If Olympic Cyclists Aren't Safe, Are Any of Us?

22/11/2012 16:20 GMT | Updated 22/01/2013 10:12 GMT

By now you will probably have heard about the events that rocked the world of British cycling at the beginning of the month. On the evening of 7 November, Olympic gold medallist, Tour de France winner, and cycling advocate Bradley Wiggins was involved in a collision with a van at around 6 pm, while doing some light training on his bicycle not far from his home. Wiggins, often affectionately referred to as Wiggo, spent the night in hospital with a bruised hand and ribs and is still recovering at home after the accident.

Less than 24 hours later, another high-profile cycling personality, British cycling head coach Shane Sutton, was also hospitalised and had to be put into a medically induced coma after a collision with a Peugot 206 left him with a broken jaw, broken ribs and bleeding of the brain. Sutton was taking his regular pre-work ride at around 8.55 am when it is believed he was struck by the car.

Although it's a sad fact that every cyclist has to expect to be involved in the odd incident now and then, many have undoubtedly been shocked to see these cycling heroes knocked from their saddles. It goes without saying that these men are among the country's most seasoned riders, and both were riding their bikes on roads they were familiar with, so what could have contributed to their accidents?

Every paper and pundit is currently jumping on this still-raw opportunity to point the finger at careless drivers and make calls for better provision for cyclists on British roads. Although these are noble causes, I've been questioning whether a good chunk of the blame for such incidents should be attributed to the cyclists themselves - or could there be other, less obvious factors at play?

In the infographic A Light in Dark Places recently created by electrical components manufacturer ArrowEurope, there is a stark correlation highlighted between the sunrise and sunset times in the UK between October and February and the times of day fatal accidents occur. The data comes from resources provided by the Department for Transport and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, among others, and also suggests that cyclists are failing to protect themselves with appropriate lights, high-visibility clothing and reflectors while riding during these hours, which could account for the higher level of fatal accidents during the winter months.

The graphic goes further by directly attributing 25% of all cyclist accidents to inappropriate safety equipment or impairment on behalf of the cyclist. Although this still leaves a fair chunk of the blame for most accidents at the doors of unresponsive or careless drivers, it certainly does suggest that there's more to staying safe on the roads than praying that drivers will be able to see you.

So if the sun and perhaps a little carelessness caused by familiarity could have been enough to take down the likes of Wiggo and Sutton, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Plenty - if, and only if, that 25% are willing to learn from the experience of individuals wiser than they are. The cyclist community gets larger every day and yet many still don't seem to pay heed to the laws of the road - we're still seeing that official bodies like the Sussex Police are having to threaten cyclists with fines just to get them to fit even the most basic night safety gear to their bikes. If we have any hope of chopping that 25 per cent down to zero, cyclists need to get wise to the fact that they have the same responsibilities on the road as motorists. After all, if a motorist was driving at night without headlights or reflectors on their car and was involved in a crash with a cyclist who was properly attired, you can bet no one would blame the cyclist for not seeing them.

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