The other day I did something I rarely do when I’m riding my bike; I had a word with someone driving a vehicle. Let me step back a bit first. Of the two river crossings into town, one was flooded and closed, therefore the other was busier than usual, meaning that at 7am traffic was moderately light rather than very quiet (another 30 minutes and it would be several hours of gridlock, but this isn’t a post about keeping crap infrastructure, woefully inadequate for St Neots’ growing population, just because it’s old).
Generally, other road users give me a good wide pass, crossing the white line just as Rule 163 of the highway code says they should. On this morning though, a BT Connect van didn’t. It was a very close pass any way, but an oncoming car caused him to pull dangerously across my path with just inches to spare. There was no need for it and I wasn’t happy, so when I caught him at the next set of traffic lights, I had already decided not to let it pass.
I tapped on the window. It was a young man driving and, as he turned to look me, there was no recognition on his face, just a slightly curious look as to why this cyclist wanted his attention. He wound down the window. I said, calmly, “I’m not having a go”, or something like that, “but further back you gave me a dangerously close pass”. I guess his reaction could have gone one of two ways now, but it went the right way. His face dropped a little and he apologised. I continued “that’s fine, but next time you pass somebody on a bike, please give them plenty of room”.
I don’t think there was anything malicious about the closeness of his pass, rather that he simply wasn’t thinking about what he was doing and how dangerous his driving could be – nothing more complex than a basic lack of awareness around other road users needs, but it is exactly the kind of inattention which results in that universal excuse given to hit cyclists: SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you).
We parted amicably and with no aggressive exchanges. I positioned my bike in front of his van and waited for the lights to change. When they did I pulled away and, when it was safe to do so, he overtook me, fully crossing the white line, and we gave each other a friendly wave. A good result I thought, hopefully an attitude changed and someones behaviour, when they are driving around people on bikes, improved.
I carried onto the station, signaled to turn right and pulled into the centre of the road. I had to wait for half a dozen cars traveling in the opposite direction to pass. As I started to push-off I had the briefest sight of a sloped car bonnet in my peripheral vision, then I was t-boned and dropped onto the tarmac, landing on my lower back.
I sat on the road shocked at what had just happened. I had been more or less stationary, waiting to turn with other traffic behind me. I was well-lit and wearing a clean white jacket with reflective patches, but someone had pulled straight out of a junction, directly into my side. For my part, some choice language followed, directed against the woman who had just knocked me off, however, she was clearly distressed and very apologetic. With the help of a couple of witnesses we calmed down. She had her two young children in the back of the car, and both were very upset, her daughter especially, trying to blame herself for causing the crash. Perhaps she was contributory, I have two young children and know what a distraction they can be in a car, but I see no point in apportioning blame to a child. Once I was sufficiently recovered, I went over to her car to show her children I was alright.
She said she had looked and doesn’t know why she didn’t see me. There was nothing I could do to avoid it and she rightly accepted full liability. Just another SMIDSY.
We had witnesses and we exchanged details – I think the fact that I had cycle specific insurance came as a bit of a surprise – and parted to follow-up as required. For me that involved getting body and bike checked over. My clothing was undamaged and I’m pleased to say that apart from a smashed rear light, the bike was fine. My single speed is a tough old beast.
Later in the afternoon, my GP prodded and assessed me. I was getting a little concerned about some pain around my left Achilles tendon, but fortunately that has checked out OK, although I was told to expect some bruising and stiffness. Having been hit by a car, I’ve come off remarkably unscathed. It could have been worse, a different angle of fall or a bang on the head (I was wearing a helmet, but they’re not a protective panacea) and the outcome could have been very different. I know I was lucky.
Hopefully, as a result of hitting me, she will now become a more aware and attentive driver; that she’ll think what else and who else may be sharing the road, then check and check again. Either way, it is a hard and distressing reminder for what should be second nature when behind the wheel, and a painful one I do not want to give again.
Stay alert out there and keep yourself and those around you safe.