From Out of Nowhere

21 January 2014

A tragic death gives rise to some curious comments which should make us all think.

A death

In February 2013, David Hall was killed at this corner near Moulton in Lincolnshire:


(picture from Google Streetview)

Joseph Strong would have been on the left side of the road, approaching the bend from this direction on the fateful day. Hall would have been facing him on the oncoming side of the road, a little ahead of the first van you can see, waiting for Strong to pass him before turning into the side road just past the trees on the left of the picture.

However, Strong did not pass him.

According to the conclusion of the investigators, “Mr Hall was stationary … Strong was cutting the corner on the bend and his wheels were over the centre broken white line“.

Hall stood little chance; he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Two comments

Two comments from the news report stand out. The first is this:

Strong admitted he was “near” to the centre of the road as he took the bend but said “He came out of nowhere. I didn’t see him.”

Strong’s comment is rather odd in the circumstances. Hall was stationary. He was riding a bike fitted with working lights and was wearing a high-visibility jacket. What’s more, if the photo above is representative of the road on the day of the collision, it’s not exactly an environment that’s short on sight lines. How does a stationary, illuminated, reflective man on an open stretch of road “come out of nowhere”?

The second comment that stands out is this:

Judge Sean Morris, passing sentence, told Strong: “From the minute it happened you have never sought to blame anyone else. You never set out that day to take a life. You have never tried to wriggle out of this.”

Strong is deemed not to have “tried to wriggle out of” his responsibility for Hall’s death. Yet the comment he made – that Hall “came out of nowhere” – actually does precisely this.

The verb is active – “he came” – which ascribes the action to Hall. He did this. He came “out of nowhere“, which is a place which none of us can expect anything to be, because by its very definition it doesn’t exist.

Things which exist do not come from places which don’t.

Yet – leaving aside the fact that he was not moving at the time of the impact – Hall clearly came from somewhere.

But where?

Where is nowhere?

The answer is, it would seem, perfectly clear: he came from further up the road.

But that isn’t quite the full story in the context of this. It doesn’t explain the idiomatic ease with which the concept of “nowhere” can be at the forefront of anyone’s mind in trying to rationalise the events after the fact, and even less that with which it can be presented in a court of law and accepted.

The Nowhere is this: Hall came from somewhere that Strong hadn’t looked at, nor even thought about.

Hall came from beyond an event horizon that Strong had constructed through a function of his speed, positioning, aptitude for anticipation and level of attention, and so on.

Hall came from outside of Strong’s envelope of thought.

Now, I realise this reads as if I am seeking to judge the character of Strong in some way, but I am not. That is neither my intention nor my point (in any case, character is not competence, remember?). But the comments made by both Strong and Judge Morris, the idioms which slide by unchallenged even in law, serve to highlight something of which most – perhaps all – of us are guilty:

There are places we don’t think about.

We all have our Nowheres.

We build our event horizons through a function of speed, positioning, anticipation, attention and more. We choose to build those horizons far away from or close to ourselves. We choose whether to imagine people who may be on the road and events that may befall them. And just as we may choose to ignore them we may equally to choose to always – always – anticipate them.

Beyond those horizons of perception lie all of our Nowheres. The rider in front of the van, the wobble of a panicked rider, the junction unrecognised by the satnav, the rider you thought you’d passed, the classic child running out from between parked cars, countless others – always coming as a surprise to the drivers but always being somewhere. Somewhere the driver hadn’t anticipated.

Their Nowhere.

But the crucial thing is this: Our Nowheres exist purely in our mind. They are all, each and every one, Somewheres That We Don’t Consider.

Nowhere doesn’t exist

We all need to realise that there is no such place as Nowhere. We all need to realise that objects and people come from somewhere.

Not somewhere a million miles away, but somewhere near where we are, somewhere near where we are looking, somewhere near where we are driving.

From just round the corner.

If we can realise that, if we can reduce and eliminate our Nowheres, if we can see that they are all Somewheres that we simply need to consider, then from out of Nowhere will come safety.



  1. Ian 21 January 2014 8:13am #

    “From the minute it happened you have never sought to blame anyone else.”

    Except, of course, the cyclist for having the temerity to be in his way.

    “You never set out that day to take a life.”

    Perhaps this judge and others could try a bit harder to get it into drivers’ heads that if you set out to drive without proper attention that is exactly what you are doing. Maybe you’ll get away with it today – but it isn’t a mark of your virtue that you do.

    “Now, I realise this reads as if I am writing this to judge the character of Strong in some way,”

    I wish someone in a position of authority would do exactly that to all the drivers who recklessly kill people. Apparently they are all saints, and the deaths are the result of the terrible brutality of the unthinking universe (or a vengeful god?)

    If I wandered down the road wielding a chainsaw in a manner so as to endanger other peoples’ lives I doubt I would be called saintly. Why do so with people whose chosen tool of destruction is a car? Because we’ve sleepwalked (driven?) into a state where most cannot imagine life without their car, and its continued availability is more important than other peoples’ welfare?

  2. radfahrarzt 21 January 2014 8:22am #

    Thanks for putting this so succinctly.
    I have been trying to describe the phenomenon by reference to individual examples eg I don’t want to drive above 10 or 15 mph down a road with parked cars on both sides because of what I cant see, I don’t think it’s safe to drive on country roads without proceeding at all times according to stopping distances, covering the brake pedal so as not to slow reaction time down etc etc.
    The problem is that driving a motor vehicle is so status quo, excess speed is so status quo, unpreparedness for what may happen so status quo, that it takes a near miss or worse to shake someones awareness up.
    The idiomatic speech of the judge in this case is merely symptomatic of our casual disregard of the dangers posed by getting behind a steering wheel.
    Best wishes

  3. Rob Connolly 21 January 2014 1:30pm #

    This post is absolutely brilliant. Please can you petition for a recitation of the content – particularly the section under ‘Nowhere doesn’t exist’ – to be made a mandatory part of the theory test?

  4. rdrf 21 January 2014 6:27pm #

    A splendid piece, well done.

    I have been banging on about this for a couple of decades. Do take a loom at the topic of “conspicuity” on our website , where this point is made in a number of pieces.

    People “see” what they want to, and don’t “see” what they can’t be bothered to “see”. Or don’t think/understand that they are required to “see”.

  5. Keith Whalen 22 January 2014 1:20pm #

    As always a well thought out article. The almost guilt free way in which the courts of this country defend drivers and assume cyclists are at fault is quite frightening. Unless its the most extreme road rage cases nobody goes out to cause harm or death. But I don’t ride out of a weekend looking to die either.

    • D. 23 January 2014 1:51pm #

      In this particular case, isn’t the problem that the courts thought *nobody* was at fault? There doesn’t actually seem to be any intimation that the cyclist was at fault (in this particular case), but it is rather disturbing that the courts are happy to think that cutting a corner is just hunky-dory.

  6. Skippy 26 January 2014 9:59am #

    AS i am in Austria , i was unaware of this case . Is the outcome , a matter of the Cyclist counted for nothing ?

    No matter WHAT you wear , the amount of lighting you display , the fact that you wait to allow the vehicle to pass , you can be KILLED and the driver can claim an ” Oops moment “?

    Do ALL drivers polish their ” Halo ” before setting out to sit in their vehicle , whilst ” Multi tasking ” rather than paying FULL ATTENTION to manoevring a ” Killing Machine “?

  7. paulc 27 January 2014 8:23pm #

    The final right turn onto the light industrial estate where I work should be ideal. It’s got a protected turning lane, yet, because it’s at the apex of a sweeping bend on a 50 mph road, there’s no end of idiot drivers who cut the corner and drive through the turning box coming the other way. I flat out refuse to try and attempt a right turn there on my bike. I take to the pavement at the junction beforehand and ride on the pavement up the estate…

    here’s the street view of the bend

  8. Dave H (@BCCletts) 6 March 2014 4:01pm #

    I recall from reports, possibly from the inquest rather then the trial, although the detail could have formed a key element of evidence, that this was not the first collision at this site and that the Police observed vehicles travelling in the direction of the photograph for a period, noting that a substantial percentage of drivers cut the corner at this point, and drove through on the opposite side of the road.

    There should have been a clear result from the inquest, in the form of a PFD report, recommending that a positive feature should be incorporated into the road layout here to deter drivers from cutting the corner where another road user may be waiting or close to the crown of the road, about to turn right. Given the clear observation I and others have made that carrying something on your right hand, or across the rear carrier which patently could cause serious damage to a passing car, delivers a many-fold improvement in drivers’ ability to give you generous clearance when passing, but somehow the Police consider to be ‘inappropriate’, the solution at this corner, and at the junction where PaulC turns right is clearly a small traffic island perhaps decorated with a mooring bollard, such as that which might be used to secure a large container carrying vessel. I think that might well resolve the problem of drivers failing to be in control of their vehicles when taking that bend.

    But to take a step back – here is a bend where crashes have happened, where there is a known issue, and we might ask Lincolnshire County Council if, as a result of this fatal crash and known safety issue, what they have done to fulfil the duty that they MUST deliver under Section 39 (3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, and having done this, what action is being recommended to deliver a safer situation at this junction. Every Roads authority is required to do this but very little is published . TfL does publish some overview reports, but having tried to draw some detail from these I found them too ‘light’ to be of great use.

    As the observant might note the centre line is a ‘hazard’ centre line but not a double solid line (not to be crossed) – the hazard line alone should be clocked by a drivers as relevant to how they proceed on the road at this point, but sadly the lack of driver observation means that we now see and over use of double solid lines just to emphasise the point. In my view – a traffic island set back closewr to the camera, and thus leaving the space for a large vehicle to slow and swing wide for the left turn in or the right turn out.

    Tragic and avoidable if only we treated road crash investigations as thoroughly as factory and site incidents or rail and air crashes.

  9. Alistair 12 March 2014 12:00am #

    I saw some of the Out Of Nowhere media last week, aimed at making drivers more aware of cyclists. Being an advanced driver, I like to think I have good awareness when driving, but during the same week, I had a cyclist appear “from nowhere”.

    It was around 9pm, dark, and raining heavily. I was on a 40mph road, but driving if anything just under due to the conditions. Then he appeared out of nowhere around a bend.

    No lights. Dark Clothing. Out of Nowhere.

    True Story.

    • Bez 13 March 2014 8:27am #

      Aren’t bends in the road places from which one might expect road users to appear?

      • Rob Connolly 13 March 2014 8:39am #

        Indeed. Point well and truly missed by Alistair, I think.

    • Ian 13 March 2014 8:36am #

      Many years ago there was a public information film suggesting that if aliens wanted to kidnap some drivers they would just wait in blind dips or around blind bends. Seems still to be true, even for ‘Advanced’ drivers.

  10. juliusbeezer 12 June 2014 10:23am #

    What a brilliant, profound piece. Congratulations. It points very clearly to the fundamental problem: that the general requirement in English law of a mens rea (guilty mind) for conviction is hopelessly misplaced when it comes to road behaviour. The lawyers are reluctant to punish a lack of imagination, even though it is this imagination is required to operate a road vehicle safely in all conditions (==>of which the running commentary required of drivers in police/advanced driving courses is supposèdly evidence).

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