Drivers vs. cyclists
Below is the transcript.
ALEX CULLEN: In Australia’s big cities, it’s the battle of the bitumen cars v cyclists. It’s almost as if they’ve become two tribes, two tribes who have gone to war – the war on our roads. I drive a car and sometimes, I ride a bike. It’s fun and it’s healthy, but it can be frightening too because on one of these rather than behind the wheel the road is a very, very different place. I’ve copped abuse, I’ve had car doors open in front of me, I’ve had drivers swerve in front of me and cut me off. Accidental? Well, sometimes it’s hard to tell, but every single cyclist has a story about their own close call. Wow.
GABBY: What do you think? The sprockets, they’re bent back.
ALEX: Gabby Vassallo didn’t see the car that almost killed her four years ago.
GABBY: That was a wheel, that was round.
ALEX: What sort of a force creates a mess like this?
GABBY: Obviously, a lot! I just parked my car at Cronulla, like I always do, and rode in and the next thing I knew, I was waking up in hospital – and that was weeks later.
ALEX: Kim Wilson did see the car that injured her but had no chance of saving herself.
KYM: A car came behind me and then suddenly just hung a left, like, so sharply – 90 degrees right in front of me. Um, I flew over the handlebars, put my arms out, I heard both arms crack.
ALEX: Kim and Gabby are lucky to be alive. Last year on Australian roads, 33 cyclists died, nearly 3,000 were injured. But it’s not all one-way traffic. For every aggrieved cyclist, there seems to be just as many upset motorists. What is your attitude to cyclists on our roads?
DERRYN: Cockroaches on wheels.
ALEX: In 2008, Gabby Vassallo lived the dream of climbing the same mountains as the riders in the Tour de France. Gabby’s support crew was just as vocal as the crowds who follow the Tour.
GABBY: 100m to go!
MAN: Just a quick word, quick word for the people back at home, La Stupenda.
GABBY: This is a great way to spend your spare time.
MAN: (LAUGHS) Spare time. Look at that form.
ALEX: One year later, Gabby would have an even bigger mountain to climb. Before her accident, she was working for the New South Wales police and training for her first triathlon. What do you love so much about cycling?
GABBY: It’s the freedom. It is the ability to be able to get from A to B but at a slower pace, so you get to see the sights, the sounds, you get to even smell the places you go through, which you don’t get in a car or a bus because it’s usually just a blur on the horizon as you go through. Yes, it’s slightly harder but when you get there, it’s such an achievement to get there and know that you cycled that whole way, so it’s just a fantastic thing to do and it happens to be healthy for you.
ALEX: Then came the early morning training ride that changed everything. It was 2009. Gabby was riding along this stretch of one of the main roads near Sydney Airport. The car slammed into her at around 60km/h. The impact left her impaled on a guardrail with horrific injuries. The driver, 19-year-old P-plater, just couldn’t explain what had happened and told police he simply hadn’t seen her.
GABBY: My right leg, because I was impaled on the barrier, it was partially hanging off, so that had to be sewn back on.
ALEX: Gabby’s leg and her life were hanging by a thread. In the hours immediately after the crash, her parents, like her doctors, feared she wouldn’t survive.
DAD: All I remember is just walking to her bed and the way she looked at us, Polly said, “I think she’s gone.” I…was really, ah…one of your children.
ALEX: Look at it! That was your back wheel. Just a mess of metal and twisted wire.
GABBY: I had brain injury. I tore a hole in my aorta, which is the main artery to the heart, and I’ve got a stent in that. My right arm was completely shattered. I’ve got a plate in that as well. I also had severe weakness to my hand, actually an inability for the hand to work at all. And I broke my back and lots of cuts and grazes, and my left arm was the only untouched limb. And I think that’s all I can remember.
ALEX: How on earth are you still here?
GABBY: I don’t know. I think that’s as much as I can do.
ALEX: Gabby was in hospital for seven months. Then she had to move back in with her mum and dad and learn to walk again.
GABBY: I’ll just try it with that right hand.
ALEX: Ironically, riding a stationary bike was a big part of her rehab, and when she learnt to walk, she then learnt to run. This is Gabby one year after the accident. Your injuries are ongoing. How many operations have you had?
GABBY: Last count, I think, was 15 but I think, because I’ve had another couple since, it’s about 17. Which I have heard of people have had more, but I think they did a lot in one.
ALEX: Cyclists are twice as likely to die on Australian roads than in the UK, where they have 3 times the cars and 10 times more riders. There, there are more bike lanes keeping the two tribes apart, but there’s still plenty of friction…and cyclists are fighting back.
GARETH: Smile for the camera, mate. Oi! I use a camera just in case something happens. I use it to occasionally report drivers that I think are bad.
ALEX: Gareth Williams dobs in at least three drivers a week to the police. He’s 1 of around 500 self-appointed cycling vigilantes, using helmet camera footage to trap motorists.
GARETH: Over the past four years, there’s been four prosecutions, several cautions and maybe several hundred letters sent out to drivers, warning them of their actions.
ALEX: The conflict they’ve caught on camera has been made into a controversial documentary.
MAN: By this stage, I decided it would be a good idea to turn on my helmet camera. So, he stopped the car and he’s getting out and coming towards me and I’m thinking, “What’s gonna happen now?” Wallop. You can see from the expression on his face, he is consumed by rage, he is completely out of control.
MAN: What worried me when I was on the ground was that they were going to start kicking me, because I was a soft target, lying there. But then they got back in the car and drove off, and I’m left sitting on the ground, thinking, “That was rather a surprise for a nice day and won’t my wife be cross?” Over in a flash. Quite stunning, really.
ALEX: One of Gareth’s clips became an internet hit.
DRIVER: Don’t touch my frigging cab, right? Don’t touch my cab for no reason. I don’t care about your damn camera!
GARETH: You don’t know what’s going through someone’s mind – you don’t know if they’re going to, you know, punch you or something like that. You just don’t know. It’s your responsibility to pass me safely.
DRIVER: I passed you safely, you arsehole.
GARETH: You did not.
DRIVER: You decide you want to come and hit my cab. Keep your stupid little camera. I don’t care. Did I over-react? Maybe I did a little bit, you know. Was I in a bad mood? No, I wasn’t in a bad mood. I was going about my business, I was going home.
GARETH: I wouldn’t describe it as a war on the roads, I’d say more a revolution of things changing. We have to share the roads, after all – you know, it’s built for everyone, not just for motorists.
ALEX: And all this sounds self evident to many cyclists but not so to many motorists, who find it self-righteous and self-serving. Among them, motor racing legend Mark Skaife and broadcaster Derryn Hinch.
DERRYN I’m not talking about recreational cyclists, I’m talking about people riding to work and riding home from work. They don’t stop at red lights, they often don’t wear the right gear, they often don’t have lights on their bikes or on their backs and they’re a danger.
ALEX: You argue that they should be registered, just like cars.
MARK: I do. I think that the way for them to be accredited and for motorists to take them seriously is for them to be registered.
DERRYN: I mean, you go out there and you pay $1.50, $1.60 a litre for petrol. A huge chunk of that goes in taxes, it’s used for the roads that they ride on, they use – the whole lot, the whole system – and they should pay for it. The saddest thing is you’ve got these middle-aged men in their lime-green lycra, with their padded cod pieces and their funny little shoes tippy-toeing around cafes in Brighton and South Yarra. It’s pathetic.
ALEX: MAMILs – middle-aged men in lycra.
DERRYN: That’s right, yeah, and they should be extinct..and they should be banned from the CBD.
ALEX: But they do, they have… Hang on, banned from the CBD? They have every right to use that road, though.
DERRYN: No, they haven’t – they haven’t paid a cent for it.
KYM: That is crazy – banning bikes in the CBD? If anything, we should be ban cars from the CBD and take a leaf out of cities like London or a lot of the European cities who say, actually bikes is the way to travel. The Chinese cope with… I mean, imagine if they were all sitting in Cadillacs in the CBD. You’d never move. Is that the world we want to live in – where cars can’t move, there’s pollution, you know, everybody’s sitting strapped in the back of a car? Or would we prefer that people are out in the fresh air, cycling around, getting some movement themselves, not polluting the environment? Really? I think we need to change the way we work our cities. And maybe we need to ban cars from the CBD.
ALEX: For ‘New Idea’ editor Kim Wilson – recovering from her two broken arms after a car sideswiped her bike on this Bondi stretch of road – it’s personal.
KYM: I was wearing visible clothing, I was wearing my helmet, I wasn’t going that fast, I was in a bike lane but still, you can do everything right and accidents still happen.
ALEX: Kim says, and Gabby Vassallo agrees, that for all the argument there’s an imbalance – cars can be lethal, a bike rarely is. It’s time the two tribes called a truce.
KYM: I think it’s really important that we talk about it and establish some sort of etiquette and some rules. Bikes are not going away, cars are not going away and we need to work it out.
ALEX: When will you get back on that bike?
KYM: Oh, I haven’t decided. I’ll be honest, I am mustering my courage. I will do it, for sure, but it’s going to be a tough day. It’s going to be quite challenging, I think, yeah. It’s a bit scary but… but I’ll do it. I will.