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.