In the distance, the railway bridge struck by a truck in Brisbane on Saturday morning, resulting in the death of a cyclist

According to a report in the Courier Mail, Brisbane man Les Karayan was crushed on Saturday morning by a truck that “clipped” a railway overpass and rolled over in Brisbane’s inner south:

A 40-year-old Greenslopes man has died after a truck struck an overpass and rolled in Brisbane’s inner south this morning.

Police said the tragic accident was a case of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”

A later report said Mr Karayan was killed in a “freak” accident (Brisbane cyclist killed in freak accident has been home to fix wheel just before crash).

At this stage it’s not possible to be certain about the details, but there are some disturbing aspects about the way the Police and the Courier Mail have framed this event so far.

First, Mr Karayan was not in the “wrong place” at the “wrong time”; he was apparently riding on the road as he’s legally entitled to do. If the paper’s report is accurate, it was the truck that was in the wrong place because it was too high to fit beneath the underpass. It is an offence to ignore bridge clearance signage in Qld.

Second, there’s nothing in the Police account as reported by the paper to suggest this was an “accident”. It was no doubt unintended, but unless there are some exceptional circumstances the Police haven’t disclosed, the collision was forseeable. It appears the truck collided with the bridge, notwithstanding the height of the bridge is clearly marked.

Third, this was not in a class of “freak” occurrences, either. The Courier Mail links to a story it ran last month under the headline, Trucks getting stuck under rail bridges at a rate of one a week (those videos are scary). It reports that the number of rail bridge strikes almost doubled in the 12 months to June 30, jumping from 33 the previous year to 60 this year (presumably these are state-wide figures).

Police say it’s too early to say if charges will be laid against the driver. That’s fair enough, but comments like “wrong place, wrong time” can be taken as implying the collision “couldn’t have been helped” or “was just one of those things”. It seems like an auto-centric view of the roads. Police need to investigate the incident fully and take the appropriate action.

A more general principle arising from this tragic event is that Governments must pay closer attention to the implications for vulnerable road users of infrastructure design and management practices. They need to adopt a new mindset.

Cyclists are exceptionally vulnerable in traffic. What might be a moderate bingle for a motorist can be catastrophic for a cyclist (or a pedestrian).

Commenters at Brisbane Cyclist argue incidents at this location are common. It’s also contended the angle of the bridge relative to the road contributes to trucks which strike the bridge subsequently over-turning.