Drivers, bikes and too many road deaths

The terrible tragedy on the bypass in Killarney last week was followed within days by news of yet another cyclist who died following yet another accident. So far this year, there have been eight cyclists killed on our roads.

The pain and shock felt by the families and friends of the deceased, as well as the drivers and their families, must be almost unbearable. Eight lives lost is eight too many.

If you feel things are getting worse on our roads, you’re right: there were ten pedal cyclists killed in Ireland last year, and nine in 2015.

If the rate of tragedies we’ve seen so far this year continues, we’re looking at ending 2017 with a death toll of around 20 cyclists - more than the last two years combined.

Shamefully, it’s an upward trend. In 2014, the death rate for cyclists rocketed from the previous year’s level, according to the Road Safety Authority - up to twelve from five fatalities in 2013.

There must also be countless numbers of non-fatal accidents we never hear about because - thankfully - they don’t end up listed amongst the road death statistics.

There’s an obvious reason for the increase in fatalities amongst bike users: there are more bikes on Irish roads than ever before, and probably more cars and trucks too as the economy begins to recover.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been a comparable increase in awareness amongst drivers that there are more vulnerable cyclists around. Nor has there been any real effort to create viable cycling spaces on our roads, or to legislate to address safety requirements.

So to be honest, it’s a near-miracle the fatality numbers aren’t much worse.

Anyone who cycles has a list of near-misses and narrow escapes as long as your arm. As someone who enjoys cycling myself, I know that every time I get on my bike I can expect a close encounter with a car or truck at least once per spin.

Usually the near miss will be in a town, at a roundabout or junction. But dangers can arise anywhere, as any cyclist can confirm - when you’re being overtaken by a car or truck, for example, or when a car overtakes as it’s coming on to you.

I drive too, of course. So I occasionally see cyclists riding in a way that’s clearly unsafe. None of us do it deliberately, but we’ve all been guilty of it at times - whether it’s going too fast or too slow and holding up traffic, or ignoring a red light or a junction.

All of these can cause the kind of accidents that end up in the headlines. So cyclists need to be safety aware, certainly.

But all cyclists are fully aware that they are vulnerable, and the vast majority are fully safety-conscious - because we have to be.

An encounter between a bike and a vehicle is not equal. The victim in any coming together of bike and vehicle, will be the one on the bike.

So it follows that there must be an onus on drivers to be aware and to make extra allowances for vulnerable road users.

The tragic accidents in Killarney and Cork may well have had other causes - and there’s no suggestion that anyone flouted safety rules - but in general, I think we all know that as road users, whether driving or cycling, sharing road space respectfully and carefully would go a long way towards making our roads safer for everyone.