Thursday, 24 May 2012

Virtual Reconstruction of Cycling Death

This blog-post was prompted by my recent dismay at the low tariffs and leniency shown by the courts in prosecuting drivers that kill or injure cyclists. Take for example the death of  Rev. Michael Malleson which happened on a 30 mph high street in Newcastle.  Rev. Malleson was riding his bike through a "pinch point" formed by a pedestrian island when a driver of a car tried to squeeze through the gap, knocking him off his bike. Rev Malleson then died later in hospital. Incredibly the coroner and police deemed this to be a "genuine accident" placing no fault on the driver, and instead placing blame on the road layout.

What's scary about this is it might set a precedence. In essence anybody can now argue that if they hit a cyclist at a pinch point then it's the road layout to blame, or the parked cars rather than the driver. In addition, all they have to say is they saw the cyclist, tried to give them room, but then the road narrowed. Worst still is these decisions are being made by coroners (who might be pathologists), and not by a judge and jury.

After looking closely at the road layout on Google Street View, I believe the defendants testimony doesn't add up.

"Motorist Joseph Strong was driving behind him and saw him pull out, prompting him to pull over to give the vicar enough room."

"But a central reservation caused the road to narrow, and Mr Strong’s Skoda car clipped the kerb of the reservation as he tried to pass. His car turned slightly towards Mr Malleson, an experienced cyclist, and lightly clipped his handlebars."

It all sounds like there was very little time to consider the situation after pulling outwards, and that the pedestrian reservation came from nowhere. Did the road really suddenly narrow? Or did the defendant have ample time to assess the cyclist and the road ahead? The fact that he started to overtake and pull outwards strongly implies that he was determined to overtake the cyclist and wasn't paying attention to the road ahead, and whether it would be safe to overtake.

I strongly believe this is a simple case of a driver in auto-pilot mode, determined to overtake a cyclist, not slowing down, and then pushing his way through an inappropriate gap. I've have taken the liberty of mocking up a virtual simulation to gain a feel for how much time there was to assess the situation, and to see whether the "pinch point" suddenly came out of nowhere.

Construction of the virtual simulation was as follows.
  • The report indicates speeding wasn't an issue, so the driver is travelling at a approximately 30 mph throughout without slowing down.
  • Rev. Malleson, 69, was deemed an experienced cyclist. I was initially going to choose a reasonable speed of 15 mph, however, owing to his age I lowered it to 12 mph, but this may be an underestimate.
  • The road layout was created by taking a photo from google maps and placing it into a vitual editor. It was correctly scaled by measuring two key points in both google maps and the editor.
  • The duration from the start of the car moving in the video to the collision is exactly 6 seconds.
  • The initial positions of the bike and the car were calculated by calculating the distances travelled in 6 seconds at 12 mph and 30 mph, which are 32.2 m and 80.5 m, respectively.
  • The report criticised the parking so I placed two illegally parked cars on the hatched area before the island.

To my mind it is clear that there was plenty of time to assess the situation. The cyclist could easily be seen from a long way back^. In addition the idea that the road suddenly narrowed is nonsense. It was already narrow all long that section due to the parking bays, and the bollard and pinch point are clearly visible throughout, they didn't just appear out of nowhere.

^ It is important to note that in real life, the cyclist would be more visible than what is seen in this video. The video is compressed and is in 2D, a wealth of information that is present in 3D is not there.

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