Recently Queensland (Australia) has introduced laws regarding push bikes on our road. This includes always staying 1m away in a 60km zone and 1.5m in a 100km zone. There are hefty fines for those caught breaching this law. These new laws have caused my irritation at an ignoration uninformed government to barely keep contained. I have been a truck driver for many years now and have grown up with a father who at one point attended car/vehicle accidents (he did what it took to provide money for our family – so much respect). I guess you could say that I have a lot of experience on the road and have heard some shocking first hand accounts of tragedies.
I wish I could share this post with millions of people not just in Queensland or even Australia but all over the world. No-one has correct knowledge of everything and it is important to learn something new all the time. This is why I need to write this, to explain the harsh reality of the dangers of push bikes on our roads. Maybe, just maybe we could make some people see sense. This is not about putting down our push bike riders, far from it, this is about trying to help them understand the other side of the story so to speak.
A Semi truck doing 100km/h takes approximately 500ms to stop but if you are fully loaded it will be much further. That would mean that in a semi you always need to see at least 1km ahead of you to react and stop in time if need be. That in itself is a difficult and more often than not impossible task. I’ve had many ‘near-miss’ experiences with push bike riders on the road and each time I’m left feeling sick to my stomach at what could’ve happened but thankfully didn’t.
I was driving fully loaded in our lovely capital Brisbane in peak hour traffic one Friday afternoon and on certain two lane roads in the city it is almost impossible to fit a truck within those lines so if you have 4 trucks all together passing then there is a high likelihood that someone may lose a mirror (been that had that happen). There is NO margin for error in a truck especially in a situation like that. Unfortunately car drivers don’t always understand how hard it is to stay in your lane especially if there is a tree/sign partially infringing on your lane. Most car drivers don’t understand our stopping distance, weight nor general size but alas you get used to ensuring you quickly correct a situation where a car has unwittingly landed themselves in a deadly position on the road. A certain main road in Brisbane is windy which gets your heart racing when you drive on it in a truck. I was in the left lane (as per Aussie rules), there were multiple cars next to me including one right in my blind spot which in a truck is quite a big area. As a driver I always ensure I know the vehicles around me at all times so that if they are hidden in a blind spot I will notice the disappearance of them which keeps everyone safe. I was doing around 50km as I knew this road very well but I was fully loaded. I rounded one of the various curves only to be met with a push bike rider in my lane doing around 30km maximum. My heart stopped, I didn’t have anywhere to go and I was only metres/seconds from killing a push bike rider and I had to think of an ‘out.’ I’ve always been taught that every driver always needs to have an ‘out’ at all times in case something goes very wrong. It’s a subconscious thing for me nowadays and it has saved many accidents and most probably even a death. One of the cars next to me had sped up closing the gap that was my ‘out’ just before we rounded the corner together. I was left with a life changing choice – try and stop or take my chances with the car next to me. I prayed that the car driving was a local (Brisbane drivers are used to avoiding people who cut them off because they’re lost or driving erratically). I didn’t know if the car had a children in it or a family but the push bike rider would be given a death sentence if I didn’t swerve – so I did. I chanced the car driver’s skills at avoiding my long truck and swerved straight into their lane. We were all lucky that day and I’m so thankful that that car driver was watching and was able to dodge out of my way (I did get a blast of the horn until they realised why I’d done it). I have had a few moments in my career where you just want to stop and cry/composure yourself/stop shaking. I’m glad my truck isn’t the biggest you can get but at 10m+ non-articulated steel you still have so many dangers. With my truck, if I turn before the back axle has passed a certain point then the back few metres of absolute solid steel will flick out and take out anything that gets it its way. To emphasize how strong that steel is – a van drove straight into the side steel of the truck at around 80km and all that the truck sustained was a scratch in the paint! If that push bike rider was closer to the apex of the corner or I was looking in my mirrors then by the time I reacted, swerved it most probably would’ve been too late as he would’ve been killed by the back as the truck turned. Unless you’re in that position and have experienced the fear of almost having no way of stopping your vehicle from killing someone then you can’t fully understand that. This was not the first and certainly not the last time I was put in a such a dangerous position with a push bike rider on the road. As with every traumatic experience you always look back and relive those moments questioning what you could’ve done differently. I know many truck drivers who have been left with some terrible psychological problems from being involved in accidents where someone has died and although they were not at fault they are left to relive the terrible screams of people trapped and dying. Horrific I know! My dad once told me how he attended an accident involving a car and push bike. When he arrived someone was being put into an ambulance and they called his name. He was shocked to see an adolescent male missing more skin than not and it was a friend of the families he had known since the boy was only little. The boy explained that he was riding his bike and had forgotten to look properly and had been hit by a car. He was scared and seeing a familiar face wanted my dad to stay with him (understandably) but once the painkillers were administered the paramedics assured my dad he would be fine and left. In a job where you attend and are sometimes the first on the scene you have to detach yourself from the situation of you would never be able to cope but seeing someone you know, it breaks down those walls that hold back your emotions.
In my opinion push bike riders should not be allowed on our roads and the only reason is because it is just too damn dangerous for them. They are putting themselves at a huge risk everytime they take to the roads. There are many times when you are on the road and not just as a truck driver but a driver of any vehicle when you are presented with a ‘you or them’ situation and although most of those turn out ok there are the ones where the driver has done whatever it took to avoid someone else and for that they perished. It’s human nature to swerve away from another human whether they be in a car, motorbike, truck, on a push bike or even a pedestrian and it that can result in self-sacrifice.
I don’t know if there is a solution to the problem of where people are allowed to ride their push bikes safely but the footpath seems like a much safer idea right now. I really wish I could take each and every single push bike rider for a drive and show them what happens in a situation involving a push bike and truck. There is a stage where you become powerless to do anything to fix the situation and in a truck things like desperately braking and praying you will stop is one of those. You just become a passenger on a de-railing train that can’t be stopped so to speak and all you can do is watch as the nightmare unfolds.
To all those push bike riders – please ride safe and don’t forget how vulnerable you are on the road.