Recently I read a number of news articles about a man who came off his mountain bike, hit his head and is now paralysed as a result. However this man fell off during an instructed skills course and is now suing the instructor for £4m because of ‘Woefully inadequate’ supervision.
I feel for the victim, as it’s a tragic accident that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it will have a massive impact on his life. However I really hope the Judge will throw this case out of court or rule in favour of the instructor.
According to the victim’s lawyer, he was a mountain biker with 12 years experience, but was a novice on rough terrain and descents. Also claiming he was encouraged to descend the section they were riding at speed and without braking which the victim felt was unsafe. Now I take issue with this. The victim is a grown man who works as a solicitor, so we can assume he is of more than fair intelligence. He also is old enough to identify risks and if he felt it wasn’t safe or didn’t feel confident enough to do the task, then he didn’t have to. No one was forcing him. However, he fell off on the second descent of the same section of trail so he had already done it once and felt confident enough to do it again.
This also raises the question that how can you be an experienced mountain biker but a novice on rough terrain and descents. As a mountain biker myself, I know that these aspects are integral to mountain biking and essentially what makes mountain biking exactly that and not just riding a bike. Is it being claimed that merely by owning a mountain bike for a number of years then you are and experienced mountain biker? No, it doesn’t. If a mountain bike is your bicycle of choice and you just ride it on the road, to the shops or on a gentle ride with your family round Centre Parks then you are not a mountain biker. Just the same as the school run mums in big four wheel drives aren’t off roaders and participate in greenlaning at the weekend with the other mums. I could go and buy a racing car if I had the money but that wouldn’t make me a racing driver.
Ultimately, anyone with any sense will know there is an element of risk in this kind of activity. Whether you ride a mountain bike or a road bike, there will always be risks. Most sporting events carry risks of accidents and injuries. By participating you accept responsibility of these risks. Lewis Hamilton will accept that driving his Mercedes at 200mph involves a high amount of risk, but he still chooses to do so. Rachel Atherton knows there is high risk of injury when racing her mountain bike at high speed downhill over extreme terrain and doesn’t blame others if she comes off and injures herself.
We now live in a blame society and I hate it. I’ve come off my mountain bike myself during an Enduro event leaving me injured. I was off work for 4 weeks on just statutory sick pay leaving me out of pocket, I had to buy new wheels for my bike as mine had buckled in the accident and buy a new helmet as I cracked mine after hitting my head on a rock which all cost quite a lot of money. Did I look to blame someone? Did I sue the event organisers? No, I didn’t. It was an accident. I knew the risks of the sport I love before I took part. I’m old enough to know what I am capable of and I wasn’t forced by anyone to do it. I know my accident is nothing compared to this victim in question but the principles are still the same. It was an accident. There was no one to blame. Just as if you had a sneezing fit whilst driving and crashed your car into a tree and injured yourself. Sometimes, unlucky things just happen and the sooner people accept that without looking for someone else to blame, the better.
What really concerns me though is the ramifications if this case falls in favour of the victim. Worms would be spilling from the can all over the place. The knock on effects could be huge and possibly devastating for the sport of Mountain Biking and cycling in general. Would instructors stop instructing in case they are sued if someone falls off? Would guided rides be stopped in case the guide is sued because someone fell off because they failed to point out that some rocks might be slippery after a recent rain fall? Would trail centres close in case someone ignored the warning signs and hit a tree after taking on a section that was too difficult for their ability? And would bike shops be sued for not warning cyclists their new brake pads would need to be bedded in? It would open the floodgates for so many people looking to make money from their own inability to accept responsibility.
If you chose to participate in something risky, accept that risk or don’t do it and spoil it for everyone else. Its a simple choice. Accidents happen. Sometimes, and some people might find this hard to believe, there is no one to blame. It’s just bad luck.
For a number of years I’ve often thought that the police and motoring authorities could easily implement a new regulation that could help cut a portion of bad driving out on the roads.
We all know speeding is illegal, as is drink driving and now so is using a mobile phone whilst driving. We also know this still doesn’t stop some people putting others at risk. I often see school run mums in big 4×4’s with phones glued to their ears while their precious children are in the back. I’ve seen bus drivers texting, and even a fuel tanker driver eating food from a Tupperware container with a fork. I’m not going to make out I’m perfect though, I was once caught doing 34mph in a 30 limit and was ordered to go on a speed awareness course. I was in the wrong and accepted my punishment. Which is more than can be said for the lady on my course who was adamant it was ok to be doing more than 55mph in a 30 limit because she was going to visit her father in hospital even though she admitted he wasn’t dying. My point here though is that people should know better yet still don’t act on it.
So when a news story breaks today of a fatal accident on the M1 in which an 87 year old male car driver and a 27 year old male van passenger were killed in a head on collision caused by the car driver driving the wrong way down the motorway, I wondered, Is it about time elderly drivers were made to take some form of annual test to see if they are still fit to drive. I’ve thought this for a while now. Currently it’s up to a driver to decide when they are unfit to drive and to surrender their licence. The police now have the power to suspend a licence too but this would usually be after an accident has occurred. Why lock the stable door after the horse has bolted? I would have thought that if you paid just a small amount of attention to your driving, then it’s impossible to drive the wrong way on a motorway or dual carriageway, even at night. If you are at a point where you get so confused you accidently do this, then you are an extremely dangerous driver and should not be behind the wheel.
I have nothing against the older generation at all and I know many are capable drivers. But let’s face it, on the stubbornness scale, the elderly can give the teenagers a run for their money. So it can be difficult to even suggest surrendering a driving licence to someone as we all know how difficult it would be do give up a large portion of your independence. But we all know health deteriorates as we get older and reactions slow. It’s only natural. You often hear older people say they can do certain things anymore, but they still think they are capable of driving a car which can kill if used incorrectly.
I’m not suggesting anything hugely severe or disproportionate for a test. I don’t want to be accused of discrimination either, even though all young drivers and Audi drivers are often tarred with the same brush. My suggestion would perhaps be from the age of 75, a session, which should be compulsory but free of charge, maybe every 2-3 years with an instructor or examiner as a passenger who just assesses awareness and reactions. Perhaps also some form of presentation similar to a speed awareness course highlighting the dangers or slow reactions and poor awareness to make people think properly about their ability to drive. I’ll be honest, I found the speed awareness course I went on quite informative and interesting. Also, Doctors and GP’s need to be more willing to report a patient to the authorities if they feel that person should not be driving. So surely if something like this was in place and just one life was saved as a result then it has to be a good thing right? Unfortunately it’s too late for the family and friends of the 27 year old who innocently passed away today.
In an age when driving tests are becoming increasingly difficult to pass, insurance premiums rocketing for young drivers and even possible restrictions put on them, maybe it’s time to look at the older driver too. I know you will never stop all accidents but everyone needs to be responsible behind the wheel. Whether that is putting down your mobile phone, not driving home from the pub after a couple of beers, or thinking ‘My eyesight is getting really bad, I ought to stop driving’. Some people just need a bit of reminding that they aren’t quite as capable of doing things they used to.
I know giving up your independence can be hard but what is more important, that independence or someone else’s life?
We all know a bit of snow brings our country to its knees and chaos breaks out as people switch into blind panic mode. Never is this more noticeable than on the roads. All form of rational thought behind the wheel seems to disappear with the appearance of Snow and Ice and unsurprisingly the media is adorned with images of car accidents. Whilst I appreciate the driving conditions can be tricky and many roads go untreated so the risk of accidents will be increased and some cannot be avoided. But sadly, with the increased risk, there is no increase in sensible driving.
Today I drove into work on untreated roads. I had to make a few detours as my car struggled to grip up some hills so I tried to take busy routes that weren’t completely covered in snow. This was difficult at times as my route to work is predominantly back roads, but after an hour’s journey that usually takes me 15-20 minutes I arrived. I was the only one there. I live the furthest from work but made it in without major issue despite knowing that the golf course I work at will be closed and there wouldn’t be anything for me to do there anyway. I waited for a few hours and still no sign of anyone so I came home again. But whilst on the road it became very apparent that many drivers give no regard to the adverse conditions on the road and then blame the weather when they crash.
There are many cars driving around covered in snow with just the windscreen cleared. I saw some that had the side and back windows still covered and not even all of the snow cleared off of the windscreen. This is ridiculously dangerous. You need to see as much as possible, even more so in poor conditions. You can’t even see your mirrors in these conditions. Also, with snow on your roof, that can slide down and cover your windscreen so you can’t see a thing causing a danger to yourself and others. People still have lights covered too. Lights are there for a reason. For others to see you as well as for you to see the road ahead if needed. They are no use when they are covered in snow and dangerous when people can’t see your indicators or brake lights. Also, number plates are covered. What makes you think it is acceptable to drive around with effectively no number plate? Number plates are there for a reason and it is illegal to have them obscured or not visible. Clear all snow off of your car before driving. It is dangerous to yourself and others to not do so. We all know our county is obsessed with the weather and I’m sure you can’t wait to show people at work how much snow you had because it is all piled high on your vehicle, but no one at work will see it when it is stuck in a ditch or being recovered after you hit something pretty solid that you didn’t see.
I have an annoyance of people who drive around with their fog lights. Section 226 in the Driving in Adverse Conditions section of the Highway code states: “You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 meters (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves (see Rule 236). Law RVLR regs 25 & 27” Some seem to think that snow means they must use fog lights. Why? Yes there is snow about but you can still see more that 100 meters so turn them off you ignorant idiot.
Another thing that annoys me in winter conditions is the amount of people who seem to think that because they have a 4×4 vehicle that snow and ice doesn’t affect them and therefore will drive around in the same way as normal. Ice will affect any vehicle regardless. Let’s face it, a lot of Chelsea Tractors that School run mums use are barely any better in muddy conditions than your average car and ground clearance isn’t much better so why people think Ice is no issue is beyond me. With this comes the worrying opinion that Wide Tyres are best in snow and ice. Since when? A basic grasp of physics and common sense will tell you this is totally wrong. Yes, I wide tyre is good on tarmac as there is a wider contact point to give more grip, but in ice there is nothing to grip. A narrow tyre means more weight on a smaller contact point allowing the tyre to cut through the ice better. Why do you think Rally Cars use very narrow tyres during Snow Rallies? This of course does not mean you can fit narrow tyres to your car and can continue to drive like an idiot however.
Finally, I noticed a number of people today driving ridiculously fast for the conditions. I drove a steady 30mph on the roads that weren’t too bad but there were still icy patches about and I was considerably slower on the snow covered smaller roads. Even then my car slid about a bit and the last thing I wanted was to skid down some of the hills. Yet there were still people catching me up and worse still sitting on my bumper! I also passed a Van and a Vauxhall Corsa in the opposite direction doing about 60mph. If you skid on ice at a slow speed and hit something then chances are you will walk away unscathed. Skid on Ice at 60mph and that telegraph pole you are heading towards is going to kill you. Are you really that desperate to get into work? Leave the high speed snow driving to the Rally professionals. Even they make mistakes too though.
I know not everyone is perfect, including myself, but if everyone took a bit more care and used a bit more common sense in these conditions, the roads would be a bit safer. I don’t care if you crash your car driving like an idiot. I just don’t want you take me, or anyone else with you when you do.