When is it ok to kill cyclists?

Earlier this month The New York Times published an opinion piece about cycling, “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?“. It prompted a huge number of articles and blog posts which, insofar as discussion about cycling safety helps to improve cycling safety, is probably a good thing.

Even the Economist has waded in with, “The American right-of-way“, which someone has kindly brought to my attention this morning. So I thought I would give my opinion on it.

Is it OK to kill cyclists? Absolutely not. How could the answer to this question ever possibly be yes? But as the author of the original article points out, if a motorist hits and kills a cyclist, chances are they will receive no punishment whatsoever. So our society – and I’m thinking New Zealand, Australia, Britain, US here – currently does say it is ok to kill cyclists. This is in stark contrast to the Netherlands where drivers are always at fault. The onus is on the driver to prove they are not at fault and this is quite difficult to do.

Earlier this year a friend of mine was cycling in Auckland and was struck by a car from behind. The driver of the vehicle was not charged at all and not only that but my friend was inexplicably told by the attending officer to get a car because cycling in Auckland is dangerous. If drivers were forced to take responsibility for harming cyclists then maybe it wouldn’t be quite as dangerous as it is. They would be forced to be more vigilant and cautious and this is a good thing.

These discussions come at a time when London has just had its sixth cyclist killed in two weeks. I can’t help but notice that the prevailing attitude in the articles about these tragedies is one of blame on cyclists. For instance, Boris Johnson is calling for a ban on cyclists wearing headphones. Another article encourages cyclists to wear high-visibility vests and helmets. No-where have I seen talk of making motorists responsible. Why not? It’s a stark example of prejudice against cyclists and continued promotion of our car-centric culture.

I will say one thing though. By and large the motorists in York are very cautious around cyclists and always give way to me. I have actually been blown away by the level of courtesy and politeness of York’s motorists. But this might be because I have a monster bike.

27 thoughts on “When is it ok to kill cyclists?”

  1. Cyclists where I live are required to wear helmets and clothing with reflective stripes on it just like you mentioned. This city just recently passed a law forcing motorists to give cyclists a three foot right away. So maybe where I live its a start.

      1. Sorry they are accountable in part if they break the 3 foot guidelines they can get a ticket and if an accident occurs and it is the motorists fault they get busted. I also forgot to mention this law was only passed a couple of months ago and motorists are still complaing about it. I say let the complain I have always given way to cyclists its no big deal just common courisity

  2. Even if a cyclist makes a big mistake and behaves irresponsibly, putting the death penalty on that is disproportional. Without motorists the same error would have only minimal consequences.

    In The Netherlands the motorist is not automatically guilty in case of an accident, but he does have to pay for the costs. This is also partially a practical matter as motorists are required to have a liability insurance and if someone becomes invalid this is very costly, which otherwise society would have to pay for.

    1. I found your comment, Victor. After you liked my post I went and checked the spam folder. This is a good strategy I think. 🙂

      Thanks for the clarification about the law in the Netherlands. It sounds very sensible to me and something that other countries can learn from. It’s true that cyclists and pedestrians are much more vulnerable on the roads and I think that by making motorists more accountable we are simply recognising that vulnerability.

    2. Maybe you should move to the light side and get a wordpress blog instead? It may not solve the problem of course but you’d think wordpress would know which of its own blogs were spam.

      I used to blog at blogger and moved to wordpress and have found it much better. You can even move all of your existing blog posts over. That’s what I did.

      1. You can update your feedburner subscribers – http://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/move-feedburner-subscribers-blogspot-wordpress-blog-8758.html

        But you will lose your google links. However I found this was only temporary and they very quickly recovered. You would also have a redirection link from blogger of course.

        I only moved my blog because my mother-in-law was getting upset with the stuff I was writing 🙂 but it turned out to the best thing ever and I prefer wordpress.

      2. WordPress is good because the comments are so much easier to manage. I love seeing when I have a new message.

        The explanation of the law in the Netherlands sounds like eminent common sense and practical thinking. It totally makes sense for a driver to have the responsibility of taking care of cyclists – it’s like any other hazard. Motorists need to watch out and be aware, because it’s a more vulnerable road user’s life that is at risk.

  3. See Rachel, this is why I love reading your posts, I always learn so much. I’m actually shocked as I thought that it was always the driver’s fault if a cyclist is hit, as with a pedestrian! What fool me? I mean, I have seen some pretty reckless cyclists doing really stupid things over here and that is a different thing altogether. But I am really shocked that six cyclists have been killed in two weeks in London. Wow. Things need to change over here.

    1. I have to admit that I thought it was the driver’s fault if they hit a pedestrian or cyclist too. That was until my friend in Auckland was hit by a car. There was also a case in Auckland this year of a 12-year-old boy riding his scooter home from school; he was hit by a car (wasn’t hurt fortunately), but then the motorist’s insurance company sent the boy’s mother a fine for damages to the car! Here’s the story: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10888453

      1. Goodness, I just read this link and I can’t believe it! I can understand about the fault issue but I honestly always thought that no matter what it was always the driver’s fault in the case of pedestrians. This is just crazy!

  4. When I was a kid in the 50’s, drivers were very careful of cyclists and especially younger ones. By the 70’s this had changed drastically. All aspects of life had started to move at a higher pace. The roads became increasingly dangerous as people rushed around and became more reckless.

    I am convinced that there would be very many more accidents except for those proceed defensively, giving leeway to the the reckless.

    We need to slow down, but what chance as long as it increases profits. It is sad for those who suffer as a result. Nevertheless we get better. It’s just very slow compared with our span of days.


    1. Have you heard of the slow movement, Graham? – http://www.slowmovement.com/

      It started with slow food which is the antithesis of fast food. Take time to cook real food properly rather than buying fast food from fast food establishments. This has morphed into other things like slow cities, slow school, slow travel….

  5. if a car hits another car from behind it is almost always deemed the fault of the car at the back but this doesn’t seem to apply if a car rearends a cyclist. Alot of folks think cyclists want special rights when all we really want is equality before the law

    I also find most drivers give plenty of room and are courteous in my corner of North Yorkshire and I hope I try and reciprocate.

    I am down in York next week so I will try not to upset the good relationship between cars and bikes and certainly will look out for any huge dutch stretch limo bikes with aussie riders

  6. Interesting articles, Rachel, All three of them. Can see the point in treating cyclists and pedestrians as vulnerable road users. The Dutch laws make sense and would encourage drivers to think twice before losing it and placing cyclists at risk. I’m always amazed at the vitriol some drivers reserve for cyclists. God, we all make mistakes.

    1. I’m assuming the law in Australia is similar to New Zealand and Britain. Do you know whether that’s the case? And presumably pedestrians are treated in a similar way to cyclists.

    1. That’s just awful, Bronwyn. A 24-year-old Australian violinist gone forever because some wanker wasn’t paying sufficient attention on the road and now faces no penalty whatsoever. There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.

      1. You are right. It’s incredibly tragic. The account in the Courier Mail was especially sad to read. The poor cyclist was just an obstacle on the road whom the truck driver took risks to get around. You do wonder if motorists would take these risks if they knew they would automatically be found accountable for any damage, injury or death caused.

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