The troubling death of Dorothy Elder -Comment

Freewheeler, who runs the blog “Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest”has written a very good post on the death of Dorothy Elder, a cyclist who got killed by a TfL Bus in London in 2009. Last week, the bus driver was cleared in court. Freewheler rightly points to some oddities of the crash and the verdict.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to add a comment to Freewheeler’s blog. Hence I do it here.

The crash happened on 11/11/2009 at 11pm.  According to the Evening Standard, the bus was waiting in front of red lights in Theobald’s Road in the middle lane and was bout to turn right into Southampton Row.  Dorothy passed the (standing?) bus on the vehicles nearside. When she was in front of the bus, she changed landes, apparently without looking or putting her arm out to indicate.

In court, a road crash expert named Barry Wheeler cleared the driver Leola Burte. He said

  1. there may have been a three-second window for Leola Burte to spot Ms Elder become a hazard
  2. however, the driver  would have been focusing on the more immediate traffic dangers to her right
  3. the view of the cyclist may have been obscured by a combination of the cab fittings and windscreen wipers
  4. The prosecution  suggested that Miss Elder should have worn more visible clothing and should not have ridden in front of the bus  in the first place

There are a number of things that deeply irritate me.

Three seconds is quite a long time.  Dorothy was either in front or to the right of the bus. Even according to Mr. Wheeler the driver would have been focusing on the things which were happening to her right. I don’t understand how this can be used an an argument in favour of the driver.

How can windscreen wipers obscure the view of a bus driver? If this is really a valid point, busses should urgently be re-designed. If the view was really obscured, why does Mr. Wheeler stress that Dorothy did not indicate? If the  driver really was unable to see the cyclist, this would not have helped anyway.

The verdict really is surprising given the fact that – according to an interview the bus driver gave to the Evening Standard after the verdict, even the bus company was convinced that the accident was the drivers fault.  According to the Standard,  Leola Burte said:

“I went into the office and they [the bus company Metroline] told me they had seen the CCTV and that I was at fault. I was treated like a murderer. They told me I was sacked and to give back my uniform.”

This is really peculiar. Either Metroline really is an utterly awful employer which does not protect its employees at all or the CCTV recording was very straightforward. Freewheeler makes another good point:

If the collision was captured on CCTV (…)  it is far from clear to me why there should be any room for doubt as to how long the cyclist was visible in front of the bus. This would be a matter of record, not speculation.

Freewheeler rightly points to the fact that at the same junction another cyclist was killed one year earlier.

All this is really unsettling. Has the jury really done a proper job? I do have some  doubts.

3 thoughts on “The troubling death of Dorothy Elder -Comment

  1. Shreds

    Sounds like those in charge at Metroline have it right, ‘treated her like a murderer’. Well thats what she is, isnt she? Or at least guilty of manslaught. Once again the British court system shows itself up for what it is. A circus run by clowns.

    And no I will not wear dayglo yellow either just because some jumped up lawyer thinks that is required. Was the colour of the bus brought into question? What clothes was the driver wearing? How many of the twelve good men and women of the jury ridden a bike in the last year?

    Ok riding ‘underside’ of a bus is in my view is not clever, but if it genuinely was static, then fair do’s. What you do have to then do is position yourself so the driver HAS to see you. ‘Riding assertively’ as Richard Ballantyne once put it. Even to the point of being a b!@@dy nuisance. Better that than under the wheels.

  2. Pingback: Cyclists, busses and the unsettling death of Jayne Helliwell « Cycling Intelligence

  3. Kevin

    I realise I’m a bit late in commenting here, however it’s seems both yourself and freewheeler are a wee bit biased here, not to mention seemingly ignorant of common sense. Freewheeler especially, in his article, missed out the whole bit about Ms Elder undertaking the bus and cutting in front and made it sound as if the Bus driver had ridden straight into the back of her. To answer a few of (both) your questions….

    1)Yes the camera will show precisely when she was visible….to the camera. The human eye has a much wider field of view than a camera, and is further back with the camera right up against the windscreen almost in most buses. As she rode up the inside she may have gone in and out of the view of the various internal cameras and then into the view of the front camera. However this it very likely not where they mark the “3 seconds” from; she may have been in harm’s way well before she came into view of the front facing camera. So they have to work around the blind spots in the camera system to work out at what time-frame she first cut in front of the bus.

    2) If she undertook and then cut in front, intending to turn right as the bus was doing, then she was coming from the LEFT – so that’s why the driver looking to the RIGHT was a problem. She was hit as she cut in front and was probably under the left wheel. Although traffic lights may have meant there was no oncoming traffic you’re still going to be looking that way – that’s the way you’re driving and turning a 35 foot long, 8 foot wide, 14 foot high, 12 tonne (when empty) bus is not something you do without looking where you’re going. Plus people do jump lights.

    3) 3 Seconds is not very long at all, you check, it’s all clear…you start to make the turn, and naturally look the way you’re going and then check back but she’s already under the bus. Please think fairly and objectively. It’s no time at all to spot someone who goes from being in no danger to under your wheels.

    4) Freewheeler, laughably, suggests that a white bobble hat is sufficient to be seen. Sorry mate but in the dark, driving a double decker bus a little white hat is pretty easy to miss in the midst of all the lights from shops, cars, and in amongst all the other things you’re looking at as potential hazards, such as pedestrians etc. The headlights mean nothing, in built up areas with street lighting their main use is to aid BEING seen. By the time Ms Elder was in a position for her bobble hat to reflect the headlights it was too late. She needed to be seen whilst riding up the inside and I can tell you that quite often, when I look in my mirrors, the only thing I see is the car’s headlights. The car itself is a grey shadow and I’ve damn near hit one pulling out because they had no headlights on. A cyclist with dark clothing and no lights (?doesn’t mention in articles?) might as well be invisible in your mirrors.

    5) Mr Wheeler does not STRESS anything. It was simply pointed out. Nowhere in anything I read is her failure to indicate stressed. It’s simply part of the make up of the accident and it would be outrageous not to mention it, since it reinforces that even if she’d been seen her intentions could not have been known until that 3 second window.

    6) You all seem to be saying, as a result of reading a few articles, that the 12 jurors were incorrect. Don’t you see the absurdity? There’s CCTV. The case lasted several days and these witnesses were on the stand for more than 2 minutes, and said a lot more than you’ve read in the Evening Standard. The jury heard everything and saw everything. YOU DIDN’T. This case did not rest on potentially dodgy witnesses with a bad memory, or experts with subjective opinions. They had FILM of the whole thing as well. The jury had perfect evidence to look at. They cleared her in 40 minutes. That’s as good as instantaneously. Yet you, having read a few selected quotes, and NOT having seen the CCTV say they’re wrong. That’s confidence for you.

    7) I would agree that Metroline’s stance seems to be odd, but bus companies look after themselves. Drivers are a dime a dozen. Backing a driver who gets found guilty later isn’t a good thing. Plus the driver is possibly suing the company for wrongful dismissal, and therefore possibly talking it up a bit more for effect.

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