Another preventable accident

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.

Felix versus car, and the NBR article.

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.

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
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22 Responses to Another preventable accident

  1. NZSM says:

    “Felix Marwick is banged up but thankfully otherwise ok after this incident at the base of Karori hill. ”
    If by ok you mean alive, then yes he is “ok”. He has a badly smashed wrist, and as of this morning (Wednesday) is still waiting for surgery on it. He’s in a lot of pain, will be in plaster for a good long while and will find it most difficult to bathe his baby daughter.

  2. @kiwibrew says:

    Time for bicyclists to get loud horns? Certainly works for bicyclists and scooter riders in Asia.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      I had a (fog) loud horn and high visibility jacket in India (and elsewhere), and they were useless. They help in most jurisdictions, but the cyclist is more effective to use hands and yell. Besides you do not want to take your hands off the bars, and a horn is usually pressed too late..

  3. brad says:

    The thing i noticed when i saw the video was the incredibly short time frame between it becoming apparent that the colliding car was moving forwards and the impact. I think the cyclist was veering right to the extent he could at the last moment, but bikes need lead time before executing a hard turn and that time wasnt there. Personally i would have bunny hopped it ;)

    Thanks for pointing out the glare on the drivers windscreen, and that they would have had to be craning their necks to the left to look for cars coming from that way.

    The real evil here is that intersection. Just goes to show again (as if needed) that human life (or at least cyclist life) is not a factor in road planning decisions.

  4. Scott says:

    Like most accidents this has the combination of factors that taken individually would not have led to an accident. The things I take from this are:
    1) Align your car to the road, yes the intersection sucks but the more you align your car with the road you’re joining, the more natural and available your field of visibility is
    2) Never ride between lanes. It’s the worst blindspot for both cars you’re following and other road users. Take the middle of the lane.
    3) Always have an escape path when moveable objects are involved
    4) Avoid object fixation, you will hit what you look at.
    5) Never assume that anyone has seen you. Assume you’re invisible until proven otherwise

    • I disagree with your point 1). At that intersection I’ll always turn significantly to the left while waiting. It makes it far easier to see traffic coming from the left, and when you accelerate you cross the oncoming traffic lane much more quickly. You then have to turn right on reaching the far lane, but that’s a much smaller problem.

  5. I’m a cyclist and motorcyclist. I have situations like this every day. The car driver is legally at fault but the bottom line is I’m the only one who can keep me safe — and have done for 35 years of riding on roads (and about 400,000 km on motorcycles, I don’t know how much on bicycles).

    You’ve got to have sympathy for the car driver. It’s a real bitch getting out of there when it’s busy, especially in low powered cars or SUVs. Cars are coming down the hill fast, you’ve got to really crane your neck to the left to see the traffic coming from the tunnel (and it’s probably behind your pillar). It’s very easy to look right, see it’s clear, look left, look right and move off .. and oops! someone came off Curtis St, which is only a few meters away.

    I most definitely would not take the option of following close behind a car in the main lane. That’s a guarantee of not being seen. Back in university days I got wiped out by a right-turning car who waited until the car I was following had gone past.

    I also would never ever swerve right when the car started to move. That’s asking to get wiped out like that woman on Tamaki Drive.

    I think going left was an option until much later than you give it credit for. If I hadn’t made eye contact with the driver by the point going left stopped being an option then I’d be on the brakes and slowing, prepared to stop, until I got acknowledgment from the driver. That’s a total pain in the arse, losing all your momentum but I do it.

    One of the worst spots I ride regularly is southbound at the Paremata bridge. The bridge itself has an uphill approach (you’re slow), two narrow lanes, no shoulder, and a very high vertical kerb you can’t ride up and will put you off if you get too close with a pedal. The only safe option is to take the whole lane so anyone overtaking has to change lanes completely. I frequently get honked at and abused.

    The following roundabout is fine, but then there’s a lane merging from the left which can be very hard to deal with if it’s busy, as cars are already doing 70+ km/h at the merge point. while I’m doing 30-40. I’ve had a car there slow to match my speed right beside me, and continue to mirror my speed changes, giving me nowhere to go and accelerating traffic coming up behind fast.

  6. Alan says:

    I agree with Bruce. It’s a shame, but cyclists *have* to assume that what happened here is what the car is *actually going to do* every time, and take steps to avoid it. I probably would have gone left by default and gone around behind the car – similar to Bruce I’ve done around 100,000 km training on my bicycle (also own a motorcycle) and this sort of thing is a daily occurrence.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      All good comments. The main takeaway is that good riders and drivers are always thinking about what is happening and what to do, and learning from the results..

  7. Christopher says:

    Need to juxapose your analysis with the RAF article about how people ‘see’ that is/was floating around various cycling sites a few weeks ago.

  8. Ian says:

    Similar thing happens on a regular basis on my daily cycle commute in Hamilton – a car approaches the main road I’m on from a side road on my left… as they drive up, I can see I’m being obscured by the right hand post of their windscreen. If I can’t see their eyes, they can’t see me. I could either keep going along (on the moral high ground), or – what I always do – do some heavy braking and make eye contact so I won’t get smashed. I’m usually able to spot them a way off and do some slowing down before they arrive, but if they’re too close, I just brake hard. It’s better than being hit. This is no protection from someone coming up behind and turning across me (as happened this morning) but I guess hi-viz is the best protection for those situations… Cycling is still a far better health option for me, even with the slightly increased risk of injury on the road. Hamilton has a great off-road riverside cycle path but it’s about 10 minutes additional commute time, and when I’m in a hurry I take the main roads. Auckland was much trickier though. I did a daily cycle commute there for 7 years… Khyber Pass or Great North Road on a bike during rush hour… rather exciting to say the least… :-)

  9. jimmyjangles says:

    I think the rider did contribute somewhat – he was in the bus lane after all, apparently turning to the right.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      Bus lane 100% legal.

      • jimmyjangles says:

        “Bus lane 100% legal.” – I did not know that, so fair call.

        As a driver, I do not expect other entities to use those lanes, and wonder if others, such as the driver in this case think the same. It seems like bad policy if drivers are expected to keep an eye out for such users of the bus lanes (regardless of the due care they must always exhibit). THAT said, at the particular corner, any local would have known that there was no way at all a cyclist going at that speed was going to go any where but across the front of their engine as the turn up that hill would have been way too sharp.

        Bruce’s comment is perhaps wrong ” you’ve got to really crane your neck to the left to see the traffic coming from the tunnel (and it’s probably behind your pillar)” There’s actually a marked out ‘island’ of sorts where you can head to first and then decide to enter the mainstream traffic flow.

        I do have real sypmathy for Felix – when driving I prefer to see riders like him ‘own the road’ rather than those that creep around un-confidently – I hope he’s well on the way to recovery.

        Finally – if it’s one hundred percent legal to use the bus lanes, what’s the deal with the 30K speed zones that have popped up every where – a council fiction or backed by regulation?

        Phew, I think this is the longest comment I’ve ever left anywhere!

  10. emma says:

    The real problem is that intersection. I had an accident in a car there many years ago. I was in the position of the car in this incident, and was about to turn right when I realised a tanker coming down the hill was going way too fast and I wouldn’t have time to get across the road. I braked, but the diver behind me had seen me start off, looked to her left to check traffic coming from the tunnel, didn’t see that I stopped, and rammed into the back of my car so hard that my chassis had to be rebuilt. She had about five meters to get up to that speed, so she was absolutely flooring it – which is what drivers typically do to get across the road when turning right, making the liklihood of a bad accident even higher. (As an aside, she was lucky because if I had gone and she had too, at least one of us would have collided with the tanker, which would have been worse for everyone). The entire intersection should be rebuilt, but it never will be as people don’t die there and unless they do it won’t become a high enough priority.

    • brad says:

      have to agree. I havent been there but i have seen similar setups. If an evil mind set about creating an intersection to hurt people, especially cyclists, thats what they’d build. The road planning people must be made to consider safety hazards of all road users – they just ignore cyclists at present.

  11. I’ve only just been made aware of this so feel I should add my 2 cents worth. After all I’m the cyclist you’re talking about.

    1) The accident occurred at 10.15 am. Light wasn’t a factor in my opinion. There’s no possible way the sun was in the driver’s eyes as he was at a west facing intersection.

    2) Turning right into the traffic lane – I’d have love to have done this but there was traffic close behind me. Pulling right could have seen me hit from behind. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk as I couldn’t assume the car behind me would brake.

    3) I was doing just a tad under 50km/h into that bend. There was less than a second for me to react when I realised the driver was going to pull out. I think you’ll agree that’s not a lot of time. If I’d gone left I would have hit him broadside and been very badly hurt. If I went hard right I risked being hit by the car behind me. I went as far right in the bus lane as I could, unclipped, and hoped I would scrape past. ( I almost did – it was the front left of the van that got me)

    4) I was wearing hi-vis gear (flouro-green)

    5) Aren’t you all impressed that I didn’t swear?

    Anyway the result of all this is I smashed my wrist joint into several pieces and had to have surgery to fix it all up again. I’m now the proud owner of a plate, several screws, and two hefty scars (one where the plate went in, and the other for the carpal tunnel release). I’m currently in physio trying to get everything working again.

    The driver entered a guilty plea when he appeared in Court last month. He’s lost his license for 6 months and been ordered to pay $2250 in reparations. It was his first offence. He claimed at the time that he thought I was going left up the hill (I rather suspect he simply didn’t see me).

    I’ve been in touch with the City Council and they say they will put up extra signs along that stretch of road, and at the two intersections, reminding drivers that the road is a high use area for cyclists.

    It’s a bastard stretch of road to ride. I’d had several near misses there previously. Stay too far to the left in the bus lane and you risk being taken out by drivers turning left to Wilton and Kelburn (drivers very rarely look to the bus lane on the left). Ride in the car lane and you frustrate the traffic behind you. Ride to the RHS of the buslane and people will still fail to give way, as my accident shows.

    • Ian Lewis says:

      Very impressed you didn’t swear. And yep that whole stretch looks gnarly… no other routes? I often skip a section of street on my daily Hamilton commute (Anglesea St from Transport Centre to Mill St) because there’s bugger all space to bike in, plenty of sunk-in storm water grates, and rush hour (well, rush-minute) traffic trying to get past my leisurely 20 km/h lope… Good to hear you are on the mend mate. Stay strong :-)

  12. Brad says:

    5) yes :)

    Glad to hear the council is doing something, although sounds pretty lame to me. All the best for your recovery.

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