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'Cyclists need to be visible'

The Timaru Herald: 'Cyclists need to be visible'

By JEFF TOLLAN - The Timaru Herald Last updated 05:00 05/05/2010

More needs to be done to get cyclists to wear high visibility clothing, a coroner says, 18 months after a Timaru woman was hit and killed.

Alice Baker, who had been a talented athlete when she was a student at Pleasant Point High School, frequently ran and cycled for fitness.

The 24-year-old was hit by a car while out cycling on State Highway 8 near Levels about 9pm on October 19, 2008.

Now, following an inquest into her death, regional coroner Richard McElrea has released written findings, recommending the Ministry of Transport promote the use of high visibility clothing, with "significant florescent-reflective" features.

Along with his findings, the coroner acknowledged the work since the crash to make the road where Ms Baker died safer for cyclists.

The coroner said that at the time of the accident, Ms Baker was 15cm to the left of the fog line (the solid line on the left of the road) and the car that struck her was 45cm to the left of the line.

Ms Baker was wearing clothing with some reflector panels and her bike had reflectors and a flashing LED tail light and a light on the front of the bike when she was hit, Mr McElrea said.

"The driver of the Toyota Corolla did not see her, had been distracted by the lights of oncoming traffic and had driven the vehicle 0.45m left of the fog line to achieve greater distance between the vehicle she was driving and the oncoming vehicles."

He said a primary factor contributing to the collision was the inexperience of the 16-year-old driver of the car, who was "a responsible young person and was very traumatised by the crash".

"Other factors were the absence of a cycle lane, the darkness of the rural road setting and the limited reflective clothing worn by the cyclist."

However, Mr McElrea said the reflective material Ms Baker was wearing was "sufficient to be seen by the driver of a following vehicle with appropriately functioning headlights" and "the tail lighting on the bicycle made the cyclist apparent, whether or not the headlights were functioning correctly".

Mr McElrea said recent evidence from a police Serious Crash Unit suggested people "confronted with high visibility" regarded it as a more hazardous situation and gave it greater importance.

"Although in this case the person [the driver of the vehicle] did not perceive the hazard, it is self-evident that the greater the visibility features of the clothing/gear worn, the greater the chance of being seen.

"Cyclists are increasingly wearing high visibility jackets and this trend has increased since the time of Ms Baker's death," Mr McElrea said.

Along with that, police had also been instrumental in improving awareness on the stretch of road, he said.

"Due to the initiative of senior constable [Geoff] Smith as a result of this tragedy, Land Transport New Zealand has erected 'share the road' signage on SH8 between Washdyke and Pleasant Point.