Yeah but cyclists…

No doubt you will have seen the news stories about TV presenter Dan Walker being rendered unconscious when a car knocked him off his bike in Sheffield. I can say the car “knocked him off his bike” without fear of being sued because dashcam footage showing the collision has emerged and, unlike the Daily Mail’s claim that Walker was knocked unconscious when the “rear wheel of his bike caught [the] car’s front wing“, it is clear that it is the car that changes lane and drives into Walker’s back wheel from behind. A Judge would see through misleading language like this in Court.

The Mail’s headline is an example of the “Misinformation Effect”. In her seminal research, Professor Elizabeth Loftus demonstrated how the choice of language influenced the memories of witnesses to road traffic collisions. In courtroom Trials this is important because eye witness testimony can be compelling and persuasive and will go someway to a Judge forming their view as to who is to blame. Outside of the courtroom, such misinformation perpetuates misconceptions (and arguably myths) about the rights and responsibilites of different types of road users. I would like to highlight some of these misconceptions in relation to Dan Walker being knocked off his bike.

Vulnerable Road Users and Simple Mistakes

Hugh Blaydon, from the Alliance of British Drivers, defended the actions of the car driver, saying:

“The driver appears to be starting to move to his left, presumably in preparation for taking the next exit. With signs everywhere, other traffic to consider and maybe trying to find his way, it is a simple mistake to miss Walker, possibly hidden by the A-pillar. If I were cycling I would not venture onto that roundabout.”

In essence Blaydon’s argument is that the driver has a lot of information to process when navigating this roundabout so it’s easy to miss a cyclist. Forutately, the law is quite clear here:

In any interaction between road users, those who can cause the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others.
Highway Code Rule 201

In other words, it is the driver’s responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to others. If a driver cannot process all the information they need to travel safely then they are driving beyond their ability.

He Shouldn’t Have Been on the Roundabout

Blaydon also pointed out that there is an adjacent cycle lane that avoids the roundabout where the collision took place. The argument here is that Walker chose not to use the cycle path, so is (partly) culpable for the collision. Some commentators local to the area were equally quick to point out that the ‘cycle path’ is a shared use underpass usually littered with broken glass. From a legal perspective cyclists do not have to use cycle paths (I’ve emboldened the key part):

Use facilities such as cycle lanes and tracks, advanced stop lines and toucan crossings (see Rules 62 and 73) where they make your journey safer and easier. This will depend on your experience and skills and the situation at the time.While such facilities are provided for reasons of safety, cyclists may exercise their judgement and are not obliged to use them.
Highway Code Rule 61

He Wasn’t Wearing High Vis Clothing

Many of the Twitterati were quick to point out that Walker wasn’t wearing high vis clothing. The Highway Code does point out:

Light-coloured or fluorescent clothing can help other road users to see you in daylight and poor light, while reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) can increase your visibility in the dark.
Highway Code Rule 59

The Highway Code is a mixture of rules (you must/must not) and suggestions (you should) aimed at improving safety. So whilst wearing bright coloured clothing may be common sense, it is not mandatory in the way that having lights on a bicycle at night is. Were Dan Walker to make a claim for his injuries, the car driver’s insurers would no doubt argue what’s called “contributory negligence”. In other words, Walker’s (seemingly) dark clothing contibuted to the collision and as such any compensation should be reduced. In cases like this it is up to the Judge to decide if the cyclist’s clothing was a contributing factor, to what extent, and what, if any, reduction in compensation would apply.

It’s easy to take one side or the other in what is genuinely a culture war between cyclists and car drivers. There are both cyclists and motorists who shouldn’t be on the road, for their own safety and that of others. Similarly, the best drivers can have a momentary lapse in concentration or be distracted. It doesn’t mean they aren’t fit to be on the road. But equally it doesn’t excuse them from compensating those who suffer as a consequence. Misinformation, such as that propogated by some media outlets covering the Dan Walker story, can give the impression that cyclists and other road users are a nuisance and any compensation claim would not stand a chance. That is simply not the case. Drivers of motor vehicles have a legal responsibilty to take extra caution around vulnerable road users such as cyclist, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.

If you have been the victim of a road traffic collision as a pedestrian or whilst riding your bicycle or motorbike, call us on 01257 422 500 to arrange a free 30 minute initial consultation.