Cycling accident, Clapham Common (10 October 2012)
Last Wednesday, 10 October 2012, my morning started pretty much as any other morning. The ablutions and dressing were not particularly worthy of note, save my decision to change my blue socks so that their trim (invisible to the observer once shod) matched the new purple shirt that I had chosen to wear that day. I sometimes do such things to bring about good luck.
My daughter and I left the house, put our respective bags into the boot of the car, put on our respective seat belts, and set off for school, as we do every morning.
At 0807, we stopped at the lights on Cedars Road, waiting to turn right onto Clapham Common North Side. Unusually, we were the only vehicle at the lights. More often than not, there are enough vehicles to make getting through the lights in a single sequence far from a formality.
While waiting for green, an articulated foreshortened oil tanker pulled out wide before turning left into Cedars Road. A cyclist was on his inside, marginally ahead of the lorry. I’m unsure whether she was intending to continue west down Clapham Common North Side or turn left into Cedars Road. Either way, the tanker driver didn’t see her, and hit her with the nearside corner of his cab.
At that point I saw her face in panic. My screaming “no” had no impact, my windows being wound all the way up. I genuinely thought that at that stage of the accident, the lorry driver had clocked the situation. If I remember, his speed slowed, but I now think this was because of his changing up a gear. He continued into Cedars Road, oblivious of the unfolding situation.
The cyclist screamed repeatedly for the tanker to stop. But he didn’t hear. She slipped from her bike, and eventually fell to the ground. I think I remember her face change from a fighting to a resigned frame. But maybe this memory has been embellished subconsciously.
At this point, the accident progressed out of my eye line, as the tanker moved to block my line of sight. I was thankful for this, as I was almost certain that the worst possible outcome would result.
Eventually, about 12–15 metres further down Cedars Road, the tanker came to a halt, presumably prompted by the sense of something hindering his progress. I opened my car door and ran across to the other carriageway, expecting to find a body crushed by the two front sets of the tanker cab’s nearside wheels. The tanker driver followed me round the front of his vehicle.
The woman was indeed trapped, but miraculously (to me), she was still in front of all of the tanker’s wheels. Where her bike was, I have no idea. But her body was trapped underneath the tanker cab. She lay still and silent. The tanker driver was utterly shocked. He ran back to his cab, either to turn off his engine or to reverse – I think it was the former, but I couldn’t be sure.
I ran back to call the emergency services from the phone that was in my car. I feel ashamed at this action. Maybe I should have tried to establish her state of health. I tried to explain to the emergency services operator that we were on the junction of Queenstown Road and Clapham Common North Side, which she clearly struggled with. (Queenstown Road turns into Cedars Road way before it hits the Common.) My panicked state couldn’t fathom the reason for her confusion. I berated myself later for my error.
Once we’d sorted the location, I reeled off the services that we’d need. Ambulance, naturally. Police, because this was an RTC. And fire, because there was likely a need to lift an oil tanker off a person. The whole suite.
By this stage, there were sufficient people around the woman to aid her until the emergency services arrived. I now had my daughter in my arms, and was eagerly looking up and down Clapham Common North Side to guide the emergency services to the accident. They were quick to arrive.
The fire engine secured itself to the back of the tanker, to save the possibility of it rolling forward I guess. I gave my name and mobile number to the police officer, which he rather quaintly wrote down in his A7 (yes, A7) notebook. (I was reminded of Heartbeat.) And I was on my way, assured that the police would be in contact. I’m quite confident in that I was the only third party witness to the accident.
The police have not been in touch. I called them a couple of days later, but was told that if they needed to speak to me, they would call.
Here is the only news article I can find about the collision. The 28-year-old cyclist has allegedly suffered life-changing injuries. I wish her as full a recovery as possible.
I don’t know who, if anyone, was to blame for the accident; nor will I speculate. But I will beg my cycling friends to please take extra care around large vehicles, particularly those that might be turning left. Your life can be transformed in an instant, as happened that morning for the woman.