An inquest held in March 2017 heard that Jacob Paton was struck from behind by a Ford Fiesta driven by Emma Ashton at 10.30pm. Paton’s bicycle had no lights or reflectors and there was no street lighting on the 60mph-limit road. He died in hospital two days after the collision.
Ashton had drunk a pint of lager but was below the drink-drive limit when breathalysed. She was driving at 40-45mph and did not see Paton until the time of the collision.
The inquest heard that the average driver reaction time is 1-1.5 seconds and in this time Ashton’s car would have covered 20-30m. It also heard that tests showed that the Fiesta’s lights had a throw of 17-30m.
Coroner Andrew Haigh said Paton’s death was “a tragic accident”.
Without wishing to remark on the advisability of riding at night with no lights or reflectors, the facts and related remarks from the inquest raise a couple of points.
Firstly, it follows from the light throw and the cited reaction times that at 40mph or above, drivers would be expected to collide with any unlit object without any retardation. Thus any collision with, for example, some debris, a stationary animal or a pedestrian is, by implication, expected. (Collision investigator comments in other cases reinforce this view.)
Secondly, since Paton was cycling in the same direction as Ashton, the closing speed would not have been 40-45mph. If, for example, he was cycling at even a modest 10mph then the closing speed would have been 30-35mph. This means that with a beam throw of 17-30m, the time between initial illumination and impact would have been between 1.1 and 2.4 seconds. Reaction time is slightly moot in this case, however, since Ashton stated that she saw Paton only at the point of impact and not during the preceding period when he would have been illuminated.