It’s a jungle out there as cyclists and motorists jostle for space. Sandra Bull looks at how everyone can help make our roads safer.
Craig Glass was training for the March Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship when a potentially life-threatening road collision turned the experienced cyclist into a real-life ironman.
The senior vice-principal at Haileybury College’s Keysborough campus now has metal plates inside his body and recently underwent surgery to regain full mobility of his left arm. The injuries also included three chipped vertebrae in his neck and slight bleeding on the brain.
Mr Glass was on the return leg of a 100-kilometre round trip from Mordialloc to Safety Beach in November when a van suddenly made a right-hand turn across his path below Olivers Hill. Despite braking, Mr Glass hit the side of the van at a bone-crunching 55km/h.
Dressed in a suit and sporting a sling, the 57-year-old has the lean, fit look of a dedicated member of the ‘Lycra brigade’. A keen cyclist for a decade, he is now reconsidering his vow, made after the accident, to never get back in the saddle.
But Mr Glass, who has returned to work and is in the process of healing, says more needs to be done to make the roads safer — from education programs to safer bike paths that are separated from traffic lanes.
Earlier this year, a verbal stoush between spin king Shane Warne and a cyclist after a peak-hour traffic dispute in Melbourne put the at-times tetchy relationship between both categories of road users back in the spotlight.
Regardless of who was in the wrong, which is yet to be officially established, Mr Glass believes the incident highlights just how poor the relationship can be.
‘‘Some cyclists unfortunately don’t follow the rules. But most do and you still get this impatience and anger from drivers, [just] because you’re there.
‘‘They’ll blow their horn; some of them will yell at you. Once at Eltham a car came past us and they opened their back door to pretend to knock us off. That’s the level of angst you can occasionally get. It highlighted how some people don’t like the Lycra.’’
He attributes part of the anger to a lack of time and patience causing some drivers to become resentful when bikes slow them down.
Cycling is also not considered part of the culture, as it is in many European countries where cyclists and drivers seem to share the roads more happily.
‘‘In the end it will be education, not regulation, that improves what happens. And I think the government has to get serious about bike paths — you can’t have them wedged between cars.’’
That’s a plea that’s not lost on the Mt Eliza family of James Cross. They will never fully recover from his sudden loss in March 2010 in Victoria’s only known ‘‘dooring’’ fatality.
Coroner Heather Spooner found that James, 22, was blameless for the incident in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, when he was cycling part of the way to Monash University’s Clayton campus.
A driver, who was not charged by police, opened her parked car’s door, knocking James off his bike and into the path of a five-tonne truck that ran over him. The vibrant young man, and passionate musician, died on the road while being comforted by shocked onlookers.
His parents, Mornington GPs Nicky Martin and Michael Cross, and three siblings held a second musical fund-raiser in honour of James in March. All proceeds were donated to assist the work of the Teenage Road Accident Group and Bicycle Network Victoria. A dooring awareness campaign, Operation Door Knock, was also launched at the event.
‘‘James just happened to be in the wrong place for micro-seconds. If he had been a second behind or ahead when the door opened, he would still be alive,’’ Dr Martin says.While taking comfort from celebrating James’s short but full life in a way that helps others, the family is still reeling from his absence.
Dr Martin visits his grave every week and has just started cleaning out his room. ‘‘He never leaves me. I talk to him all the time,’’ she says.
She hopes Operation Door Knock, which will encourage drivers to ‘lead from the left’, will help make cyclists safer.
‘‘If you open the door with your left hand, it makes you look. And I heard one woman on radio say she put Velcro on her door handle as it reminds her to check. It’s very simple, but it works,’’ she says. ‘‘People need to realise that every set of car keys is a potential lethal weapon.’’
Bicycle Network Victoria spokesman Garry Brennan says his organisation started developing the awareness campaign after noticing a spike in door-opening crashes from 2009-10. VicRoads figures reveal there were 1112 reported crashes between 2000-2010 involving cyclists and car doors. Of those, 305 resulted in serious injuries and 802 were categorised as ‘‘other injury’’.
Drivers will be surveyed about their door opening habits, and briefed on the safe way of getting in and out of vehicles. Riders will be asked about how they position themselves on the road and given advice about keeping out of the ‘door zone’.
Mr Brennan believes antagonism towards cyclists is falling, as nearly everyone knows, or knows of, someone who enjoys the popular past-time.
But while he urges bike riders to not assume that every driver is out to get them, he wants motorists to appreciate and welcome the benefits of bikes.
‘‘Bikes reduce congestion significantly, and when there are plenty of bikes about drivers are much more careful, which reduces crashes of all vehicles. Drivers need to understand the vulnerability of bike riders, and should always travel slowly near bikes and give them a wide berth.’’
A state parliamentary committee is investigating whether to support Greens MP Greg Barber’s call for drivers who endanger cyclists in dooring incidents to face a maximum penalty of $1220 — up from $366 — and be docked three demerit points. The committee will consider written and verbal submissions taken this month before deciding whether to recommend the change.
Mr Glass has his own message for motorists. ‘‘Drivers have to accept we have a right to be there. The vast majority of cyclists try to follow the law and are incredibly safety conscious because they are so aware of the damage that can be caused to them. Don’t judge all cyclists by the odd person out there who does behave poorly.’’