Picture this. You’re approaching a four-way junction, the lights are in your favour, and you’re going straight ahead. There’s a car coming in the opposite direction, indicating to turn right (i.e. across your path), but you know you have right of way, so you carry on. You make eye contact with the oncoming driver, and he or she notes your presence, and then turns right anyway. You have to brake sharply, or swerve to avoid being hit.

This has happened to me a lot lately. And I always find it rather chilling – because the driver is well aware that she or he is performing a manoeuvre that will result in my serious injury or death unless I do something to avoid it, and yet none of their human instincts intervene to stop them. I mentioned this to a friend recently; “god, that’s fucking dark” was her response. It certainly is.

Much as half the world whinges about dangerous cyclists bombing through red lights, you’re actually very unlikely to be seriously injured by a cyclist. This is partly because, if you step out in front of me, my own self-preservation instincts will kick in, and I’ll instinctively swerve to avoid you. I think this is the reason I’ve hit so few pedestrians. Couriers sometimes joke that, if someone steps out in front of you, you should just aim straight for them (especially if they’re fat), because it’ll be a softer landing. But I don’t think many people’s instincts would let them actually do that, even if it were logically the safer option. I’ve fallen off avoiding pedestrians more often than I’ve hit them. And when I have hit them, our injuries have been fairly equal. (And of course, if a cyclist and a pedestrian, or two cyclists collide, the damage is likely to be cuts and bruises, or at the very worst broken bones. Sometimes serious; rarely life-threatening.)

But wrap someone up in a secure metal bubble, with airbags and side impact protection systems and whatnot, and they no longer need this self-preservation instinct – at least where soft, cyclist-sized objects are concerned. So a driver can aim their car at a cyclist, and if the cyclist doesn’t get out of the way – well, that’s her problem. (If a cyclist hits a pedestrian, the problem is fairly mutual.)

Doesn’t that scare you? It fucking scares me.

What’s also been scaring me lately is how we just seem to accept that thousands of people will be killed and maimed by cars every year. Road accidents are treated like a force of nature, or fate – something that might suddenly happen to you at any moment, but that you can’t do anything to predict or prevent. And this perceived ‘inevitability’ means that far too little blame is attached to deaths or injuries caused by (oxymoronic?) dangerous driving.

To illustrate this: in the past week or so I’ve read of people being arrested, and even jailed, for putting cats in dustbins, hamsters in microwaves, and goldfish down their throat. Fair enough. But what about the thousands and thousands of animals killed on the roads every year? All the flat pigeons and squirrels I ride past on a daily basis? All the dead rabbits and foxes and badgers and pheasants – and even deer – you’ll find cluttering up our country lanes? Why aren’t the animal-loving British public up in arms about this? Has anyone ever been arrested over roadkill? Or is it just a necessary by-product of a completely essential pastime? And let’s not get started on the laughably light penalties for killing a human being with your car. The man who drunkenly microwaved his hamster was sent to prison for nine weeks. Cause death by dangerous driving and you might well get off with disqualification and a fine.

And here’s another illustration. Recently Lawrence got back from supporting his friend Ashley through part of the Race Across America – the toughest bicycle race in the world. 3,000 miles in three weeks, riding non-stop at high speed until you fall off your bike with exhaustion. Lawrence did a third of it, and hasn’t been quite himself since. Ashley finally pulled out, with sunstroke and dehydration, somewhere in Missouri.

The race was won by a superhuman individual called Jure Robič. It was his fifth victory, and he also holds the 24-hour cycling endurance record (518.70 miles). Read this 2006 article about him, and his body, and his mind – it’s fascinating, and he sounds like an utterly extraordinary human being, and indisputably one of the world’s greatest athletes.

He died on Friday, killed by a car whilst out on a training ride near his home in Slovenia. He was 45, and leaves a wife and a young son.

Are we really OK with this?



14 Responses to “Roadkill”

  1. EoD Says:

    Fucking hell.

  2. zero Says:

    Jesus girl, you know how to break bad news, don’t you? I had a comment forming in my mind as I read through, but you totally destroyed it.
    I should’ve just left it at ‘Fucking hell” like the previous poster.

  3. thatmessengerchick Says:

    That’s pretty much what’s been running through my head all weekend.

    I don’t know how I’m going to cope sharing the road with cars tomorrow.

  4. That Messenger Chick « zero cc Says:

    […] in London and has very sound opinions that she expresses exceedingly well. Her current piece ‘Roadkill‘ is particularly hard hitting, but please do take some time to go through the rest of the […]

  5. Redbikes Says:

    I really don’t know how any of you cope riding around London. The last time I was there I was freaking out driving. It struck me that most people didn’t care if they hit you provided they got to the back of the next queue 6 seconds quicker.

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      God yes. I was actually hit by a car the other day (only a wing mirror to the arm, but still…). The driver desperately needed to get through the mass of cyclists setting off from a junction, because he had urgent business at the back of the queue of cars ahead. (I overtook him again a few seconds later) I was absolutely fucking livid. And I’m never going to learn to drive. That’s a promise.

  6. fi Says:

    That’s rather horrible. No, not rather, just plain horrible.

    In response to the beginning of your post, I have had several people, apparently try to kill me, turn (left here in America) and almost hit me. Luckily I’ve never been hit, but still, I could have been. I also quite often get directed by drivers to yield improperly (stopping and motioning at me to go when it I have a stop sign and they don’t etc.). This annoys me to no end as a) I am having to put up with their rules! b) this puts me at risk if another person comes along the other way and yields Correctly, and c) it probably annoys the driver behind them who thinks “Stupid cyclist, don’t they know it’s not their turn!”.
    Anyway, I love your blog, nice to hear the thoughts of another girl who rides!

  7. nickc Says:

    I’ve much always maintained that if you want to kill someone, make sure you do it in your car…

    I ride like a car now. Middle of the road, treat them like they’re going to run me over at any time. Frankly it sucks, but I’d rather be alive.

  8. Michael Says:


    I think that many of the arguments that you make here went into publication in the book The Energy Glut: The Politics of Fatness in an Overheating World (Ian Roberts with Phil Edwards). I think there’ll be a review in the December issue of LCC’s London Cyclist.

    e.g. the idea that cars are brutal weapons that (make people fat and) in any other context would be outlawed.

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      Ooh – that sounds worth a read! I’ll look out for it.

      And yes, none of these arguments are anything new. They’ve just finally, fully sunk into my psyche over the past few days. I’m NEVER going to learn to drive. Trying to convince the rest of the world to follow suit feels like a rather futile crusade though. 😦

  9. Jules Says:

    Spot on.

    If only all helmets had built in cameras, the BTP would be absolutely swamped.

    Agree with nickc – only way to ride is like you own the place, because you do – you pay just as much road tax as them (just no vehicle excise duty), and you have the same right to the road as a car, or a horse & cart for that matter.

  10. blue Says:

    Very well said. Thanks.

  11. That Messenger Chick said… « Furs, flowers and lace cycle across London Says:

    […] 29, 2010 by justsooz Read thatmessengerchick’s blog entry entitled Roadkill for a well-expressed voicing of the rather grim attitude that city cyclists – and indeed, any […]

  12. Snoozie Says:

    My top 10 hates in London, in no particular order (depending on what’s happened in the day a different one will reach No 1)
    1) people who cross 20 yards from a perfectly good crossing, especially when they are walking in the direction of the crossing
    2) people who keep crossing despite the fact that the lights are clearly going to change in my favour – they can’t wait that minute or two until it’s their turn again (yes I ride at them, no I never hit anybody)
    3) people who hover near zebra crossings but are not going to cross
    4) people who look straight at you and then move into your path anyway, as described in this article
    5) drivers who shove half their car out into the road whilst waiting to leave a side road
    6) drivers who push out in front of you so you have to stop AND THEN THANK YOU (I didn’t want to stop for you, but you were going to kill me so I had to)
    7) see point 1) but particularly people who do this with kids in tow
    8) of course people who drive along past a cyclist and then turn left across your path – do they think we suddenly stop moving once they’re past? or do we just disappear when we’re no longer in direct line of sight?
    9) anybody in Soho/Covent Garden who seems to have no concept of what is pavement and what is road
    10) people who walk in cycle lanes when one third of the available space is cycle lane and two thirds is for pedestrians

    I could probably come up with another 10.

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