Protecting cyclists, the most vulnerable road users

W hen Vincent O'Driscoll (31) took his bike onto the N22 near Macroom last August, he could not have envisaged what would follow. In a victim impact statement to Cork Circuit Criminal Court a week ago, he catalogued the injuries he sustained when a truck carrying 42 tonnes of timber was driven dangerously and rolled over him. These included a severed spinal cord, fractured pelvis, broken hips, legs and ankles as well as damage to his liver, kidneys, bowel and bladder.

O'Driscoll's experience and his searing honesty in explaining the catastrophic impact on his life was of a kind that would cause any bike user to think twice before venturing onto the road. Some urban based cyclists might take false comfort from the fact that the incident occurred on a national primary route. But eight days later – as the Dublin Coroner's court heard on Wednesday – cyclist Louise Butler (26) died after a left-turning heavy goods vehicle (HGV) collided with her in suburban Blackrock. The driver said he didn't see Ms Butler although he checked before turning.

Arguably, there is no road user more vulnerable than a cyclist due to proximity to cars, buses and HGVs, and the relativities of size and speed. Up to six years ago, the majority of cyclists who died in Dublin were hit by left-turning lorries. But the City Council’s daytime ban on HGVs led to a decline in fatalities which now average one a year. The requirement since 2012 that all HGVs be equipped with mirrors to aid visibility in the area below the windscreen has been positive too. Yet in Ms Butler’s case, the HGV had some blind spots although it was fitted with all mandatory mirrors.

A sense of proportion is important: the benefits of cycling far outweigh any risks. And through their own behaviour, cyclists can influence their safety. But there is no escaping the reality that the bike user, whether careful or careless, is at the mercy of the driver. Cocooned in a metal shell and sitting high in the case of buses and lorries, that’s a responsibility those behind the wheel must not forget.