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Pedalling a careful message

The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 30/09/2009

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OPINION: What's all this fuss about badly behaved cyclists on the roads ?, writes The Southland Times in an editorial.

The airwaves and online chat rooms are abuzz with debate since the incident in Auckland on Saturday that put four cyclists in hospital. One of them is still critically ill with head injuries. The others came off with a wide range of broken bones – vertebrae, ribs, kneecap, collarbone, shoulderblade, thumb.

But early reports suggested the cause was straightforward: a driver had gone through a stop sign and hit the cyclists. Why would that stir up debate? Cyclists should have the moral ground and badly behaved motorists should be running for cover.

Nothing, though, is quite so black and white.

Turns out the debate has been so loud because of the strong sentiments on both sides. Every cyclist has horror stories from their time on the roads, while every driver can reciprocate with tales of the two-wheeled groups they have encountered, not just in Auckland but in every part of the country.

Trouble is, when the two connect it's rare for the motorist to end up dead or in hospital with serious injuries. The Transport Ministry does not seem to keep a record of the drivers killed or injured from crashes with cyclists.

What ministry figures do show clearly is the high number of cyclists killed or badly injured from these highway confrontations. For the five years to the end of 2007, a total of 46 were killed and a further 3902 admitted to hospital. That's the equivalent of every resident in Winton and Te Anau at the last census; but not a number to be impressed by. Of those accidents, cyclists were deemed fully at fault in 27 per cent of the crashes; motorists shouldered the blame for 64 per cent of them.

But playing with numbers does not make the point well.

Think of someone you know who rides a bike on the roads and think of the impact of that person not coming home again because of a careless or stupid driver. Perhaps that driver is your friend. Think of the impact of such an incident on their life.

It is easy to understand why the blood pressure shoots skyward when a driver is confronted by cyclists riding six abreast along a city street, happily giving the one-figure salute to anyone approaching on four wheels, as apparently has happened up north. Trouble is those amped-up pedal pushers spoil it for any other cyclist who ventures into lycra.

Fortunately there are no such reports from this region, although there are plenty of cases where cyclists have been riding well out into the road, sometimes three abreast, without a care for the traffic coming from behind.

Everyone who rides a bike has stories about inconsiderate drivers, including large trucks, passing within centimetres. Broken glass dumped along cycle lanes and road edges by hoons is sometimes the reason they ride out into the flow of traffic, and who can blame them for wanting to avoid expensive punctures.

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Compulsory cycle helmets have reduced the number of deaths and injuries from road crashes, but there's not much else the authorities can do. Reducing urban speed limits might help, which it has in some other countries, but what about open roads?

Rules will not fix any of this and save lives. The solution is care, courtesy and common sense.

Cyclists have to be earn respect on the roads and look out for themselves. Drivers have to look out for them, too.

1 comment
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Macchicat   #1   01:10 pm Sep 30 2009

I see in your report that you mention broken glass as one of the reasons we cyclists ride further out on the road. There is also the problem we face with badly maintained or contructed road edges, which make it extremely difficult to ride on. When spending a significant amount of money on a road bike and having the wheels/tyres potentially ruined and the fact that most of the roads do not have dedicated riding lanes, I am one of the guilty who ride very close to or on the right side of the white lane.

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