Monday, 24 September 2012

It's a numbers game

I've never been one to over think my safety on the road.  When cycling, I follow the rules, make myself visible to fellow ride users with my hi-vis wear and do my best to read drivers' minds when sharing the road.

I've had my share of near misses - cars turning left in front of me, being clipped by car mirrors when they get too close, cars running give way and stop signs.  My personal mantra as I ride is "always catch the driver's eye".  If I don't see him/her see me, I ride defensively to ensure the best chance of arriving at my destination in one piece.

There will always be an element of risk in riding a bike.  If it's not a distracted driver, it might be a pothole seen at the last minute, a magpie attack, a fellow bike rider who doesn't give notice that they are approaching and passing, or a pedestrian who steps off the kerb right in front of me. But there are risks every time I get into my car, catch a bus or walk too.

There is a whole movement out there trying to get legislation overturned with regard to mandatory helmet wearing.  Their theory is that a helmet won't protect my head in a high impact collision.  They are right in that regard.  My aluminium frame, weighing a total of 10kg, will certainly come off the worse for wear in an accident with a 1 tonne steel car travelling at speed.

But in a low impact accident (eg going over a bonnet or simply falling from my bike due to a tyre blowout), I'd back my odds a lot better with my stack hat firmly on my head.  I've had a fall at 5km/hr where I banged my head on a garden edge.  My helmet meant I had a head ache, but no major damage to my skull or brain.  If the law changes, I will still wear a helmet, even if it is not mandatory to do so.

In the last month I've known people who have sustained injury as a result of cycling.  One friend was knocked by an impatient driver towing a caravan during an organised ride, with just some minor injury to her shoulder and a bit of bark off.  She was certainly shaken, but as the old adage goes, she got back on the bike.  Two weeks later, on another ride, she was hit by a car on a roundabout, again, during a large organised ride.

This time, her injuries are a little more serious.  She has broken her leg in two places and will require surgery to plate her bones in place.. She is heavily bruised and grazed.  But she is alive.  It could have been much worse.  Will she continue to ride?  Who knows.  That may depend on how well she heals, both mentally and physically.

Two other friends of mine have had altercations with cars - roundabouts and turns are a common cause of bike to car accidents, with the frequent cry of "I didn't see you" an all too familiar refrain.  Both riders still ride regularly.

Will these instances stop me?  At this point, no.  I won't deny that after this most recent event I haven't had a re-think.  I ride a couple of times a week for exercise, and try to commute at least once a week too.  The commute is the ride I feel safest doing, as there are a number of other regulars on the road too.  When I drive, I always notice the regulars and mentally look for them on the way.  I hope other drivers think the same way.  At the same time, peak hour traffic is slower moving, making it less likely that a car will be travelling at speed through areas without seeing me.

Leisure riding is a bit different. Even though we regularly ride the same areas, because it is earlier in the morning, many drivers aren't expecting us to be out.  Riding in back streets isn't the best idea, as people don't expect to see bikes in quiet streets.  That is also true for commuter routes.

I hope I haven't dampened anyone's enthusiasm when it comes to getting out and riding on their bike.  There are risks involved.  But the joy I get from riding my bike outweighs the risk.  Hopefully the same rings true for you too.