Assaulting innocent pedestrians
We frequently read about how a poor pedestrian was mown down by a cyclist committing one of the offences described in parts 1 and 2. Or possibly he or she was just crossing the road minding their own business when a cyclist slammed into them at high speed.
I have had five collisions in five years of regular cycling and three of them have been with pedestrians. From my personal experience I can say that cyclist-pedestrian collisions are not uncommon. Here are a couple of points that are self-evident to a cyclist but perhaps less obvious to a non-cyclist, especially one predisposed to think badly of cyclists (more on that later):
A cyclist is just a person too. It’s all too easy to equate bikes with other vehicles in this situation, but mowing down a pedestrian with a car is much, much easier than doing it on a bike. If you don’t believe me, try it. You are one person colliding with another, and you have the disadvantage of being perched on top of an unstable support, so the collision is inevitably followed by a fall. My point is this: a cyclist will usually come off worst in a collision with a pedestrian. Cyclists know this and therefore try very hard not to let it happen. My evidence is two broken laptops, a damaged bike and several joints that hurt in cold, damp weather.
Pedestrians are blithly unaware of what is going on round them. They cross the road using their ears instead of their eyes. They cross the road using a sort of herd instinct: if somebody else starts to cross then everybody follows without themselves checking that it is safe to do so. Unless you are a cyclist you will doubt this. I can only say once again: try it yourself.
And this, I think, is the crux of it. Cyclists’ attention is fixed on a zone about 20-30 metres ahead of where they are. The cyclist will see a pedestrian many metres ahead and will calculate his own trajectory and the pedestrian’s to ensure there is no collision.
Pedestrians’ attention is fixed on their iPod or their mobile phone. Thus when a bike passes near a pedestrian it is a complete surprise to the pedestrian. He or she will not have noticed the bike until it is very close. Thus startled, the pedestrian looks for the cause of his fear. I did not notice the bicycle therefore it was out of control, he reasons. That stupid cyclist nearly hit me! Stupid cyclists.
Then he opens his Daily Mail and there is a story about hooligan cyclists ramming pedestrians and his reasoning is confirmed. How true! he writes to the Letters Editor. And so the newspaper prints more such stories. It never prints stories about pedestrians stepping out in front of cyclists without looking – why would it? That isn’t news.
I conclude that the charge of assaulting innocent pedestrians is largely false. I’m sure it happens sometimes – I once saw a YouTube video of some cycle couriers in a race across London. Several innocent pedestrians were harmed in the making of that film, which was completely deplorable. Such cases are a tiny minority of cyclist-pedestrian collisions.
I read a newspaper article (I think it was the Daily Mail in fact) where cyclist-pedestrian incident statistics were quoted in support of the hooligan cyclist viewpoint. In other words, the journalist simply assumed that all such collisions were the cyclists’ fault (or hoped his readers would be stupid enough to do so). There seems to be a school of thought that says pedestrians are automatically the injured party in any road incident. I think this needs to be challenged. Pedestrians are often the cause of incidents and should be made to take responsibility for their actions.
Including me when I am one of course.
Posts in this series