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.