CTC concern over Coroner's inquest into cyclist death

Road Peace Memorial Arboretum
CTC is concerned that a Coroner appears to have accepted police speculation that a lorry driver who drove into and ran over a cyclist would not have expected him to be on that road.

Police suggested that a combination of the rain and glare from lights in the opposite lane might have prevented the lorry driver from seeing the cyclist until it was too late. There was no mention of slowing down if he could not see what was in front of him because of the weather conditions.

Accidental death - cyclist not expected on the road

The Gloucestershire Echo reported today (Friday 13 November) on the Coroner's inquest into the death of cyclist David O'Connell, who was cycling home from work when he was hit from behind by an articulated lorry driven by Martin Ashford on the A40 near Cheltenham.

It was dark at the time but Mr O'Connell had lights and was suitably equipped for riding at night. In a statement, Ashford said he drove on to the A40 from a slip road, at about 45 miles per hour, when he suddenly saw a reflector in front of him but was unable to take evasive action because of vehicles in the outside lane.

Recording a verdict of death as a result of a road traffic accident, the Gloucester Coroner Katy Skerret is reported to have said that Ashford would not have expected a cyclist to be on that road at that time of night, and did not see Mr O'Connell until it was too late.

No need to slow down if you can't see properly

In reaching her verdict, the Coroner was assisted by police collision investigator Sgt David Parry, who attended the scene shortly after the collision, confirming that 'although visibility was good, driving rain was blowing from left to right'. Sgt Parry speculated that Ashford would have been looking forward and in his mirrors to gauge when it was safe to join the flow of traffic "but in the evening he would not have been expecting to see a cyclist travelling on that piece of dual carriageway".    

Accepting that Ashford failed to see Mr O'Connell, Sgt Parry told the Coroner that this might have been due to a combination of the rain and the glare from vehicles in the opposite carriageway. He added that Ashford was driving perfectly normally, although the driving conditions were poor.

CTC is concerned that certain questions do not seem to have been asked by the Coroner, such as:

1. Why Ashford did not slow down if the driving rain obscured his vision.

2. Why a professional driver would not expect to see a cyclist on a dual carriageway, which cyclists are legally allowed to share.

3. Why Ashford failed to see a lit bike - was he distracted?

4. How can it be 'normal driving' when somebody drives into and over an illuminated road user?

Victim blaming

What has been outlined to the Coroner, in some detail, is Mr O'Connell's medical history, including a diagnosis of mild epilepsy and advice given to him not to ride on busy roads. The summarised story seems to be that he had a medical condition, had been told to avoid busy roads, ignored that advice and chose to cycle on a busy A road.

The relevance of the medical history is unclear. There is nothing within the report to suggest Mr O'Connell died because he was involved in a collision caused by his epilepsy. He was hit from behind by a lorry. The key questions should be why the driver failed to see him and had not slowed down if his vision was obscured, not whether Mr O'Connell would have been better advised to choose another route.

In a blog yesterday on blame deflection, CTC's Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer Duncan Dollimore explored how irrelevant facts and issues are increasingly influencing decisions within the judicial process. It is alarming that one day later a case is reported which contains so many classic examples of victim blaming.

The difficult questions to the driver appear to have been avoided. The police collision investigator has been happy to speculate about why the driver did not see Mr O'Connell. The Coroner and the police seem to believe that not expecting a cyclist to be on a particular road somehow absolves the driver of a duty of care to vulnerable road users. 

CTC was unaware of this case prior to this afternoon and will endeavour to find out more given the tone of the press report and account of the Coroner's inquest, where too much time appears to have been given to considering the decisions of the deceased cyclist, and not enough to those of the driver.