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.