Thursday, 8 November 2012

Unintended Consquences

One is struck by the irony that the British cyclist Bradley Wiggins has been knocked off his bike, thankfully his injuries are not severe and he should make a full recovery.

It looks obvious, although the details have not yet been fully established, that it's been a simple accident, but one where the woman van driver didn't see the cyclist in question - and one that will probably be established as being her fault. It's reported that the woman is naturally shook up and undoubtedly now will be subject to her personal details being splashed across our papers tomorrow.

In response, with world weary anger, undoubtedly cycling and motorbike organisations will point to SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) syndrome, not without some justification. Conversely many complaints will be made by motorists against the behaviour of cyclists and motorbikes for disregarding the rules of the road (though in Wiggins' case probably highly unlikely), equally not without some justification. Thus will begin ultimately a fruitless war of words.

However, there is one element that in my view is often largely overlooked in these cases but a contributory factor. As cars have evolved and progressed much emphasis has been on safety for its occupants: air-bags, ABS brakes. traction control and so on. They have also been designed to be much safer for their occupants in terms of a rigid passenger cell, all a process rated by the Euro NCAP system. Safety, particularly the top rated Euro NCAP 5, sells as it does for the car I drive and it is one that possibly saved my life - if not a serious injury - 2 years ago, when I was able to open the door and walk away with nothing more than a bruise on my leg. Obviously I'm hugely thankful.

But there's a price to pay. To make a rigid passenger cell requires much thicker door frames, particularly the 'A-frame' between the windscreen and the door. As a result in my car to earn its safety ranking the blind spots are horrendous: it's not just pedestrians and cyclists but whole cars 'disappear'. Roundabouts are turned into Russian Roulette as the ability to see off starboard bow becomes non existent - other road users become invisible. In addition by reversing the car forget seeing a cyclist, child or pedestrian, just making out an elephant would be a challenge.

Thus lies the dilemma - by making the car safer for its occupants it in return makes it less safer for other road users, perhaps we need look at more what we mean by safety. So while I appreciate the case for SMIDSY, for car drivers it has increasingly become more of a case of SMICSABT (Sorry Mate I Can't See A Bloody Thing).


  1. I was less than impressed by Wiggins' interview on the news this morning where his first words were about wanting legislation for compulsory helmet wearing. Being glad about wearing one himself would be one thing, but reaching for the big stick is quite another.

  2. Even when its the same manufacturer there are some major differences between models.

    I own an accord, which is actually a very nice car to drive, is safe, and good visibility all around it really (ok it does lack a rear wiper, but other than that, its fine)

    I had a hire car for a work trip the other day, that was a civic. No doubt its safe, but man, I could not see a thing from it.

  3. @Anon, how does Wiggins think wearing a helmet protects against broken ribs...?

    @Jim, Agree there are differences, but the further up the NCAP scale you go tends to mean a comprise on visibility

  4. Wouldn't be a problem round here as all cyclists except the Hi-Viz lycra crowd ride on the pavements... with and without helmets... with and more often without lights!
    The Hi-Viz crowd all ride around mob handed two or three abreast in the roadway which I guess makes for a bigger target so the chances of not being seen are reduced.

    Still the last thing we need is another celebrity deciding what is or isn't good for you so Mr Wiggins would do well to remember that.

  5. Robert the Biker8 November 2012 at 12:54

    I both ride motorcycles and drive a Jeep and I'm currently recovering from a badly broken leg (SMIDSY)from a woman who turned across my path from 15 feet away, no A pillars there. Now my habit is to physically look over my shoulder, to move my head to see around the pillars and to actually USE the bloody mirrors. I wonder how visible Wiggo was, being a racing star doesn't make you safe on the road, just ask Stirling Moss.

  6. @Robert the Biker, Thank you for your comment, am sorry to hear of your condition and hope you recover soon.

    The term 'SMIDSY' is clearly based on bikers' experience as you demonstrate with good cause, I was merely illustrating that another possible mitigating factor may contribute to some similar collisions.

    Unfortunately mirrors on my car make not a difference to blind spots...

  7. Perhaps (local) government might be better employed by constructing cycle/moped paths where new roads are being built, put them in on established roads when there is room, and find some sort of compromise where there isn't enough room...

    ...I mean, I lived in Amsterdam for a few years, and I was a cyclist and a motorist there (and here) and the difference is amazing.

    After all, it's not as if the Cloggies have got no space issues, it's one of the most densely populated places on earth.

  8. not always, the accord does beat the civic in the saftey tests.

  9. @jim there's always exceptions to the rule, but there's no denying the trend