Why “sorry, I didn’t see you” isn’t good enough

This was posted anonymously on the Pedal on Parliament Facebook group this morning. Thanks to the author for giving me permission to repeat it here:

I’ve been cycling for transport and leisure for many years, and I’ve had more near misses with traffic than I can remember. There are grades of near miss. Some just get you mildly annoyed, others are real ‘oh shit’ moments that make you feel like you dodged a bullet. I’ve had the full spectrum. So far none have really made me seriously consider whether I should even by on the road on a bike. Until this morning.

This morning’s near miss was this first one with my 17 month old daughter on the back of the bike. As near misses go, it was probably a low-medium. Almost got t-boned by a car entering a roundabout whose driver only saw me at the last moment. I had watched her approach the roundabout, she was approaching a little fast, but I saw the car slowing, it seemed to be stopping, saw her looking ‘at’ me, thought she had seen me, decided it was safe to pass in front of her, but then she started moving off. Oh shit, I thought. She is going to hit us. I have put my beautiful, precious 17 month old daughter directly in front of an accelerating car that is going to hit her (As I type that now, I feel I could cry). Only thing I could do was scream as loud as I could. Whether that helped or not, I don’t know, but nonetheless she saw us and braked hard. Near miss. Brief exchange between us. Her: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you”. She seemed genuinely concerned and apologetic. Me: raging, scared, violated. “Fucking slow down and look”.

And off I cycle, replaying the whole thing in my mind. “I didn’t see you.” I believe her. She had a clear view. I had a bright light, and was wearing considerable his viz. But I believe her. I’m familiar with that looking but not seeing phenomenon. This near miss was different because my daughter was involved. The town I live in has next to zero cycling infrastructure in the centre. If I’m to use the bike as transport in my town with my daughter on board, I need to know that I have been seen. There is not much more I can do to be seen, at some point I have to trust that drivers have seen me. But clearly I can’t. This has shaken me considerably, and has really challenged my conviction that the bike is a safe and viable transport option for me and my daughter. I am seriously asking myself whether it is irresponsible of me to put my daughter on a bike and ride with her on the public roads.
A person cycling with their young daughter in Scotland, January 2016

I get that mistakes happen. Sometimes we look, but don’t see. We’re distracted, tired, and not paying as much attention to people around us as we should be.

It’s not good enough.

If you chose to drive, you chose a method of transport that will kill or maim those around you if you’re not at the absolute top of your game. Pay attention. Look twice. Be alert at every single junction, all the time. If you’re not up to that, no problem; leave the car keys on the hook and take the bus.

There is no-one who pays more attention to their roadcraft than someone on a bike with their child, but you need to give them a chance.

Sorry mate, I didn’t look properly.

It’s not good enough.


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Peripheral vision and Saccadic masking problems: http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/raf-pilot-teach-cyclists/
When driving and approaching a junction you need to-do a 3 point visual movement, one to your right, in the centre and to your left. Each point is then focused on the centre of the retina giving you the best resolution to spot something and means your brain can process the image because you’re no longer in a saccade from moving. It can also help if you actively look for people on a bike.

Been meaning to write a post on various vision stuff for ages – I even had the title ready (“Killing me softly with your eyes”). Seems a shame to waste that three years flying training with the RAF reserve!

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