On a moment of inattention

I’m very grateful to a car driver (an Audi driver, no less…*). If he hadn’t been paying attention, I would have spent Saturday afternoon in A&E. I was out on my road bike; I came to a junction, looked, waited for the car that was coming from my right, and when that car had passed, I pulled out, looking right again as I did so – to discover that I’d pulled out right in front of the Audi, which must have been “hidden” from me by the first car. He braked, I braked, we both stopped; I raised my hand to acknowledge that I was in the wrong and he raised his back. I got out of the way and off he went.

I’ve been going over it again in my head ever since. How did I not see the second car? Was he coming fast? (I don’t think so, otherwise he couldn’t have stopped.) No, I didn’t see it because I didn’t look right a second time before pulling out. Cyclists often say that regardless of who makes a mistake, we’re the ones who come off worse – well today I made a mistake and got away with it. I do think sometimes we’re very harsh on other road users who make mistakes, and lot of the things that go wrong on the road aren’t the result of maliciousness, just thoughtlessness, or a moment’s inattention. (That’s why I like the Think! road safety adverts.) I’ve cycled about 3000 miles this year, I’ve had a clean driving licence for over 20 years; I know how to use the roads, and yet I make mistakes. I suspect I’m more likely to make a mistake when I’m on the bike because I do that more than I drive – my increased vulnerability on the bike is balanced by an awareness that I pose a much greater risk to others when I’m driving.

How do we solve the fact that people make mistakes? Can we? On the railways, there is such a culture of safely that even a minor near miss like mine would be anaylsed to see what could be done to stop it happening again – because of course the next time I pull out of that junction without looking the car might not stop (not that I’m likely to do that at that particular junction – I’m still very cautious at a roundabout where I had a near miss that was also my fault many years ago).

Advocates of slower speeds will point out that if you hit someone then the slower you are going the less harm you will do – even if the impact is not your fault. And of course if the infrastructure keeps the more vulnerable away from the more dangerous, then impacts will much less likely to happen (though people are killed every year by cars that mount the pavement…)

Maybe there is a point at which, because we are human, accidents are inevitable. All we can do is keep on being alert and concentrating and remember that other road users just get it wrong, sometimes.

*my Wonderful Boyfriend always gives me grief for complaining about Audi drivers. I find some conform to the stereotype, and some are excellent.

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On action and inaction

I’ve been meaning to write about the “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland” (CAPS) for a while, since the new version came out. Magnatom has already suggested putting an “r” in the acronym… I’m going to change it a bit and call it the Cycling Inaction Plan for Scotland. Because that’s what it is. It has lots of nice words about how more people should cycle because that would be A Good Thing, but not a lot about how we are going to enable more people to cycle, and what there is is mostly wordy stuff about training and enabling and encouraging and not a lot about how all the training and enabling and encouraging in the world won’t help you when you get mown down by some bloke in a lorry who wasn’t paying attention.

Why do politicians do stuff like this? I assume that it is all about being seen to do “something” rather than actually making decisions that others might not like. Maybe even doing things that will be unpopular in the short term but benefit us all in the long term? Anyway, what we seem to be getting is the Nice Way Code which suggests that roads would be fine if we were all just a bit nicer to one another. You know, there have been times when other road users have been unhappy with the way I’ve used the road. And quite rightly too, because I got something wrong. Not because I wasn’t trying to be nice, but because I misjudged something or was perhaps going a bit faster than I should have been or perhaps not slowed down as much as I should have done. And no amount of advertising is going to change the fact that sometimes we make mistakes.

And then, this evening, I got overtaken very, very close, twice within a minute. All those two people needed to do was just be a little more patient, a little more thoughtful. I don’t think they intended to scare me (maybe white van man did…). It is hard to explain to people who don’t cycle just how scary a close pass is – and of course it is also the sort of thing that puts people off cycling. Are we getting adverts to tell us that? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it…

Yesterday I read an email exchange about putting contraflow bike lanes in on one-way streets in Edinburgh – something that you would have thought would be a fairly straightforward way of showing that Edinburgh encourages cycling and wants to make it easier – and it would appear that due to “resource pressures” the planned date of doing this has gone from 2014 to 2015 – 2017. Great. They can afford to put together some rubbish adverts, but they can’t afford to put in a few cycle contraflows. (Someone might point out that these are two different “pots” of money. Well, yes, but if the Scottish Government really wanted to encourage cycling they could assign money to the local authority saying that it must be used for cycling projects such as these. And it shows that disinterest in even not very complicated cycling projects extends from national to local level.)

It is all about priorities, and I don’t think local or national government has its priorities right