In the last five days, five cyclists have been killed on New Zealand roads.
13 November: Patricia Anne Veronica Fraser, 34, died during a training run for the Lake Taupo cycle race, when a motorist ran her down. She was cycling single file when she was hit from behind. Her friend, Tania Malaquin, who was cycling right next to her, says she may never cycle again. She describes the accident:
“He was passing on double yellow lines, between two corners, where there was not enough stretch of road to pass safely under any circumstances. It was just ludicrous. He just made the worst decision that he has ever made in his life.”
Patricia was married, and had four children: Jakob, 13, Eylish, 10, Lily-Rose, 7, and Paityn, 5. Patricia’s husband Joe will ride the race in memory of his wife, wearing her number.
14 November: Mark Andrew Ferguson, 46, Wilhelm Muller, 71, and Kay Heather Wolfe, 45, were killed by a motorist who crossed into the wrong lane and ploughed into a group of cyclists near Morrinsville, hitting them head on.
17 November 2010: The latest cyclist to die in New Zealand was a British woman, 27-year-old Jane Mary Bishop. She was cycling along the notoriously busy and dangerous Tamaki Drive in waterfront Auckland, when a parked motorist opened a door. Jane swerved to avoid the door, and was run down by a truck. The truck driver and resource personnel laboured to extricate her from the truck wheels and keep her alive, but she died before paramedics arrived.
Seems like the truck driver tried to help – but it also seems to me he was way too close for safety, otherwise Jane might have had space to swerve.
In this connection, I am happy to hear that Nova Scotia has introduced legislation for new bicycle safety laws. If passed, these laws will ensure that Nova Scotia becomes the first Canadian province to enact the one-metre rule, which is already law in 15 U.S. states. This law requires motor vehicle drivers to leave one metre of open space between their vehicle and cyclists when passing. The amendments would also introduce several other safety measures for cyclists:
- prohibiting vehicle parking in a bicycle lane
- making it an offence to fail to yield to a cyclist in a bicycle lane
- redefining cycling on the extreme right
- allowing drivers of vehicles to cross a centre line to pass a bicycle, if the driver can do so safely
Also, and very encouragingly, penalties for breaking this law will be severe enough to be a deterrent (which is a nice change from the recent case where KILLING 2 cyclists only earned a $5,000 fine). Nova Scotia proposes a $455.26 fine for breaking the one metre law, and $1,260.21 for driving in a bicycle lane.
This last one pleases me, given that I have been stationary in a bike lane at a red light and had a car honking at me because he wanted to make an illegal right via the bike lane. The driver was furious, while his female companion was looking embarrassed, as well she might. Interestingly, the driver next to me gave me a thumbs up when I calmly refused to either move or get angry. I am however well aware that the driver could have chosen to run me down – which is why I am happy to read that Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Bill Estabrooks said:
“We know that Nova Scotians expect and deserve to feel safe on our roads. By clarifying the roles and responsibilities of cyclists and motorists, the rules will be clearer and safety will be enhanced.”
We need more of these positive legal amendments in Canada, so we can start to change the stats that show that cyclists are between 3 and 11 times more likely to die as motorists, per passenger mile (and that’s pretty intense, given that every year, 3,000 Canadian drivers die on our roads).
What we really need is a law such as the one in the Netherlands. There, the law imposes a rebuttable presumption of liability on drivers. This means that if a motorist is involved in a crash with a cyclist, the law presumes that the motorist is liable for the crash, unless the motorist can rebut that presumption with evidence to the contrary. The Dutch realized that the cyclist will virtually always be the injured party in a collision with an car, and so by putting the onus of fault on the driver, they have given motorists a powerful legal incentive to pay more attention to the presence of cyclists.
Maybe such a law, combined with the one metre law, would prevent cyclist deaths such as the recent ones in New Zealand, and also prevent incidents like the latest one in New Zealand. Just this morning, 12-year-old Jacqueline Wyatt was cycling to school when she was clipped and then run over by a 6 tonne truck driven by Tex Simmons. Jacqueline is now in hospital, fighting for her life.
Bring on more legislation to protect cyclists – we need it desperately, so that we don’t have to see tragic sights like this.
Incidents where cyclists hit car doors are terrible, especially when they’re fatal – but I’ve come to believe that these are largely preventable. I’m not saying that careless door-opening motorists are not to blame, but in my mind it’s like crossing the street on a green light and not bothering to look around to make sure nobody’s going to hit you. There are times where the consequences of error are so great that it’s foolish to assume that the other guy is infallible. Being in the right doesn’t keep you out of the hospital, or worse.
One of the most valuable things I got out of the VACC cycling course was keeping my distance from parked cars to eliminate the chance of being “doored”. I’d always known about the danger, of course, but I never wanted to venture far enough out into the traveling lane and interfere with traffic. I used to try to check every car to see if it was occupied, but the truth is you just can’t expect to do that and be right 100% of the time.
What the VACC course made me realize is that bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as vehicles do, and that in terms of the law there’s no requirement to ride your bike so close to parked cars as to place yourself in danger. The actual wording in the motor vehicle act is that a cyclist must “ride as near as practicable” to the right side of the lane (see:http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/96318_05#section183). Riding in the door zone isn’t practicable, IMHO, and as far as I know the law has never been interpreted differently.
So now I leave a metre of space or more between me and any parked cars, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m inconveniencing traffic or not. I don’t travel on busy enough streets that I’m going to be holding anyone up for very long, and as far as I’m concerned there’s a lot less danger of someone hitting me (in my bright yellow reflective cycling jacket) from behind than there is from someone not bothering to check their mirror before they open their driver’s door.
Regarding The NS legislation: I really like the 1 metre rule, and I’d love to see it applied here.
Sean, I agree that the best thing is to give doors a wide clearance; I always do, for the same reasons you mention. At the same time, for those cyclists who don’t do it, or forget to do it occasionally, they sure don’t deserve to get killed. I don’t know why it’s so hard for motorists to remember to look before opening. It’s much like the many, many pedestrians who just step out onto roads without looking, because they canot hear cars coming – even though the road is clearly marked as a bike route. A couple of times I have stopped to explain to pedestrians that even though me and my bike are silent, our combined weight is over 200 pounds, going at 30 km an hour – which could kill them. They usually just look blank and bemused. Once I almost hit a stroller with a tiny baby, for the same reason – the mom just pushed the stroller into a bike route (on the sea wall) without looking. I told the mom “I would HATE to hurt your baby, please be more careful.” She just looked blank. Are there a lot of really stupid people around, or am I missing something?
I look forward to having a 1 metre rule; I am sure it will come, because it simply makes sense. A
Of course a cyclist doesn’t deserve to die for someone else’s mistake. But we all make mistakes. We get distracted and for a split second we do something without thinking that may have disastrous consequences.
It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve made mistakes while driving and cycling which could potentially have killed me if the circumstances had been a little different.
So I really believe that everyone – motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, need to “act defensively”. Accidents hurt you just as badly even if it’s the other guy at fault. And some day, when you’re the one who makes the mistake, the difference between tragedy and a lesson learned is whether or not the other guy made allowance for your blunder.
1 meter rule or not, I’d still check my mirror…
Average Joe Cyclist says
Defensiveness is key. I am never more alert than when I’m on my bike. I use a mirror to keep an eye on what’s going on behind me, and try to be aware of everything in front and to the sides, too.
If I think about it, there have been times when I have opened a car door without looking – we all make mistakes, or get distracted, as you say, Sean. The thought that I could have killed someone by doing that is enough to make me feel ill. There but for the grace and all that. Of course, now that I am a cyclist, on the rare occasions that I do drive I am more careful than I have ever been before around cyclists – but I’m still not perfect.
The first photo in this post says it all. Very sad state of affairs but its good to see Nova Scotia setting a good level on the proverbial bar. The fines they are setting are a good wakeup call, but the laws in the Netherlands even better. …Sean, I’ve been meaning to take the VACC safety course; its on my to-do list for next spring. Nice to hear some more good feedback on a course that I have only heard good things about.
Good idea paddyanne, I would like to do the course as well. I think one cannot know too much about safe riding. There are many tihngs that confuse me … for example, if I get to a red light, I always just take my place in the line-up of cars. However, I notice that I am almost always the only cyclist who does this. It makes sense to me, because if you ride up the right side of the traffic to get to the front, all that happens is that the cars squeeze past you immediately the lights turn green. So to me it just exposes you to more danger, while inconveniencing motorists unnecessarily. However, I could have this all wrong …
I wouldn’t mind hearing the safest way to proceed here as well.
It depends on the situation, but I usually pull up to intersection on the right of the cars. When I do this, I tend to get through the intersection ahead of or just behind the first car in the line. If I was further back in the line of cars, I’d be stuck between two cars who are starting to move very close together. Worse, by the time I got to the intersection they might have had enough time to accelerate to a point where I’d actually be impeding them.
As I’m judging the situation with my gut rather than any objective observation, I’m not sure when I choose one over the other; it seems to be that I sit in line with the cars when the lane is narrower or when I’m heading into a “channel” where there won’t be much room for us to drive two abreast—such as a row of parked cars along the sidewalk ahead, leaving just enough room for one lane of traffic to proceed.
The factors vary each time, this is why cyclists can’t be expected to follow the rules of the road exactly the same all the time. sometimes it makes more sense to wait in the line-sometimes it would be stupid or unsafe. Cars are always safe so drivers don’t have to think or make choices-they can just follow the rules blindly.
I have to agree with you on this Nancy. During our year of travel we found the matjrioy of people to be kindhearted and generous. We also had many people (in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia) invite us to stay the night, buy us meals, and give us the key to their house! They shipped packages home for us, sent our son Legos for Christmas, brought us homemade birthday cake at the top of Hoosier Pass (for our son’s 9th birthday), saved us from a lightening storm and drove miles out of their way to help us. I could go on and on. Our experiences have reinforced our belief that most people in the world have good intentions. We hope the end of your journey continues to be blessed with an outpouring of love and kindness. All the best. Dorrie, Mike and Gregory Williams
Average Joe Cyclist says
Wonderful to hear this! Thanks for sharing it with us. I agree that most people in the world have good intentions.
Don’t take this as legal advice because I’m about as far from a lawyer as you can get – but legally speaking bicycles are treated as motor vehicles, and my understanding is that a motor vehicle cannot pass on the right unless there’s a separately marked lane or unless the vehicle being passed is stopped to make a left-hand turn.
So I believe that means if you’ve got a marked bike lane you’re good to go, but otherwise you should stay in line.
In practice, what I do depends an awful lot on the circumstances. If there’s plenty of room on the right and there’s a fairly long lineup, I’ll usually proceed beside the cars – largely because if I stay in line then I’d end up delaying the cars behind me when the light turns green.
But if I do stay in line then I do what the VACC taught me – I “take the lane”, riding far enough from the right side of the lane so that cars can’t try to squeeze by.
As with most things, I’m perhaps naive enough to think that as long as my actions don’t cause any problems, nobody’s likely to charge me with minor infractions. And I say this not in the spirit of trying to get away with something but rather in appreciation of the fact that there are occasions where blindly obeying the letter of the law will cause more general inconvenience than by bending it a little.
It’s the same attitude I have when, instead of pushing the button to get a “walk” signal to cross the street, I wait for a while to see if I can safely cross during a break in traffic without having to force anyone to stop for me.
Average Joe Cyclist says
I think Sean, Stephan & Graeme are all saying much the same thing – use your brain and discretion. Which is definitely what I would agree with. And of course, trying not to hold cars up – I always think it’s a good idea not to annoy people who are in a position to kill you on a whim … still, I would like to know what the law says, which is why the VACC course would be good. I am often in situations where I wonder if I could be fined – such as on the Sea to River bike route, where Metro Vancouver is STILL riding roughshod over cyclists’ rights, by blocking up the route and not providing signage or alternatives. I just go ahead and ride on the sidewalk as they have blocked off the road – but I am at the same time aware that this is illegal – but is it still illegal if the city takes away your alternatives. I mean, what am I supposed to do – fly?
Alex P says
A fellow YouTube helmetcam guy from New Zealand is TheVexatiousLitigant (http://www.youtube.com/user/TheVexatiousLitigant). He uploads a lot of videos of some dangerous close calls in NZ, but got knocked over recently and broke a few bones, and had to upload his videos as user CarBoundCyclist (http://www.youtube.com/user/CarBoundCyclist) for a while… In NZ you can search license plates online to find expired licenses or failed and expired vehicle safety tests, and it’s shocking how many of the dangerous encounters in his videos involve vehicles with such expireies!
He posts this statistic on his site (not sure the source):
Road Traffic Deaths per 100,000 Population 2009
New Zealand 10.1
United Kingdom 5.4
Good info Alex, thanks!
As both a cyclist and a motorist I can see when both parties are right and wrong.Vechiles defintately pass too close to cyclists often at excessive speed. In Taupo i noticed signs telling vechiles to keep 1.5 metres away. As for doors when on bikes we are travelling quickly as well so if a driver (and don’t forget children opening doors) checks their mirror then opens the door we can be on them before they realise so should treat every car as if it already had its doors open. Also as cyclist we can and often are ignorant of our responsibilities as road users and the law such as stopping at lights and intersections ect.
I believ there should be dedicated off road cycleways for cyclists its good for us good for motorist and good for the planet so bring them on NOW!!!
Average Joe Cyclist says
Could not agree more about the dedicated off road cycleways, Roy. Vancouver is bringing a lot of them in at the moment. It’s not easy – business fights back, but thanks to a determined mayor, we are winning.
The argument for dedicated off road cycleways (or separated bike routes) is so obvious: bikes and cars are not compatible vehicles. Cars are so much bigger and faster, they pose an obvious danger to cyclists. It’s similar to having Sumo wrestlers and toddlers competing on the same track – no one would do that, because of the risk the Sumos would crush the toddlers!
Glen A says
Regarding door opening into cyclists. As well as being on top of a parked car quite quickly the other problem is that cyclists are approaching the parked vehicles right in one of their biggest blind spots – the left rear corner. This view to the rear is frequently obscured by head rests, rear roof supports (C pillars) & rear passenger heads, so even if the person opening their door checks they still might not see a moving cyclist. Believe it or not the front corner roof supports (A pillars) can hide a moving Bus (No exaggeration) from the drivers view so you can imagine how visible a cyclist is. Simple rule when riding – Aim High, Scan Wide
Average Joe Cyclist says
Thanks Glen, those are really useful points. I had no idea the roof support could hide a bus …