Let’s cut to the chase here: UK courts are explicitly condoning driving that is dangerous and is absolutely contrary to the Highway Code. Here’s why.
You may recall a recent post in which I expressed significant concern about the approach taken by a trial into the death of David Irving, who was cycling on a multi-lane carriageway when he was struck by a Ford Transit.
Add to this the case involving the death of Sean Ruff who was cycling on a multi-lane carriageway when he was struck by a DAF 7.5t HGV.
The two cases – although there was no trial in the latter thanks to the driver’s early guilty plea – have some notable similarities.
And there is one similarity which rings out particularly clearly.
There was room
In the Irving case, this report from day four of the trial notes that “forensic vehicle collision expert” David Burgess commented that there was “sufficient width of lanes on flyover to overtake without lateral movement“.
In the Ruff case, the news report notes that “there was room for Mr Reed [the driver] to pass safely while remaining in lane one“. Note that this remark is reported to have come from a barrister (slightly alarmingly, the prosecutor), but I am inclined to believe that it would be based on expert advice.
Now, anyone who rides a bike knows exactly where I’m going here and knows that both of those statements are nothing short of terrifying.
But let’s set our personal viewpoint aside for the moment and take a look at some numbers.
How much room?
Sean Ruff was killed whilst cycling along the A66 westbound near the Eaglescliffe sliproad. Now, if we fire up Google Maps, that’s roughly here. I can’t find a 7.5t lorry in the same lane as the Streetview car, but that Transit makes a handy reference point. Let’s measure up.
The width of a Transit van, including the mirrors, is 2374mm. That’s a useful measurement, as it’s just a couple of inches shy of the 8ft/2.44m width of a standard box on a 7.5t lorry such as the one in the video below. This is an Argos DAF 7.5t lorry, as was the vehicle that killed Sean Ruff.
Now, I’ve run two lines from the mirrors to another line running across the road surface at the point where the front wheels appear to touch the ground (which is roughly vertically below the mirrors on a Transit). Measure up if you like, but the ratio of the inner width of the lane to the width of the van is 1.475, giving us an inner lane width of 3.50m. That tallies pretty well with the DfT’s specified width between line centres (ie adding the width of a line) for a dual carriageway, of 3.65m.
So. That lane is the lane where Ruff was killed. The two near-vertical red lines you see represent the body width (ie excluding mirrors) of the DAF lorry that killed him.
Now, if the box of the lorry is directly above the edge of that lane (ie with its mirror protruding into lane two) then the remaining space to its nearside is around 1.1m.
The DfT notes (on p.16) that for the design of cycling infrastructure, the “dynamic envelope” (the width occupied once normal lateral movements are considered) of someone on a bicycle can be assumed to be 1m. In fact, they seem to suggest it is actually rather greater, since they claim that the deviation required due to wobble or normal hazards is up to 0.8m, on top of which we need to add the width of a person on a bicycle – my handlebars alone are 0.7m and my elbows are further apart still. I’m going to bet good money I’m easily 0.8m wide on a bike. Add the 0.8m normal deviation and that’s 1.6m.
But wait. If you’re on a bike in the same lane as that 7.5t lorry, you’ve only got 1.1m. That’s basically the handlebars plus a standard school ruler.
Feel safe? A brick-shaped lorry with an 8ft-by-12ft frontal profile passing you at 55mph with a ruler between you and it? Without being allowed any room to wobble or to negotiate hazards on the road surface? Without being allowed any room to encounter sidewinds?
Hell, the bow wave from the van and then the suck from its wake would be enough at that distance to risk pulling you out into the lane ready for whatever’s behind it. And we know very well from the cases of David Irving and Sam Harding that if it’s the following vehicle that kills you, the driver won’t even be arrested or investigated – so you can forget your hopes of your family having any legal recourse at all in such a case.
So if you’re hugging the edge of the lane, you’re pretty screwed.
But then, Ruff was – perfectly legitimately – riding 0.4m from the nearside edge of the lane when hit.
The maths is pretty simple.
There is no room.
Contempt of court
It is quite unfathomable that any legal advice can suggest that a vehicle of approximately 2.4m width can pass someone on a bicycle remotely safely within the confines of a 3.6m lane.
With both vehicles at the absolute edge of the lane, the space between them is the length of a ruler. That’s the entire space allocated for sidewinds, hazards, natural movement of a rider – any lateral movement at all. A ruler.
Anyone who stands up in court and states that this is anything other than dangerous driving should surely be pulled up sharply, because it is bullshit.
In the case of the Petterson trial, for an expert witness to say that this is possible “without lateral deviation” – ie assuming both vehicles are always at those absolute extremes of lane positioning – is beyond any description other than bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
Even the CPS itself states that both “failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists” and “overtaking which could not have been carried out safely” are “likely to be characterised as dangerous driving” (the hell they are, as has been shown on numerous occasions).
Again, the courts are ignoring the Highway Code when it suits. And whether you’re going by the Highway Code or by simple maths, they are explicitly legitimising driving that is manifestly fatal in its consequence.
Again, the courts say you have no right to live if you choose a bicycle.