, I wonder why even I seem to be lumbered with some actions?

Many drivers (and even the police) still seem to think that if cycle facilities are provided, cyclists must use them and have no rights on the road.

So do I think the police are incompetent?

No, but I do think there is a lack of resources, a lack of education, and a strong tendency, as with most large organisations, to think they are always right, and to live in a blinkered past. Hopefully, if the police carry out any of the suggested actions, at least someone in the Collision Enquiry Unit and the CPS will now see a copy of Cyclecraft. We may even see someone in the Collision Enquiry Unit trained to ‘level 3’ of the National Cycle Training Standard.

I wonder how many ex-cyclists there are in Cambridge who thought they should ride for the benefit of their health, their pocket, and the health of the planet, but who gave up after suffering incidents of inconsiderate driving that should have been dealt with by the police?

I don’t give up easily, but this little incident has caused me to drop or delay other things on my ‘to-do’ list as well as still interrupting my sleep. I still believe that the cause of the crash was the driving of the other vehicle which fell far below what would be expected of a normal driver.

If you feel you’ve good reason to see either the full CCTV footage or a copy of the ‘Expert Witness’ report, please contact me via the Campaign.

Jim Chisholm