Monday 24 March 2014

call it what it is: the bravery position

The "primary position" is a phrase that crops up a lot in British cycling, "taking the primary", "adopting the primary position" &c.

Certainly taking the lane is critical action you need to do on today's roads, but why call it "primary"? That's asserting that its the main place to be, and elsewhere is "secondary".

Cycling in gutter with buses going past and less than 1m of fading red paint doing nothing to keep you alive -yes, that's secondary.

Cycling along with parked cars to your left while you look in every window to see if there's someone there about to open the door -yes, that's secondary.

But is going down the middle of a lane full of heavy traffic "primary"? No: it's the bravery position.

Do it and you get hated by everyone who thinks they are being held up. They sound their horns, they punishment pass you, they may even brake check you afterwards. You can pedal hard and get up to speed, to lessen this a bit, but that works if you are fit, aggressive and willing to reach your destination after a workout. And in somewhere hilly -like much of Bristol and some of S Gloucs, it doesn't matter how fit you are, you will still be crawling as far as the impatient wanker in the van behind you is concerned -that the van driving about 2 metres behind you while he swears about arrogant cyclists.

It's the bravery position as you need to willing to mix with the vehicles of death: the HGVs, the buses.

It's the bravery position as if you look at the demographics of British cyclists, its males 20+, with the numbers petering out as they get older and unable to accelerate enough to "claim the road".

It's the bravery position as it completely fails to work once you reach dual carriageways or three lane gyratories. Take a lane in a gyratory or a roundabout with a motorway junction, and taking the lane is only for the very, very brave. There's the cars behind you who don't expect you to be there, the cars turning off the road and wanting to get to motorway speed -you have to sprint to clear their exit path alive. Then there's the cars coming off the motorway, not used to seeing bicycles, and not prepared to wait for any they do actually see. You want to be brave: negotiate the A4174/M32 roundabout.

So let's stop pretending that the centre of the road is the place to be. It's only the place to be because the standard UK alternatives are so fucking awful. And because of that, because its the bravery position, cycling is for the brave only.

Some people are happy with that and claim its the place to be. Well: there's Downhill mountain biking as a sport too -but that doesn't mean that you expect families to go to school with body armour so they can safely negotiate 4 foot drop-offs. If you are happy with the bravery position -go for it. Just as if you are like negotiating extreme DH courses for entertainment -great. If you like that, and your commute includes an extreme DH course, you are a lucky person. But don't go round advocating DH skills so that everyone else can get to work or school uninjured.

Take the bravery position if you want to: but recognise that it will forever be for the bold and the brave only -and stop imagining that it's "the primary position" -the place for a transformation in mass cycling to take place.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

The "medical condition" defence

There were two cases last week in which medical conditions are the apparent cause of people being killed by cars.

A driver who hid his fainting incidents -possibly to retain his job. He knew of his condition, and rather than report it to the DVLA, he chose to drive a 4x4 around. One day he killed two girls when that 4x4 veered onto the pavement. It's a bit of a fucking co-incidence that this would have been the only time he fainted -its more likely he'd had lots of minor faintings and kept going. His actions were wilful, and should raise the charge to manslaughter, at the very least.

A driver who killed a cyclist, apparently after some hypogycemic event. Assuming this a known condition, the DVLA granted the license after the driver certified that their condition was under control. Clearly this is not the case. Either through neglect or a worsening of the condition, his condition rendered him unstate to drive. If a one-off, unfortunate -but he's not safe to drive any more. If due to neglect -he does need punishment.

The "medical condition" defence crops up all too often.

Case 1: 94 year old, 94 year old uses 'automatism' defence to plead not guilty to death by careless driving. " a medical condition that was “not foreseeable” at the time had rendered her unconscious". Case dropped, apparently due to prosecution fuckup. Not covered in the reporting -does she continue to drive?

Case 2: 73 year old gets a suspended sentence after killing cyclist. At least he was prepared to plead guilty to death-by-careless: a lot of people deny even that. But "unknown" parkinsons disease may have been a factor -unless he fell asleep at the wheel.

Case 3: 60 year old uses 'sciatica attack' as their defence (Crap Walking and Cycling in Waltham Forest commentary).

Case 4: 35 year old "suffered a reflex syncope at the wheel"

Key points: someone got killed, driver gets out saying "medical condition".


What it should be instead is a "HERE IS MY DRIVING LICENSE FOREVER CARD"
  • Anyone who had a unknown medical condition which happened to surface while driving -DVLA rules imply 1+ year license suspension -and that suspension only when they are happy the condition is under control.
  • Anyone who had a known and reported medical condition, one they thought was under control -but yet was in any RTC? They aren't in control of their condition are they? So any conditional granting of a license has implicitly been revoked.
These aren't "prove in court" or convince a there but for the grace of god go I" judge kind of bans. These are the standard medically unfit to drive rules kicking in. Not negotiable.

It should also be the case that anyone who knew about and didn't report a condition -that's wilful endangerment of others, and shouldtrigger a dangerous driving based charge. And of course, no license until the DVLA is happy.

Irrespective of the cause, or whether they are faking it, anyone who uses a "previously unknown medical condition" as a defence -they are declaring that they aren't safe to drive again until the DVLA is happy. They are required to hand in their license, and re-apply. Then recertify that they are safe to drive every few years.

This gives a CPS opportunities -not to give up, not to say "no prosecute", but to try to show that the defendant knew of their condition, and either failed to report it, or were failing to manage it. Either way -this renders them culpable and so their crime should be in the "dangerous" category, not "careless".

And then there are the people who make up their medical condition -or exaggerate it- as a get out clause? The prosecution here could take two strategies. Show they are making it up, or show that if it did exist, then they should have known they were unsafe to drive.

And irrespective of this, they need to get the defendant to admit that they aren't safe to drive. Then to state whether or not they have returned their license already.

Anyone using "medical condition" as a defence but yet continues to drive is either faking it or wilfully endangering others. And in court, their attitude could be used against them.

Anyone who uses the "medical condition" defence and gets found not guilty, they have still lost -because its proof their condition exists and caused a death. 

But for that we need a CPS team that recognises this and knows to exploit it -and the DVLA hooked in to the court cases.