A London lorry driver who “carelessly” killed 29-year-old #cyclist Louise Wright in London has been convicted of causing her death by careless driving – but has walked away with a suspended sentence and assorted wrist slaps. This has caused understandable global outrage among many cyclists and non-cyclists who think people should be able to walk or cycle without being violently killed. But the family says they didn’t want him in prison. Why would they say that? Read on …
This death was another in the long list of cyclists killed by motorists. In this case, the lorry driver, 31-year-old Adam Haywood, pleaded not guilty. He said in court that he “must have” checked his mirrors (before turning left and killing Wright), but he could not remember if he had seen the young woman cyclist. He also could not remember if he had indicated, but thought that “there was no reason” why he would not have indicated.
There but for the grace of God go I?
Judge Jonathan Bennett apparently saw the incident as so many of us do when these tragedies happen. We have all had careless moments while driving, and many of us think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I don’t know how many motorists I have heard say, “My biggest fear driving is that I will kill someone.” I have had exactly that thought myself.
This sentiment is reflected in the judge’s words to Haywood:
“You are going to live with this for years to come and others will live with it for even longer than that. You did not, that day, I accept, expect this to happen, you set off to do a day’s work, you were doing what you enjoyed doing, but you were careless that day.”
Lorry Driver was Having a Careless Day
As Haywood was having a “careless” day, cyclist Louise Wright and her partner James Faulkner were about to start a family – a family which now will never exist. Faulkner is devastated to have lost the woman he has been with since they were both 14, and says:
“She was always there to support me physically and emotionally and now I go home to an empty house every night. Most days it is a challenge just to get out of bed.”
Despite this devastating loss, Louise’s mother, Sharon Brown, said:
“I feel that the right verdict has been made, we did not want to see the driver sent to prison. When something as tragic as this happens, there are no winners.”
The family may be right. Everyone makes mistakes on the road, without any intent to kill someone else. But then, why does a “special, unique” young woman have to pay with her life? Who is to blame in all these incidents were cyclists are killed by motorists?
Motorists Found Not Guilty of Killing Cyclists
In other similar fatal crashes, motorists are sometimes found not guilty (taking “There but for the grace of God go I” to unacceptable lengths, in my opinion). A case in point was Janina Gehlau, a 26-year-old post-grad student, who was crushed to death by Vincent Doyle in his massive Foden Truck at Ludgate Circus in London, later in 2014. If you Google this incident, note that the wheels of the truck appear to be about six foot high.
Doyle was found not guilty, despite having passed Janina just minutes before, and despite having waited at the traffic light for 23 seconds as she approached (giving him ample time to notice other traffic), and despite the fact that his mirrors were not correctly positioned, and despite the fact that she was yelling and waving as he drove into her, and despite the fact that his initial reaction was anger at the woman who had the cheek to be under his truck: “At first I was angry, thinking ‘What is this person doing?’” (He does claim to have felt really bad about her death subsequently, even to the point of having a nervous breakdown.)
The family of Janina Gehlau reacted differently to the family of Louise Wright. Her husband Marcel sobbed when the verdict of not-guilty was returned (the jury only invested an hour in thinking about it). In a statement, her family said “We are devastated by the verdict and do not feel that we have got justice for Janina. … I told her I thought the roads were too dangerous when I visited her, but she was an experienced cyclist and told me not to worry, she said it would be fine. Too many families are losing loved ones in these circumstances and action needs to be taken to improve safety before there are any more tragedies.”
“Action needs to be taken to improve safety before there are any more tragedies.”
Janine’s family were right. Action does need to be taken. After all, 113 cyclists died in Britain in 2014. The year 2015 seemed to be especially bad for women cyclists in London, when six out of eight cyclists killed by lorry drivers were women. Globally, far too many cyclists are killed by motorists.
If you read any of the online articles about any of these crashes, avoid reading the comments. They are a totally depressing exchange of people arguing about who is “to blame.” With a remarkable number blaming the victims. Apparently, some people feel that because some people sometimes cycle recklessly, all cyclists deserve to die. Ironic really, seeing as the consensus seems to be that more women are killed by lorry drivers because women cyclists tend to be more cautious.
Absolutely Nothing will be Achieved by Blaming Each Other
However, the whole blame game is a total red herring, in my opinion. The reality is that all people are sometimes careless, sometimes reckless, etc. We can blame each other for a century, but that reality will never change. Therefore, we need infrastructure that keeps all people as safe as possible, all the time. And lorries and bicycles should not be sharing road space, ever.
Most people seem to agree. The response to my tweet below has been overwhelmingly positive.
— Average Joe Cyclist (@AvrgeJoeCyclist) June 19, 2016
This is Dunsmuir Street in central Vancouver. I have cycled down this street for decades, and I used to dread it when it was shared space. I love it now that we have a separate bike lane. Of course, there is still danger at intersections, and I have seen two such crashes already. Here’s one that happened when a driver decided to ignore (or simply was too careless to notice) the sign that says that cars cannot turn right (across the cycle lane) at this intersection. The cyclist survived, the motorist was inconvenienced. Notice the bicycle wheel under the front wheel of the car. The rest of the bike was in the gutter; the cyclist was in an ambulance. All so that someone could save a couple of minutes by making an illegal right turn.
What we really need are dedicated cycle routes created solely for cyclists, which are not interspersed with car-clogged intersections and driveways. Thankfully, London seems to have got that. In the last few years, there has been an explosion in separated cycle ways in London. This is what has happened already.
Cycle Superhighways in London Built and in Progress
Already built: Cycle Superhighway 2 (Stratford to Aldgate), Cycle Superhighway 3 (Barking to Tower Gateway), Cycle Superhighway 7 (Merton to the City), and Cycle Superhighway 8 (Wandsworth to Westminster) have been built.
In progress: Cycle Superhighway 1, East West Cycle Superhighway, and North-South Cycle Superhighway. Plus an upgrade to Cycle Superhighway 2 (Stratford to Aldgate).
Here’s a video that shows what it’s like to cycle on the London cycle superhighways.
Unsurprisingly, cycling is booming in London. Now, I hope that we also get to see a dramatic drop in cyclist deaths in London. It won’t happen because all motorists and cyclists are (magically) never again careless or distracted. That’s not going to happen. It will happen when safe infrastructure keeps all road users safe. At that time, it will become common place to see sights like the one below in all major cities, not just Copenhagen. And just as in Copenhagen, the helmets will not be required. The Netherlands has the lowest rate of serious head injury to cyclists in the world, and at the same time almost no one wears helmets. You don’t need to when you are not competing for road space with people driving giant vehicles.
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