When Compliance Kills

The BBC reports on what may be a troubling trend or a statistical aberration:

Many of the fatalities involving cyclists happen in collisions with a heavy goods vehicle (HGV). This year, seven of the eight people killed by lorries in London have been women.

Considering that women make only 28% of the UK’s cycling journeys, this seems extremely high.

One of the offered reasons seems to involve compliance with traffic regulations (the sort of thing drivers are always accusing cyclists of violating):

In 2007, an internal report for Transport for London concluded women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by lorries because, unlike men, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver’s blind spot.

This means that if the lorry turns left, the driver cannot see the cyclist as the vehicle cuts across the bike’s path.

The report said that male cyclists are generally quicker getting away from a red light – or, indeed, jump red lights – and so get out of the danger area.

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 8:21 am and is filed under Bicycles, Cars, Cities. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “When Compliance Kills”

  1. George Says:

    I sometimes bicycle with a lady who is overly concerned that we as cyclists don’t break the law or inconvience a motorist even if it puts herself in harms way.

    For example:

    Right turn on red when illegal but lets us clear out of a busy intersection. I always make this move slowly.

    Not following the rest of the group into the left lane for a turn just because an auto may have to slow down slightly. She stops in the right lane making the autos thread between the main group and her.

    Stopping in the street and dismounting when it would be safer to dismount on an unoccupied ‘ramped’ side walk just because cyclist should not ride on sidewalks.

    Walking her bike across a street when riding a bike is the let you cross in half the time.

    I could go on and on.

  2. doug Says:

    I’m not convinced that the problem is that women obeying the law more thoroughly.

    To me it seems the practice of squeezing up to the line, wedged between the truck and sidewalk, is what’s dangerous. Rather than doing this, cyclists should stop behind dangerous vehicles at stop lights.

    Unfortunately, all we hear is “Following the law makes you safer! No matter what!” which allows people to be complacent, the exact opposite of safety.

  3. gpsman Says:

    Unfortunately, all we hear is “Following the law makes you safer! No matter what!”

    I don’t know where we heard that.

    Traffic code is intended to make “everybody” more safe. The law cannot permit, and safety proponents may not say, “Disregard the law if it seems more safe, or if everybody else is ignoring it”.

    which allows people to be complacent, the exact opposite of safety.

    People need no allowance to be complacent. All the evidence anyone could ever need is right outside the windshield. Maybe not quite the exact opposite of safety, but close.

  4. Bruce Triggs Says:

    This is quite interesting. It’s worth reading the original BBC report linked to above for more details.

    I’ve often wished more bike facilities and traffic-laws were designed to really make bicycling safer. Many bike lanes in my town (Vancouver, Canada) are too near parked car-doors, or abruptly pinch-off into car turning lanes. I often stay in the street to avoid the “bike infrastructure” that seems pretty clearly more dangerous.

    I guess in Idaho and some other places stop-signals apply as yield-signs to bikes. I would love to see more safety studies done on what would be best for bikes at intersections. I know some drivers get mad at bikes “ignoring” red lights (and some bikes just blow lights despite risks.) But often it sure seems that getting out in front of traffic when it’s clear may be safer than waiting to go. Especially when the lanes ahead are narrow or parked cars fill the right-hand lane you’re waiting in. When cars to your left will need to make space for you, I’d rather get up there in front of the cars than try to squeeze in with them after they’re moving.

  5. Colin Says:

    It may be true that men jump more red lights, which avoids the issue, but it’s not strictly compliance that’s the problem. The problem is stopping next to a vehicle. For their own safety cyclists should stop either in front or behind a vehicle, but never next to one.

    When cycling I usually filter to the front of the queue at a red lights, and then wait directly in front of the first vehicle. It might be that women are less likely to be this assertive in traffic, but I suspect it’s more a case of lack of experience, and also lack of cyclists. On roads where there are a lot of cyclists I see a pack of cyclists form at the head of red lights, which has an educative effect on cyclists (and also motorists).

    I disagree that the road rules are designed to make everybody more safe. They’re heavily weighted to the safety and convenience of motorists at the expense of other road users, and they’re rarely enforced when the only people threatened are cyclists.

  6. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    @doug – “Rather than doing this, cyclists should stop behind dangerous vehicles at stop lights.”

    Whatever you think of the cyclists’ behaviour – the truck driver has a duty of care to ensure they don’t harm others. These incidents stem from the driver not looking properly before turning.

  7. Rhiannon Says:

    In parts of cycling-friendly Europe such as Munich, they have cyclist only lights at intersections that allow the cyclists to go first before the vehicle signal goes. This prevents problems such as vehicles making right hand turns into cyclists and allows cyclists to get ahead of the vehicles at the intersection. Perhaps these signals should be implemented on a more widespread scale. I would like to see these where I live in Vancouver.

  8. danc Says:


    The problem is easily solved,
1. Avoid advancing on the right of a stopped line of traffic.

    2. Take your proper place in traffic, i.e. in line behind the car in from of you.
3. Advance when allowed by traffic control.

    This situation also illustrates why bicycle lanes that end at intersections are dangerous.

    For the most part, you never want to be on the right side of a vehicle at an intersection unless you each have your own lane — that is a regualr traffic lane.

    DanC adds: “advancing on .. stopped line of traffic”, is colloquially know as “filtering”, illegal in the US except California. The practice is obviously dangerous.

    Bicycle riders even have this problem in Portland, Oregon. The City Water Dept let cyclists ride in the truck cab so they could understand why it’s hard to see cyclist sometimes.

    Training video, might even be useful for cyclists!

    Truck driver must exercise due care but what about the cyclists responsibility?

  9. SteveL Says:

    This article should actually be celebrated as it is the first time that the BBC has given any coverage to the lethal situation that is developing in london -women, in a statistically significant proportion- are being killed by lorries. However, rather than worry about the details, I’d like to worry about why anyone is going under an HGV. Why are they being driven round UK cities? What extra measures could be taken to reduce the risk to cyclists?

    The BBC may be looking at this problem, but it is still in “blame the victim” mode.

  10. Colin Says:

    Cyclists filtering to the front of a queue is not necessarily dangerous. If the cars are stationary, then it is safe as long as the cyclist is alert enough to merge in line with the cars before they start moving.

    Filtering while the queue is moving is dangerous though.

  11. Mikael Says:

    The BBC article is typical in that it completely ignores the problem. The trucks/HGVs. It completely ignores the Bull in the China Shop.

  12. danc Says:

    @ Colin “Cyclists filtering … is not necessarily dangerous”
    Hmm, a cyclist filtering forward moves through blind spots, trucks have many! This violates the standard rules of the road, wait in queue. Try watching the Portland Water Bureau videos. I disagree with the assertion and so do 49 other state legislatures, even Idaho.

    More info:

  13. Dave in KY Says:

    This is a standard way to crash. The League of American Bicyclists and Effective Cycling have been teaching cyclists not do to this bone-headed lane splitting pass on the right for decades. We even have a name for it: “Right Hook” (in the UK I’d guess it would be a “Left Hook”).

  14. spiderleggreen Says:

    Ditto on “the laws are made for car convience, first” and “don’t blame the victim”.

    The main reason we have all this attempt to control movement on roads, is the inherent danger of motor vehicles and the fact that they are allowed to dominate these roads. The prime directive is speedy car movement. Everything else is a reaction to that. So while current laws may improve safety somewhat, focusing on changing car behavior would yield much greater results. It’s like the helmet issue, which is just a well meaning distraction from the real problem, cars are killing people. Want results? Figure out what the real problem is and work on that. The rest of it is just busy work and a waste of valuable time and effort. Yes, on a personal level I should do my best to ride safely, but sometimes what’s best for me in the short-term, isn’t what will be better for everybody down the road.

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