SHORTLY after five o’clock on a Thursday afternoon last December I was very nearly hit by a car as I was riding my bike home from work. I was travelling west along King Street at about 30km/h when a driver in a twin-cab ute turned right into Steel Street and into my path, forcing me to swerve left. He’d seen me because I’d seen him looking at me – cyclists learn to look for a driver’s awareness of their presence – and I could not then and cannot now imagine why he felt that his need to turn right at that instant justified putting someone in danger.
Fifty metres later I had an opportunity to ask him. After swerving I was in Steel St and I headed off on a new way home, and there he was, stopped in a queue of vehicles. I pulled up next to his window to point out to him that he could well have killed me, and after glancing at me then staring resolutely ahead he waved me away. Next he was caught in a queue at the roundabout at the end of Steel St and I asked if he’d seen me, if there was an explanation. No raised voice, no swearing.
He told me to meet him around the corner, which I did because I believed, and do still, that I was owed an explanation. He left the car and came at me aggressively, demanding that I stop following him, and I asked whether he was aware he’d put me at risk. If he’d had assault on his mind as he strode towards me, and he appeared to have, he changed his mind, returned to his car and drove off.
At home I called the police, and I agreed with the copper that it was my word and his word. Eight years ago I reported in this column a Newcastle police inspector assuring cyclists that formal complaints of dangerous driving would be taken seriously, that the rider would be required to make a statement, that police would interview the driver and witnesses, and if police were satisfied an offence had been committed the driver would be fined or charged. But, no witnesses, and my concern was not for myself, because I was unscathed, or retribution but for the next cyclist who might not survive unscathed.
Now, if I’d had on my helmet one of the digital cameras reported by the Herald’s Matthew Kelly last week as becoming popular among cyclists the outcome of my encounter with the dangerous driver may well have been different. There in high definition would have been the car almost hitting me, with driver and number plate clearly visible, and the driver would have had a hard time waving that away. The camera photographed to accompany Matthew’s reports last Wednesday is a GoPro Hero, which I see for sale on an Australian website for $250. Herald photographer Darren Pateman, a bike rider, has used one to take video for our website, and an example was the remarkable video of a magpie attacking him last September.
Matthew’s reporting under the heading ‘‘Road wars’’ that an increasing number of cyclists are using the cameras to record acts of aggression against them prompted hostility in the Letters columns reminiscent of that we encounter on the road.
Bill Wiggins, who unfortunately shares a surname with one of the favourites for next month’s Tour de France, spat out the usual tripe about bike riders not claiming road rights until ‘‘they pay rego like all other road users’’. All people are road users, Bill. Many cyclists, especially those described by Bill as lycra wearers, would be happy to register their bikes if it meant a safer relationship with Bill and his ilk.
There was the predictable moaning about cyclists breaking road rules, as if that makes them fair game for drivers who, almost certainly, break road rules. Wayne Ridley wrote that he has seen some cyclists ‘‘do things that aren’t exactly legal’’! I know that a driver is more likely to breach more road rules in a journey than a sports cyclist in the same time.
Some letter writers were affronted that helmet cameras were to record drivers doing the wrong thing, to use Mr Ridley’s term, which suggests that they see endangering a cyclist as merely doing the wrong thing. It seems that some drivers don’t see it as even that.
Why should a driver feel threatened by a cyclist's helmet camera? Should drivers convicted of endangering a cyclist have to contribute generously to a helmet camera subsidy fund?