High-vis vests won't cut cyclist death toll: expert

Mandatory wearing of high-visibility clothing for cyclists would not reduce the death toll, an expert told a coroner today.

A special joint inquest into four South Island cyclist deaths has been heard before Coroner Christopher Devonport.

It is the last of five coronial hearings covering 12 deaths as part of the National Cycle File, ordered by Chief Coroner Neil MacLean after a spate of five cyclist deaths in less than a week in late 2010.

Today's inquests heard that alcohol, speed, and cycling without lights were involved in some of them.

But there was "no magic bullet" in bringing down the death toll, said Dr Glen Koorey, senior lecturer in transportation at the University of Canterbury.

All school kids should be taught proper bike riding technique by the age of 10 as a "rite of passage," he said.

There needs to be more cycle lanes and drivers needed to be more aware of cyclists, give them more space, and be more patient, he said.

Dr Koorey has studied all 84 fatal cyclist deaths from January 2006 up to December 2012. The average age was about 50.

While New Zealand lagged behind the Netherlands and Great Britain in fatality rates, cycling here was not inherently dangerous, he said, highlighting traffic data that showed more than two million hours of cycling per death.

"So, it's a relatively rare event," he said.

In all of the car versus bike deaths, drivers were to blame around half of the time, Dr Koorey found.

A common pattern was that in more than half of car vs bike fatals, the driver had not seen cyclist at all, or had seen them too late.

His research found that it didn't matter if they were wearing high-vis clothing or had lights on.

He was "wary" of the call for the mandatory wearing of high-vis, saying there was no evidence it would work.

In February, Wellington Coroner Ian Smith made a number of recommendations to the Minister of Transport, including that cyclists wear high-vis clothing while riding.

Today, the inquest heard the circumstances into the four South Island deaths.

Mother-of-two Josephine Margaret Holmes, 54, was wearing a helmet and fluorescent clothing when she struck a concrete lamp-post while cycling to work in Christchurch on November 5, 2010.

The inquest heard she was travelling at 33km/h when she tried to go round a tight bend at Ravensdale Rise on the Cashmere Hills when she lost control of her rear wheel and was high-sided off her bike.

The back of her head struck the kerb and then a concrete lamp-post before she died at the scene.

Graham Nigel Townley, 40, of Southbridge, died when he was run over by van on January 26, 2011.

Mr Townley, who was not wearing a helmet or any high-vis clothing, was biking home drunk when he fell off four times.

A van driver - battling poor vision from the low sun - didn't see him lying on the road and ran him over, killing him.

The driver was convicted of careless driving causing death and was fined $2500.

Father-of-two Brennan Lee Sharp, 43, of Christchurch, died of head injuries after crashing on the city's Port Hills on February 12, 2011.

He'd been riding with a group for two-and-a-half hours when he lost control on the Summit Rd at 44kmh.

He hit a large boulder on the side of the road, went over the handlebars, and suffered fatal head injuries.

John Mayers, 60, who lived rough in the Blenheim area, was wearing dark clothes and without lights when he was struck by a van on State Highway 1, near Blenheim, about midnight on May 19, 2011.

After hearing the evidence today, Coroner Devonport adjourned the hearing so he could pass on his findings and evidence to Coroner Gordon Matenga who is overseeing the National Cycle File deaths.


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