When I was 15 I watched my friend Mark get hit by a car.
We were outside chatting with some friends and Mark stepped backwards off the pavement, just as a Vauxhall Cavalier came around the corner.
It’s the driver’s face I remember first. A young man, with glasses and short sandy hair, his jaw locked open in terror as he saw the child in front of him he knew he couldn’t avoid hitting. His arms braced against the steering wheel as he braked with all his might.
The next thing I saw was Mark flying through the air. Literally knocked off his feet, he arced up backwards, with a shocked look on his poor young face and slammed hard into the tarmac.
Mark, a great football player, broke both his legs and shattered his pelvis, and was on crutches for months, pins sticking out of his legs. No more football for a long time.
But no one blamed the driver – and rightly so. Mark got hit because he stepped into the road without thinking, without a care in the world. No one wants to see a 15 year old hobbled but we all knew why the accident happened.
Almost 20 years on, as I read about yet another young London cyclist tragically killed by yet another left-turning lorry, it strikes me that we need to take responsibility for our own safety on the roads.
It’s clear that 26 year old Madeline Wright was probably the victim of inexperience, a badly designed junction, and a lorry driver whose mirrors could have been better used. And no one wants another death on our roads. But why didn’t Madeline, and the other cyclists killed in exactly the same manner, know that filtering on the inside of a lorry at a junction is a recipe for disaster? And what about the cyclist in front of her, who the lorry driver described as ‘coming out of nowhere’ as he pulled away from the lights? Was he doing the same thing?
Too many cyclists are dying on our roads, particularly in London, where ‘death by lorry’ is the number one cause. Campaign groups like the London Cycling Campaign and the CTC quite rightly are calling for better mirrors on lorries, and improved driver training.
But Lambeth Council’s new drive to warn cyclists not to sit on the inside of lorries is even more important. Because doesn’t common sense dictate that vehicles with wheels as high as your head are better avoided? Why aren’t cyclists taking responsibility for their own lives and holding back, instead of whizzing through on the inside, only to meet their maker? Just because a poorly designed cycle lane is there doesn’t mean you have to use it.
A couple of years after Mark got knocked over I started learning to drive. And after spending half my young life cycling to school I was already scared of lorries. Even though I was now snug in the relative safety of a Ford Fiesta, it took me months to get out of the habit of slowing to a snail’s pace every time a lorry passed me in the opposite direction.
Cyclists need to stop blaming lorries for accidents. Yes, lorry drivers have a terrible tendency towards a ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ attitude. And yes, better mirrors will probably cut lorry/ bike fatalities a bit.
But we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in danger in the first place. Hang back. Wait a few more seconds at the traffic lights and stay in the queue.
Don’t, in short, step backwards off the pavement.