Editorial: A terrible run of cycling accidents on our roads

New Zealand roads often seem to be ruled by the maxim, might is right.

In the name of self-interest, this is perfectly understandable. A 40-tonne truck-and-double-trailer rig will do a lot more damage than a mobility scooter and can take a power of stopping, so it generally pays to offer it plenty of respect, regardless of any subtleties in the Road Code.

However, a healthier attitude would be one guided above all by a keen awareness of the right of the most vulnerable to be safe.

The danger that cyclists face on our roads has been highlighted during the past week, in which five have been killed - three of them from one accident - and a Blenheim 12-year-old critically injured after being hit by a truck while biking to school.

Transport Minister Stephen Joyce is holding a watching brief and suggests if investigations into the spate of accidents point to possible safety measures the Government would look at them closely. Chief Coroner Neil MacLean, meanwhile, is talking of a special inquest into cycling deaths to look for patterns.

These moves are appropriate. However, it is impossible to legislate away all risk. Accidents happen. A cluster as bad as this week's might never happen again. However, it does serve to remind all road users of their responsibilities, both to their own safety and to that of others.

There have been periodic outbreaks of cycle-rage - on talkback radio, on-line, or in letters to the editor - from drivers seething about being held up by what they see as stupid or inconsiderate cyclists. Bike riders, meanwhile, have not held back in criticising the actions of what they see as inattentive, foolish motorists.

Both sides have their points. It can be galling to be held up by lycra-clad try-hards riding three-abreast and seemingly unaware of the frustration building up behind them. It is just as annoying to have to suddenly swerve to avoid a vehicle door flung open without warning, a car reversing out of a driveway or one that abruptly changes course without warning. The difference is that drivers might lose their rag and a few seconds in getting from A to B. A cyclist might lose some skin or, as has been well demonstrated in the past week, even his or her life.

Nelson has been comparatively proactive in trying to create safe havens for cyclists. There are, however, odd and potentially dangerous cyclist-traps: traffic islands or trees that pop up in the midst of designated cycle areas on major arterial roads, drivers who fail miserably to understand the complexities of indicating.
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Tasman is catching up too, though has its own problems given the extensive network of comparatively narrow 100kmh rural roads.

Appleby Bridge, despite a fancy warning sign, still feels uncomfortably like a death-trap in the making.

Cycling deserves huge support. As an exercise, as a way to avoid being caught in peak-time snarl-ups, as a tourism activity - especially in beautiful and sunny Nelson - it has huge potential. What must be discouraged is the sort of us-and-them mindlessness that has underlined some of the intemperate exchanges between the two groups.

Cyclists owe it to themselves to wear bright clothing, take due care to ride responsibly and to keep left and not hold up traffic. Drivers need patience and due care for the more vulnerable road users they will inevitably encounter. Both cyclists and motorists have every right to negotiate the roads safely.



Something I don't think people appreciate enough about commuter cyclists is that that they are doing motorist a big favour. If one in fifty vehicles going along Rocks road are cyclists then if these people made the quite reasonable decision to give up on their bikes and instead take the car then traffic volumes of cars would increase by 2 per cent. If you pass a cyclist on Rocks Road if that person had chosen to drive they would have been in front of you, they may have taken your car park and the road would be more congested and slower. I think motorists should be more appreciative of the favour cyclists are doing for them and treat them with respect. I do ride a bike occasionally but find the environment for cycling in Nelson hostile and so often choose to drive. Don't depersonalise the people who ride bikes as being "cyclists" they are people. Many are under 15 years old and aren't allowed to drive a car. Older cyclists are a mixed group of people they aren't perfect but they won't kill you if they make a mistake. The reverse doesn't apply. Motorists in Nelson please show a bit more respect for the hardy folks who still ride bikes on Nelson's roads.

Stephen Wynne-Jones #1 04:41 pm Nov 20 2010