On the last weekend in August 2007 the Surrey Cycle Racing League with the assistance of the Army CU organised a three day stage race comprising four stages for 2nd and 3rd cat racers. Proceedings kicked off with a short time trial up Boxhill on Friday evening and this was followed on Saturday afternoon with a 70 mile road race. 4th up Boxhill, but not so hot on the road race was George Brent, a 2nd cat rider with Addiscombe CC. On Sunday, Stage 3 in the morning was an 11.5 mile time trial and the final stage on Sunday afternoon was a 60 mile road race on the Ewhurst Circuit with a final climb up Leith Hill.
The Ewhurst Circuit takes the riders down
Ockley Road into Ewhurst where there is a sharp left at a mini-roundabout outside the Bull’s Head Pub. At this point in the race (it may have been the 4th lap but this is not entirely clear), there was a breakaway group of 5 or 6 riders being chased by George Brent who was attempting to bridge the gap between the bunch and the lead group. Given those circumstances it is not really surprising that he was going at speed and that he needed to take a racing line around the left hand turn, taking advantage of being a sole rider at this point.
Unhappily for both men another cyclist, Carlton Brown, came down Shere Road (from the right in the above Google earth shot) and turned into Ockley Road, apparently oblivious to the fact that a road race was in progress coming straight towards him. The two cyclists collided close to the mini roundabout. Any initial uncertainty as to which side of the central dotted white line the collision occurred was dispersed by the existence of video camera footage. This demonstrated that the cyclists came together somewhere to the right of the white dotted centre line (as the picture and George Brent saw it.)
Mr Brown sued both Mr Brent and the British Cycling Federation who were ultimately responsible for the running of the race. The report that I have seen indicates nothing about the extent of the injuries of either man but I see no indication that Mr Brent counterclaimed (as he might have done) against Mr Brown.
Mr Brown claimed that Mr Brent should not have crossed the white line in the middle of the road into his path and that he was riding too fast. The Judge, His Honour Judge Atkins, sitting in the Croydon County Court accepted these allegations. The fact that Mr Brent was competing in a road race did not exempt him from the obligation to comply with the Highway Code. As the Judge put it:
“as has been accepted, and I think rightly accepted, this was a race which was taking place on a public road and the fact that it was a race does not mean that people can ride or drive in a different way. They have to be aware that members of the public can use the road and they are governed by the same rules as anybody else.”
The Highway Code (rule 160) requires traffic to keep to the left of the centre line unless overtaking or turning right. This is a rule that is breached frequently by cyclists (and I daresay motorcyclists) taking a line around a bend but I think the moral is that if you are going to do it, do it only in circumstances where you are quite sure nothing is coming the other way and that means not doing it on or near a junction.
Mr Brown also brought a claim essentially against the race organisers. His most interesting allegation was that the organisers ought to have ensured that the road was closed to members of the public. The judge gave that short shrift:
“the position about that is that it is possible to ask the highway authority to close the roads. It is obviously an extreme step to take. I simply say that in the circumstances of this case I do not think it was a proportionate or appropriate step for the organisers to take. I think that they under an obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of road users whether participating in the race or otherwise, and I think they did take all such steps.”
I hope the police forces who are most wary of races on the open roads will heed those words. It is not proportionate or appropriate to close the roads for an amateur road race.
Mr Brown also criticised the organisers for their control of the race. He said he should have been warned but the Judge found there were appropriate warning signs and marshals that Mr Brown did not see or hear. A marshal had done his best to communicate to Mr Brown but, perhaps because Mr Brown was wearing ear-phones, had not got through (the Judge observed that Mr Brown was wearing head-phones but found both that that was not negligent and that it had not caused the accident). Whether the lollipop signs that are now being trialled, and which will enable a marshal to compel a road-user to stop, would have prevented this unfortunate accident must be conjecture but certainly they should help. He also said the organisers should have prevented Mr Brent crossing the white dotted line but the usual Commisssaire’s briefing (‘obey the highway Code’) had been given and there was no more that the organisers could reasonably have done.