Hugging the kerb can be deadly for women cycling in busy cities
As I cycle home I’m conscious of an ominous rumble behind me. A quick glance over my left shoulder confirms my worst fears: a looming heavy goods vehicle is blocking out the sun.
I don’t fancy taking it on with only my helmet and luminous vest as protection, so I veer to closer to the kerb so it can overtake. We meet again at traffic lights, and again I shrink towards the edge of the road.
I might think I’m protecting myself, but in fact this is the most dangerous way for a cyclist to interact with a lorry. Some experts believe that behaviour like mine is the reason that far more female cyclists are killed in HGV accidents than men.
This is particularly the case in London, which has the unenviable position of being the epicentre of lorry-related cycling deaths in the UK. Last year, 10 out of 13 fatal cycling accidents in the capital were women, and eight of them were killed by HGVs, according to the cycling campaign group CTC.
This is despite the fact that there are around three times more male cyclists in London than women. The trend has continued this year, with the death of 28-year-old charity worker Shivon Watson on 10 March in an accident with a tipper lorry on a roundabout in Hackney, east London. She was trapped between the lorry and railings as they both turned left.
Few cyclists have an understanding of how much lorry drivers can see from their cabs, which were designed for motorway driving rather than London’s awkward and elderly street plan. This Metropolitan police video shows how huge an HGV driver’s blind spot is for anything close to their cab. It was a revelation for me – I didn’t realise that it is much safer to be out in front of them than alongside.
Every tragic accident is different but certain common themes run through the recent deaths: turning left, roundabouts and women.
But why would gender affect the likelihood of being killed on the roads? Barry Mason, a cycle safety campaigner with Southwark Cyclists, speculates that this is because women are less assertive riders and therefore tend to be less visible. “You see more women cycling very close to the kerb than you do men. They don’t take the lane, or overtake lorries on the outside. They sneak up on the inside, which is fatal, literally.”
Mason recommends that everyone should have cycling training before taking to their bikes. “Every adult makes errors. A good trainer will iron out all sorts of bad habits.” It makes sense, it’s a long time since most of us did our cycling proficiency tests at primary school. CTC has a list of accredited trainers.
There’s one simple piece of advice for dealing with lorries – don’t be intimidated by them. Mason says: “If you cycle in the gutter they’ll treat you accordingly.”