Wednesday, 19 December 2012

What is the Cost of a Cyclist's Life? £2,700?

Millions of people around the country have hailed Bradley Wiggins's cycling achievements and hundreds of thousands recently voted him as Great Britain's BBC Sports Personality of the Year. However, a few days ago a more sinister public vote on cyclists' lives took place.

At Snaresbrook Crown Court, East London, a jury of 12 men and women voted not guilty in the case of a lorry driver who crushed a cyclist as she rode to work.

On the morning of November 4th 2011 as Mary Bowers was cycling to work along East Smithfield, London, a lorry driven by Petr Beiu turned left across her path while she was pulling away from traffic lights to go straight on.

Beiu was completely unaware of the fact that he had crushed the 28-year-old journalist, and had to be alerted by passers-by of what had happened as Mary lay screaming. When Beiu jumped out of his lorry he had failed to engage the handbrake, and the vehicle rolled forward, crushing Mary even more.

If it hadn't been for the swift actions of the emergency services and the excellent care by staff from the Royal London Hospital, Mary Bowers would not be alive today. Sadly, for Mary and her family and friends she is only just alive today. After being in a coma for many months, Mary is now in a barely conscious state. As well as horrific injuries to her pelvis, legs and lungs, she suffered significant brain injury. Mary will need 24-hour care long into the foreseeable future. This must be agonising for the friends, family and colleagues of the previously bubbly, hard-working, talented, and likeable young lady.

 Petr Beiu admitted to talking on his mobile phone while driving (after initially having lied about this face) at the time of the incident. He also admitted to failing to check his mirrors properly before turning left. But yet the jury chose to find Beiu not guilty of dangerous driving, and instead found him guilty of the lesser charge of careless driving. This led to the subsequent sentence of a £2,700 fine and an 8-month driving ban. 

Is that really how much a cyclist's life is worth?
Is this is all the recognition that is given for the anguish and the loss of life as Mary Bowers previously knew it? Her father deemed the £2,700 fine as insulting, as is mentioned in this newspaper article.
You can find out more about how Mary is getting on this blog which was set up by her sister and friends.

In another case, a jury voted to acquit a motorist who caused the death of a cyclist as he rode over to the new home that he was moving into with his girlfriend. On 6th August 2011 Sam Harding, was riding his bicycle along Holloway Road, London when a motorist in a parked car opened his door suddenly and hit the 25 year-old cyclist. Harding was thrown to the ground, directly  into the path of a double-decker bus behind him. He was crushed under the wheels of the bus and died at the scene as a result of extensive injuries to his pelvis and arms.

Even though the driver of the car, Kenan Aydogdu had tinted his windows with black film, making his windows less than 17% transparent, and therefore very difficult to see traffic properly, a jury still voted to acquit him of manslaughter. The driver walked away from court scot free after killing someone and causing devastation to the lives of the young man's girlfriend, family, and friends. Is this really all that Sam Harding's life is worth?
These verdicts make me very angry and disgusted.

The worrying thing about these verdicts is that they were delivered by ordinary folks - people that you see going about their business in an ordinary way. They would be people like you or me. They could be secretaries, shop keepers, civil servants, healthcare workers, housewives, artists or professionals. Some may have children, some may have brothers, sisters, boyfriends, wives, some may live in a house or flat like you or I. They may go to a pub on a Friday night, and have a joke and a banter among friends. Some might like X-factor, Eastenders, or Panorama. Some may cry when watching a moving TV programme or film. Some may belong to sports clubs. I'm guessing none of them cycle.

They could have voted on a verdict to reflect the severity of these culprits' actions. But they chose not to. This sends out a very worrying message about people's attitude towards the conduct of motorists towards cyclists on the road.

Up and down the country, these so-called SMIDSY (sorry mate I  didn't see you) incidents between motorists and cyclists take place and the general population doesn't seem to care or place much importance on the seriousness of causing injury and even death to cyclists. (Even Bradley Wiggins himself was recently knocked off his bike while out on a train ride.)

Something needs to be done. British Cycling, Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) and London Cycling Campaign are campaigning for changes to the laws, so that motorists face tougher sentences if they kill or injure cyclists on the road.

Following Mary Bowers's accident, her colleagues at The Times launched the Cities fit for Cycling Campaign, which campaigns for safety improvements to be made for cyclists up and down the country. There is also an All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, which has opened an inquiry into barriers to cycling, including issues over road safety and highway design.

I hope that all these actions lead to changes in road design which improve cycle safety. However, it seems that there is a very fundamental need to change people's general attitudes when they see cyclists riding along public roads, and understand the value of all road users' lives.
 
In the mean time I can only say my thoughts are with the friends and families of Mary  Bowers and Sam Harding, plus all other cyclists that are involved in road traffic accidents.

While I have written about cases in London, many people will probably identify with similar issues in their own towns and cities in the UK and beyond. I spend alot of time in Milan, and in Italy cycle safety is also very much on the agenda. This year, an initiative was started to bring the issue of cycle safety to the forefront. You can find out more about what they are doing in Italy on the Salva i Ciclisti website.

Above: Sam Harding Ghostbike on Holloway Road. Photo by Nicsarebi
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