Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Zealot cyclists and zombie pedestrians the real menace to others on roads

Whether we walk, drive or cycle, we all have a responsibility to watch out for each other, says Fionola Meredith

Some people are so immersed in their phones they are oblivious to the world around them
Some people are so immersed in their phones they are oblivious to the world around them

Zombie pedestrians - that's what they're called. The people who are so immersed in staring or tapping at their smart-phones that they become entirely oblivious to the world going on around them, just like the living dead.

Lampposts, kerbs, other people: these are just random obstacles to be bumped into, tripped over, or otherwise ignored.

They are a menace to themselves and everyone else because all their focus is directed on that tiny, demonically-addictive gadget in their hand.

Not surprisingly, zombie pedestrians and fast-moving road traffic are a particularly dangerous combination. This week a yoga teacher who was looking at her phone when she stepped out in front of an approaching cyclist, causing a collision which knocked them both unconscious, won a compensation claim against him, which will likely entitle her to thousands of pounds in damages.

Cyclist Robert Hazeldean had just come through a green light in London rush hour traffic, and when he saw Gemma Brushett suddenly step out in front of him he blared his horn, shouted, swerved and braked.

Too late: the pair collided. Three witnesses told police that Brushett was "not looking where she was going" and the "cyclist was not at fault".

The judge in the case deemed that Hazeldean was a decent guy, and not acting recklessly - he was "courteous and mild-mannered", "a calm and reasonable road-user" - but she said that he would have to pay out nonetheless because cyclists must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways.

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So she halved the responsibility for the accident between the pedestrian and the cyclist, ruling that Brushett would get a 50/50 payout, half the full value of her claim.

My sympathies are all with the cyclist here. What could he do if this heedless woman suddenly appeared, practically under his wheels?

How does it make sense that he is the one forced to compensate her?

And what kind of arrogant entitlement drove her to pursue a compensation claim when she was the one who stepped directly into the cyclist's path due to a blatantly irresponsible lack of care and attention?

Although she suffered a minor head injury and "post-traumatic amnesia", meaning she can't remember anything about the crash, I'm struggling to see this careless yoga teacher as a victim of anything other than her own reckless stupidity.

She made a bad mistake. And now she gets this court-sanctioned payday as a reward?

Of course, it's not just a London phenomenon. Tech-addled zombies are a common sight on our own streets too. The expectation seems to be that the traffic should stop and wait for them as they self-absorbedly shuffle and drift their way across the road, alive only to the bursts of feel-good dopamine going off in their brains.

They are relying entirely on drivers paying due care and attention in an effort to avoid knocking a pedestrian down, rather than their own ability to keep out of harm's way.

Total abdication of responsibility. Narcissistic madness. It's a miracle that so many escape unscathed.

That said, I'd take a reckless pedestrian over a reckless cyclist any day of the week. At least the walking zombies move slowly and don't hurt so much if they bump into you. A speeding, careless cyclist on the other hand can do some real damage - far worse than the minor injury that Gemma Brushett suffered. Cyclist Charlie Alliston was jailed for 20 months in 2017 for knocking down and killing a woman, Kim Briggs, as he careened wildly through east London. Briggs' husband called for a "radical change" in cycling culture and the introduction of new laws against death by dangerous cycling.

While cycling activists claim that the number of accidents between cyclists and pedestrians is relatively small, it's reported that more than 10 pedestrians suffer life-threatening injuries every month when they are hit by people on bikes.

Angry men in lycra on fast wheels - the speed-freak zealots of the otherwise law-abiding cycling world - make life miserable for everyone they encounter. My friend's elderly father-in-law has been injured twice by speeding cyclists on the Lagan towpath.

On the second occasion, the worse of the two, he was clipped from behind by a cyclist and sent sprawling to the ground, skinning elbow, knee and knuckles. The cyclist didn't even bother stopping to help him up.

In the official lingo, cyclists and pedestrians are routinely described as "vulnerable road users".

It makes sense - they are far more crushable than people in cars.

But being vulnerable doesn't absolve them from personal responsibility, and it doesn't entitle them to spread chaos wherever they go.

Zombies and zealots take note.

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