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Cycling

Mar 14, 2016

Are bingles an inconvenience for cyclists or deadly serious?

What's a mere bingle for a motorist is usually a painful injury for a cyclist and often much worse. Policy needs to recognise that for cyclists bingles aren't a minor annoyance; they can be deadly

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Car takes down cyclists in suburban Sydney
Great White lunges for its prey on the streets of Sydney (rear camera)

The exhibit shows keen Sydney cyclist Cameron Laird being taken down by a car on the genteel streets of Mosman early last Tuesday evening (cnr Bardwell and Belmont). Since Cameron’s my nephew I took the opportunity to find out a bit more.

His bike was damaged but fortunately he didn’t come off too badly.

I have abrasions to right hip and elbow, not too bad really, but head did hit road very hard, hence ambos took me to hospital for observation.

This incident is just one of thousands of low-speed “bingles” that happen all across the country every week. As I noted recently, they’re so minor the police leave it to the insurance companies to sort out (see Is NSW’s one-metre overtaking law a good idea?).

However when one of the vehicles is a bicycle, the outcome is often far more serious. At the very least, the rider is likely to suffer shock and abrasions but can easily be seriously hurt (see Can cyclists live with traffic bingles?).

In this case the driver was remorseful and behaved well. He’s offered to pay Cameron’s costs and visited him at home next morning.

Cameron tells me the police didn’t attend the scene but the driver voluntarily reported to the police station after the incident and Cameron went in the next day. The driver was duly ticketed.

The amazing thing is the car can be seen approaching on the left in the front camera view; the driver has a clear view of Cameron who’s quite properly “taken the lane”. In fact it’s clear the car struck him from behind!

I don’t doubt the driver when he lamely says “sorry, I didn’t see you mate”. What’s much harder to fathom is why he didn’t.

I expect many experienced drivers don’t consciously look for other vehicles on the road like a learner constantly does. They rely more on “instinct” (the Type 1 part of the brain) to alert them to possible threats, typically another vehicle.

It might be that a small and comparatively inconspicuous cyclist doesn’t always register. The puzzle in this case though is that Cameron was directly in front of the driver when he was struck.

Cyclists are going to have to share some road space with vehicles for a long time yet, so what can be done about bingles involving a car and a cyclist?

In some cases better engineering might be the best answer e.g. perhaps more aggressive traffic calming at the entrance to the roundabout might’ve saved Cameron’s skin. But it won’t help in all cases. Here are some other possibilities:

  • Should motorists be obliged to report to police all crashes involving a bicycle and a motorised vehicle?
  • Should police be obliged to have a discussion with a motorist who’s the subject of a complaint by a cyclist even if there’s no prospect of a conviction?
  • Should collision detection systems like those already available in prestige vehicles be made mandatory on new vehicles?

Cameron’s a roadie but this crash was a low-speed event; he estimates he was doing about 15 kph. Even so, he hit his head pretty hard on the road when he went down:

All ok though, but yeah helmet certainly did its job, wouldn’t want to think about what could be if didn’t have helmet on, head really whacked the road hard…!

That doesn’t make the case for making helmets mandatory for every rider but it suggests wearing a properly fitted helmet is a smart choice for cyclists who mix it with Sydney’s traffic.

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23 comments

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23 thoughts on “Are bingles an inconvenience for cyclists or deadly serious?

  1. Darryl Collins

    I read this article recently by a fighter pilot on how the eye and brain can fool people into missing what may in hindsight seem obvious. http://www.slobc.org/safety/documents/road-survival-guide.pdf

  2. AJH

    I was a motorcyclist for about a decade. I only had one crash – it was a low speed one (I was stationary). Sitting behind a car at an intersection, someone reversed out of their driveway straight into me. They just kept coming at low speed, despite me spotting their car and hitting the horn when they got close.

    After the accident, she first claimed to have not seen me, then said: “You should have made way for me anyway, you just had to reverse a few feet, I’m bigger and it’s common sense”. As if I could have just reversed my motorcycle up a hill.

    However, I had hundreds of near misses where I had to quickly change lanes or swerve due to cars merging onto me. If I got home from work without being merged onto, then it was a good day. Car drivers just don’t see scooters and motorcycles. They just aren’t used to looking for them. Bicycles fall into the same category.

    The scariest near-miss was when I was sitting at a stop sign waiting for a car to pass. I heard a screeching, then looked back to see a car a few centimetres from the rear of my bike. A girl was sitting there, clearly shocked. I put my stand down, ran back to the car to have a word with her, and saw a streak of lipstick up her face, where she’d clearly slammed on the brakes while still applying it. I wanted to call the police there and then, but since there was no accident, it’s likely they wouldn’t have done anything.

    So many drivers simply rely on peripheral vision while driving, so they can “multitask”. Bikes don’t show up clearly in peripheral vision at all.

  3. Gernot

    I’ve been riding my bike to school/uni/work for 40-50 years, for the last 25 years in Sydney. And it’s by far the most cyclist-unfriendly place I’ve experienced.

    And the laws and regulations are a significant factor. The idea that the cops don’t need to get involved as long as there’s no blood on the street is clearly designed by people who don’t think of cyclists as road users. It’s a perfectly reasonable rule if you live in a world where the road is only used by cars. But it utterly ignores the fact that the difference between a “bingle” and a fatality is very small if the victim is a cyclist.

    In my 25 years of commuting in the Inner West and Eastern Suburbs, I only got hit about 3–4 times (because I learned to anticipate motorists’ mistakes, but that doesn’t help if they hit you from behind). But it was utterly depressing when reporting one of them at the police station to be asked by the cop “where are the injuries?” And I also learned that calling an ambulance doesn’t help either: if you don’t need to go to hospital, it ain’t a case for the cops.

    I fully agree that things must change. If a cyclist (or pedestrian for that matter) is hit, it must be investigated. If the cops don’t care, how can we expect drivers to appreciate the difference between making a dent into someone’s bumper and knocking off a cyclist, which will under all circumstances endanger their health.

  4. Glenn Turton

    As a motor bike rider I can relate BUT also emphasize, when I did my TRAINING for my LICENSE it was drilled into us to be aware of others on the road (particularly car drivers), to ASSUME they hadn’t seen us and to always drive/ride in the best position for defence and to be seen.
    I understand this driver was in the wrong. But the lack of training and awareness from push bike riders is amazing once you go through the training course fora motor bike. (Mind you there are still lots of prats on them too :()

  5. Bob the builder

    It’s over a decade since I’ve lived in Sydney (or any big city), but I commuted there regularly for about 15 years (from high school onwards), in the suburbs, the inner city and the CBD, including a stint as a bike courier.

    I only had one collision with a car – which every onlooker agreed was the car’s fault. The driver didn’t stop and pedalling madly up just after was another bike rider who’d just been knocked off by the same driver! The police still said it was my fault and after arguing the point for about 20 minutes I swore at them and left.

    In my time I kicked in a fair few indicator lights, scratched a fair few panels and abused a fair few drivers – a very satisfying way to vent the anger at your life being put in danger. And, as much as the drivers mightn’t “like” bike riders any more after such a minor but expensive bit of retaliation, my firm belief is they’ll remember it and be a lot more aware of bike riders afterwards.
    Of course, laws that punished car drivers would be preferable, but there’s so much piffle that it’s not their fault or that bikes shouldn’t be on the roads, that I can’t see that happening soon. Being a car driver now, I realise it’s easy to lose concentration – but that doesn’t excuse our actions and the consequences they have. Strong laws that recognised the effects of drivers’ lapses would be far more effective than hand-wringing and ‘education’.

    In the meantime city riders – a light tap with your foot on an indicator light will cost your dangerous adversary a few $100 and a fair bit of hassle! Kick away!

  6. Woopwoop

    Wellsy32, it’s just that macho attitude that makes motorists feel they’re not responsible for driving carefully.

  7. Yarra32

    Time to introduce presumed liability. Motorists will be motivated to see cyclists and other vulnerable road users. It’s not about the right of way, it’s about who might possibly lose their life. We impose speed limits around school zones for the same reasons. Our fault based system is what makes motorists aggressively defending their “rights”.

  8. mike westerman

    Ugh Alan – watching the clip made my heart stop, even tho’ you gave a heads up of the outcome. I’ve had my share of crashes over 50y of cycling, including hitting or being hit by cars, and being shot by someone passing in a car. So I’m not so naive as to think cycling can be made 99% safe until all cars are driverless, but in the interim I would suggest:
    – ride with flashing lights front and back even in daylight
    – always get eye contact with incoming cars: give way if they are not connected: better dudded then dead
    – keep agitating for proper segregated bike only veloways, laws that like drink driving laws make sure car drivers never forget their often fatal mistakes, and campaigns to get more bikes on the road

  9. Nightingale John

    Two small points to make:
    1. I’ve been an adult cyclist for over 40 years, commuting (mainly in Armidale), touring (Amsterdam to Athens, and other adventures), chores, and sport cycling, about 200k/week. I’ve had the odd close call with a car but never touched or been touched. I have used a helmet mounted rear vision mirror for 35 of those years. Riders in my bunches comment that I spend about 1/3 time looking in the mirror.
    2. Asking a copper to discuss a motorist’s duties seems to me to be a waste of time, as most Senior Sgt Plods are totally ignorant and biased against cyclists, much as any other drivers. Cultural change won’t happen in my lifetime, nor in that of my children.

  10. Teddy

    I gave up riding 10 years ago after one too many such “bingles”

    Ironically, I was in Mosman too… powering along but my gears weren’t changing properly. I looked down to see what was going on – just as the car in front of me stopped at a pedestrian crossing. I went right over the top of his car, landing with a thump on the road.

    The body shock didn’t instantly kick in so I got up and saw that I’d put a big dent in the back of his car. The driver was yelling and pissed off, “why didn’t you stop, why didn’t you stop!” I told him I fix him up for the damage, but he must have been in hurry and just said don’t worry about, after asking “are you ok are you ok?” over and over…

    I said yes, he got in his car and drove off. Within 10 minutes I couldn’t move a muscle… It was my last ever “bingle”, and of course I’d had several others over a several decades of commuter cycling in Sydney’s furiously aggressive peak hour.

    Were any of them the car’s fault? I think all the others were, but in that lifetime of riding, never once did I adopt the “victim” chip-on-the shoulder attitude of so many cyclists today.

    Normally forums like this are fueled by their anger. Its unseemly, unnecessary and pointless. I wonder if this one will be too?

  11. softgrow

    Cameron is injured. He must report the crash to the police as must the driver of the car. http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/community_issues/road_safety/crash_reporting_faqs#q1 However a large proportion of cyclists involved crashes don’t get reported but do turn up in hospital’s and GP’s rooms. If the police don’t know they can’t help.

  12. dingbat

    Assuming the cyclist isn’t in immediate danger, they should remain on the ground and shout
    “Call an ambulance! And then the police! And then my lawyer!”

  13. wellsy32

    The point is that our road system separates vehicles of all sorts with painted lines and is inherently dangerous. If you want to ride a kids’ toy in flimsy lycra in that road environment then expect injuries to be often catastrophic.

    You can be in the right, know you are slimmer and fitter than all the fat people you despise in cars but you will be just as injured or worse when you come into contact with a car. Simple.

  14. Barry Reynolds

    It’s not always the car drivers fault. I’ve had many experiences of passing a group of riders and one will apparently decide he/she is in an Olympic final, pull out wide and try to pass the other riders, that’s fine but not in front of me driving a 24t truck with nowhere to go. I dread coming up behind cyclists as I never know what they are going to do.
    The last bit applies equally to car drivers.

  15. Wayne Robinson

    It’s not surprising that a motorist could look directly at a cyclist and not see him (or her). Have a look at the video ‘the Invisible Gorilla’ on YouTube, which has game of basketball, during which an actor in a gorilla suit walks into the middle of the players, looks at the camera beating his chest and then walks off. About half the audience, which was given the task of assessing which team made more passes, failed to see the gorilla.

    It’s a good idea for motorists to always mentally look for other road users in particular motor bikes and bikes.

    I’ve had motorists almost hit me because they didn’t even look, including one turning left at an intersection who was looking to the right without looking to the left with me on the pedestrian crossing.

  16. Justin Kelly

    the driver here must have been on their phone (texting, emailing) to not see the cyclist … personally when i cycle in situations like these i try to get some eye contact with the driver, often by using my bell.
    Works pretty well most of the time.

  17. Phil Dunne

    Was sent this article today after my own incident nearby today. If I hadn’t swerved she wold have collected my rear wheel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16kzPUAxC1Q

    Similarly I was in front of the driver. Her reaction was I should have slowed, not her. That’s just arrogance and misunderstanding of the road rules. I don’t think it registered that there was a bike rider already in the roundabout. She had a handsfree phone in her ear and I suspect she was distracted by either that or trying to get to the next intersection in time for the lights.

    What to do? I think police contact is essential. 79% of traffic incidents are caused by drivers. I think also that discretion should be removed from the police and a penalty must be issued if there’s any indication of a rule breach. In both cases it is Reg 114 – failing to give way at a roundabout.

    I’ve lodged a report with the Mosman Police about this, still waiting to hear back but I’m not hopeful.

  18. Alan Davies

    Great comment on this issue by drfrogsplat on redditt ausbike:

    This is a huge problem on the roads generally. I’m convinced that people just look to see if there’s something there, instead of looking to see that there’s nothing there.

  19. Matt Arkell

    I have to disagree about cleats St Etienne. If anything cleats make avoiding problems easier as your feet are less likely to come off the pedals, making reactions more difficult or unpredictable.

    If the rear wheel slips out, holding on, backing off the power and pulling the bike back into line is the way to go. Front wheel slides usually mean your going down, no matter what kind of connection to the pedals you have.

    And if a car is involved, all bets are off. There are so many other variables that I don’t think cleats come into it.

    In short, I take cleats over no cleats any day of the week.

  20. Alan Davies

    St Etienne #3:

    Not sure what your point is…that’s a pretty solid dent in the bumper of the Mazda. That crash wasn’t an own goal. As Dylan (#2) rightly says, the outcome of a spill is potentially far worse if it’s caused by a collision with a vehicle.

    (In my experience cleats don’t cause spills; they happen for other reasons e.g. slippery surface, touch someone’s back wheel. Cleats might make avoiding action harder if they’re too tight, but they shouldn’t be. I keep mine on easy unclip mode).

  21. St Etienne

    Alan, even a roadie travelling at 15km/h is more likely to go down hard from the slightest nudge or slip due to their use of cleats. It’s something I’ve witnessed many times over the years.

  22. Dylan Nicholson

    Funnily enough in the last 2 weeks I’ve had 2 crashes, and been riding with 2 others that have also crashed. None of them involved other vehicles, or pedestrians (and thankfully none serious, though one – not me – required some stitches). They are just a fact of life with riding I guess, especially if you do higher pace road-bike riding. It’s an inherently unstable form of transport, much as I love it and would love to see people doing more of.
    But when cars are involved they are far more likely to become very very serious, and even potentially fatal. There are definitely more things cyclists could and should do to ensure they are always clearly visible, but ultimately the responsibility has to lie with those in control of the more dangerous vehicle (and yes, that means as cyclist I have to super careful anywhere that pedestrians might randomly cross my path, as they have done too many times to count).
    We need driving tests that are heavily geared towards looking out for vulnerable road users. If you can’t pass one of the simulated tests where a pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist suddenly crosses your path, or you can’t point out to examiner while driving all the other road users, you shouldn’t get a license, simple as that.

  23. Peter Darco

    I am a bike rider. The other day I was crossing a city street on foot in daylight. I looked for cars and seeing none, stepped out.

    But there was a cyclist coming down the hill, just where I looked for cars. I had not seen him. He was darkly dressed, and my brain, looking for cars, did not see him in the middle distance.

    Only when he was quite close did I see him.

    Perhaps we need to train drivers in a 3 step looking: look for cars, then for bikes, then for pedestrians. Each is a separate perceptual process.

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