Every accident is preventable, and when you are on two wheels you become acutely aware of that reality. While we all have responsibility for the safety of everyone around us, we are also responsible for our own safety.
Felix Marwick is
banged up <update: alive, but hurt and in pain – see comments below> but thankfully otherwise ok after this incident at the base of Karori hill. He, like many cyclists now, records video while cycling. I highly recommend this.
The accident is clearly the fault of the car driver, who moved off a Give Way intersection on to a main road, causing the impact with and injury to Felix.
Was it a preventable accident? Of course it was, as every accident is preventable.
Let’s dissect the events.
In this first frame Felix is coming off Karori Hill, and approaching several hazards. We can clearly see the two cars approaching the base of the ramp ahead. It’s a known hazard for any local, and has been the cause of accidents and near misses for years. Both cars are light SUVs, which means families, distracted drivers and people who are less likely to see you. I’d be drifting well right at this juncture.
In the frame below Felix has drifted to the right of his lane, to avoid the hazard of cars suddenly turning left into the road ahead. This is well done.
He is riding in a bus lane and thus far safer than the busier car lane. Bus drivers generally see cyclists and motorcyclists more than than car drivers, simply because they are more experienced and better drivers. Generally does not mean always however.
We can still see the cars waiting at the foot of the hill, and the driver of the car should see Felix. I’m not sure whether or not Felix was wearing hi-viz clothing, but this certainly increases the odds (not nearly to 100%) of being seen.
Felix is not drifting totally right into the car lane, likely concerned about being hit over by cars following from behind. However as he is near the 50km limit, he has the ability (and always has the right) to merge right without causing too much stress to the cars. I would generally time my run down the hill to do so each day.
The risk of cars turning left (or across from the right) into the side road on the left has now passed, but the next risk is traffic coming on or off the ramp, and it is approaching rapidly.
However things are getting tricky, as both cars on the ramp are hidden from view. I would be braking here and deciding on my options, or just veering right.
There are now three options – maintain speed and veer left or right, or slow down and make sure to attract the attention of the car driver. This is where Felix made the wrong call.
Let’s not be harsh on Felix – he made most of the right decisions, and certainly all of the legal ones. It’s also really easy to second guess afterwards, but we don’t know what else was going on around Felix, nor what other experiences he has had at the same intersection. I would imagine, for example, that he could have received considerable negative feedback and dangerous activity from drivers of cars when he previously merged into the car lane. This would cause him to pause before considering merging right.
Almost any other day the driver would have seen him in time, and stayed where they were. However as cyclists and motorcyclists we cannot be content with coping with near misses each day, which are defined as events which with worse luck turn into injury or fatality causing accidents. Unfortunately the state of the roads, the experience of drivers and the ever changing conditions all conspire to throw several potential near misses at two-wheelers every day. Auckland is a particularly dangerous place to ride, and the incidence of near misses is one reason that I have curtailed my cycling activity sharply.
Our collective job is to reduce near misses to zero. As riders that means keeping a much longer and wider horizon of vision and ‘what-if’ analysis than drivers. As drivers it means the same, and thinking about pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, and not just cars. As road transport engineers and councils it means finding and eliminating the key causes of near misses and accidents.
Indeed the real underlying cause of this accident is the road set-up, and we need to ask ourselves, how did we as a society allow Felix and the driver to end up impacting? What could we do to remove the risk entirely? How can we do so at reasonable cost in dollars and in commuting time?
The only complete answer is physical separation of the colliding vehicles. Cyclists should have access to a cycle lane that cars cannot cross into. Similarly drivers should never be placed in a situation where they have to take calculated risks to cross intersections.
In this next frame the options have dropped to two, and Felix should have taken action. I’ve been down this road a lot on two and four wheels, and have chosen both options more than once. I recall hair-raising rides as a teenager up the left hand side of the ramp, struggling to maintain traction in the corners, and also an evasive move where I went well into the opposite lane to avoid an oncoming car.
This is the moment of truth. Really there are no options as turning left will be very hard to pull off. Veering right is easier, but we don’t know what is there.
The sun is always an issue at this time, as Felix should have known. It’s a contributing factor. This moment is not a good memory for anyone.
At the awful moment of impact we can see that there was still a very late chance. If Felix had been further to the right, then he may have evaded, and would also have been more visible to the driver. If there was a car immediately behind Felix, and the colliding driver was timing their run to enter the opposite lane just as the car went by, then Felix would have been wiser to earlier drift in behind the following car and get cover that way.
But it was too late.
Watch the video again. What would you have done? Could you have prevented the accident? Felix made some very good decisions, but ‘some’ is not always sufficient.
I’m very happy that he is ok, and hope that he does not mind us using this as a case study. I write this in the spirit that every accident is fault free, and that every accident is preventable. We should be learning from each near miss, let alone accident, and seeking to obtain Zero Harm.
What should happen
I’ve said it before – we need to grant authority for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission to thoroughly investigate all road accidents, and not just other modes of transport. They have an impartial, blame-free approach and seek to understand how we can prevent similar accidents occurring in the future. They don’t have to investigate every accident, that’s too much, but a sample of their choice each year.
We also need to continue to advocate for proper cycling lanes, and not rest until we have complete physical separation of cars and bikes.
And finally we need to all take personal responsibility for our own safety as well as the safety of others. Take a defensive driving course as a start, but the best learning comes from a commitment to constantly learning while on the road. It’s dangerous out there, and we all need to take care. And plonk a video camera on your bicycle, record these incidents and blog them, as Felix has been doing. Over time this will help change attitudes towards cyclists and make it safer for everyone.