24 March 2014

Some deaths are, whilst inherently no greater or lesser than others, more poignant than others from any given viewpoint. This weekend, one death happened to take me aback somewhat.

38 years old. Husband. Father. 24-hour challenge cyclist.

That’s me.

That was also Christian Smith.

He was killed on Saturday, in the middle of his 248-mile ride around Kent.

The poignancy continued: Only minutes before reading of Christian’s death, I’d literally inked-in the date of this year’s Le Jour de France 24 hour ride on our kitchen calendar. Christian was raising money for Mind, as did Mike on last year’s ride. He bore, at a quick glance, a startling likeness to another friend I rode with on the first edition of Le Jour de France—an event I started in memory of yet another friend, who was left for dead by a driver who knocked him from his bike at high speed. Christian’s words on his JustGiving page (via which I would urge you to donate) resonate with acutely familiar feelings from the run-up to a ride of this nature. They could so easily be my words.

I don’t know Christian from Adam, but his death feels chillingly close to home.

This poignancy hit me hard and highlights the core reason why this blog exists: I’m not just curious, but selfish.

I know that it could be me killed through absolutely no fault of my own, and I want to understand why we seem to accept that more than we would my death by any other means.

I have a tiny risk of being stabbed to death by a mugger, but we are universally appalled by such an event and our laws deal with it accordingly. I have a tiny risk of dying in a plane crash, but we are universally shocked by such an event and our authorities investigate that rigorously. If I die on the road, I have no confidence that there will be punishment applied, prevention sought, or lessons leaned.

But, why? There are so many reasons to ask, “why?”

Why do many accept the sudden death of people at the hands of others as an inevitability rather than striving to address it? Why do people say in many cases that it’s not even something we should think about until a bunch of unrelated third parties change their behaviour? Why do we build dangerous roads and then spend money telling people they’re dangerous? Why do we fail to see risks in context? Why do we have so much faith in trinkets? Why are we incensed by human failings in one context whilst largely blind to it in others? Why do the media and the courts respond so differently when fundraising is involved? Why does the legal process often seem staggeringly partisan? Why is it possible to have a fatal two-party collision where one party explicitly states that the other, the deceased, was in no way at fault yet the law finds no fault with the defendant either—or where the law fails to even press charges? Why do we accept excuses that make no sense or that guarantee mortal danger almost daily? Why are we so scared of demanding better driving? Why do we fail to understand physics and, worse, fail to understand equality?

I don’t claim to have the answers. I don’t always even have hypotheses. But I always have one thing, at least: a desire that we should all, for every aspect of danger on and near the roads and for every aspect of our collective response to it, ask: “why?”

If you’re not already asking it, if you see no need to do so until that one poignant death stabs your soul, then ask yourself why.


  1. PedroStephano 24 March 2014 9:31am #

    Reblogged this on Pedro Stephano and commented:
    I had many such thoughts on the weekend, but could not put it into words. @Beztweets has.

  2. Keith Whalen 24 March 2014 9:32am #

    A very sad incident. No the first and by no means the last. As you say its wrong that it is accepted and not investigated with the same vigour as other crimes.

  3. andrewrh 24 March 2014 10:02am #

    What a tragic death; RIP; and he had 3 children too. I hope they will find comfort in knowing how much their father is helping even after his death. I’ve donated and encourage everyone to do the same – the charity will benefit enormously.

    Also, what is hoped to be a very well attended protest later this year is in the formative stages to address the issue of people being killed on the roads – it would be great to have you there; and to promote/endorse it…

    (from the grassroots organisation Stop Killing Cyclists / Stop the Killing who put on the Die-In last November, and a few more things since)


  4. davidhembrow 25 March 2014 1:15pm #

    In a few days time I’ll be 48. Ten years ago I was like you too.

    Having long worked to change Britain but seen nothing change at all, by ten years ago I’d already decided the best solution for my family and myself was to leave the country.

    Another ten years have gone by and there’s still no progress. Christian has unfortunately paid the ultimate price for the inaction of British politicians. It is at their doors that the blame should lie because ultimately there can be no improvement in conditions on the UK’s roads unless the politicians agree to prioritize and fund it.

    This not only a problem for “cyclists”. There’s an ongoing emergency situation which affects the entire population.

  5. rdrf 25 March 2014 2:19pm #

    The answer is that we live in a car-centric, or as I rather pompously called it some twenty years ago, car supremacist society. Changing this requires recognising all the deleterious effects of such a society and using this as justification for change. http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/03/22/politicians-cant-break-free-from-our-car-culture/

    In this area it involves recognising the negative effects of he “road safety” lobby and its attendant ideology.

    Carry on the struggle.

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