A number of answers could be inserted here; ‘benefit’, ‘advantage’, ‘help’ – any would do really. For all we ever really hear about is how good it is to cycle. Take ‘Boris Bikes’, for example; the new(ish) initiative implemented by none other than our very own Mayor to encourage cycling across London – mainly to limit traffic congestion I’m sure, but it was also never going to harm the cyclists-in-waiting’s health. Or was it …
Because recent news actually suggests the very opposite! “Study proves that the ‘final straw’ in bringing on a heart attack is spending time in traffic as a driver, cyclist, or commuter”, one news headline read today, as research citing the main cause factors linked to heart attacks hit the press. And lo and behold, of the three, cyclists face the most danger because they are heavily exposed to pollution whilst exercising – combining two potential triggers of heart attacks.
But before we worry about the cyclists, let us first truly understand the logistics of the rather fragile relationship between the road users. For say what you want about us car drivers; selfish, lazy, and unfit masters of the road – at least we understand our own limits.
And I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t think cyclists do. They weave in and out of moving traffic, sometimes sticking their arms out to indicate which direction they intend to turn, other times just popping out of nowhere, all to ‘beat the system’ which really, no-one even invited them to join.
So yes, not only do they constantly put themselves in harms way of the more destructive vehicles, but as is now clear, they are also exposed to the toxic fumes these vehicles exude. Why would anyone even want to cycle? That’s one rant I’ll leave for another time.
For the more pressing issue, to my mind, is not the health of the poor cyclists, but the health of us drivers. No, we are not exposed to the same dangers as our road opponents, but if heart attacks are the hot topic of the day, then I think it’s high time that I speak for my fellow drivers when I say that the stress of avoiding, swerving, and occasionally knocking over cyclists, is enough to induce any of us into an early coma (and that’s without even taking into account the level of road-rage one musters up when stuck behind a bike). Where’s the article worrying about our health?
We’ve all been there, and it doesn’t matter how good a driver you are. Whether you’re someone like my dad, who, having never been in a car accident previously, recently knocked over a cyclist in the middle of the night because, without any reflective gear, was completely invisible to the naked eye, or someone who might get completely distracted by the clear danger of an A-Z propped up against the dashboard of a motorbike (which I was witness to this morning, I kid you not), they remain a hazard to the best of us.
Do I think cyclists should be taken off the road? Certainly not; I’m not blind-sighted to the pros of riding a bike. I do, however, think that a serious consideration should be made in favour of creating cycle-only lanes, and giving both drivers and cyclists their own road space. After all, there’s our health to think about, too.
If you knew that someone, somewhere, was dying, and you could save them, would you do everything in your power to ensure that they lived? As compassionate human beings, I would hope that everyone’s automatic response to this would be in the affirmative. But what if you were in the middle of your tea; then what? Would you drop your half-eaten biscuit and rush out the room, or would you finish eating?
Or how about if you weren’t personally able to save someone, but you knew of someone who could and had direct access to them? Would you make the call immediately, pushing its urgency, or would you tell the person in need to make the call themselves. Again, pretty straight forward, no?
Well, apparently not. A series of shocking news stories over the past few weeks climaxed yesterday with reports that a 20-year-old university student lay dying outside a hospital because a member of the A&E refused to help, instead telling her friend to call for the ambulance herself.
Needless to say, when the patient was eventually taken into the hospital, after a second friend had to plead with staff once again to send help, she died. As if there had been all the time in the world.
And unfortunately, putting it down to a one-off error simply won’t cover it. In the last month an ambulance worker was disgraced when he refused to respond to a fatal call out because he was on a tea break, and an entire ambulance crew were at fault after a solo paramedic was sent to treat a woman dying in a pub whilst they enjoyed their lunch.
Following the latter incident, a union has voiced concerns over ambulance staffing levels, claiming that it is because of this that these untimely deaths occurred. And yes, to a certain extent, there is definitely something in this, after all, more staff means more (legitimate) breaks.
However, before we jump on the cuts-are-to-blame-for-everything bandwagon (which is becoming so increasingly easy to do), perhaps it’s time that the ambulance staff step up and take responsibility, not only for the errors of their colleagues, but for the vital job which they are so lucky to be a part of.
“It is shocking, absolutely shocking that blind form-filling and red tape could have cost this patient her life”, the co-founder of one patient group chided in relation to the most recent news. However, to my mind what is even more shocking is not that that this kind of bureaucracy was used, but that it even exists in the ambulance sector. For yes, although there are many jobs that it is perfectly reasonable to go with the ‘computer says no’ attitude, this is one area in which it is just completely unacceptable.
When it’s a matter of life or death, wrap your sandwich up and save it for later. Otherwise, perhaps you should give up the day job.
The poor elderly. It seems they can’t go a week without someone commenting on what would be best for them. This week, no less, is the turn of Clare Simpson, the Communications Executive for RoadSafe, who has called for older drivers to go for regular health checks in response to her assessment that they are more likely to make a driving error than younger road users.
And before I go any further, let me please assure you that I am not disputing this suggestion for an instant. I have, for as long as I can remember, questioned the suitability of allowing an 80+, barely-seeing/ hearing old dear on the roads. And although, yes, a large part of this is down to the fact that they just might not be as road savvy as their younger contemporaries, I think there is another, more serious issue at hand.
You see, for all the potential ‘health-problems’ which may put an older driver into jeopardy whilst on the road, it is, in my opinion, the younger driver who poses the real risk against them. Forget failing eyesight and faltering road-confidence, it is the ‘health-problems’ of the young which should really be addressed.
For if the inability to remove your mobile phone from your hand as if it has been surgically attached is not a dangerous addiction (and that’s without even mentioning alcohol), then I don’t know what is.
And I speak for myself, too. I’m not exempt from furiously typing away on my Blackberry in between traffic lights; in fact, it has become so ingrained in my every day routine, that whilst waiting for the police to let me pass whilst directing diverted traffic due to an accident the other week, it didn’t even occur to me to wait a few minutes before using my phone. “Uh…police…car…phone…?”, the policewoman then said to me, as if she was talking to a child. And fair play, it was an incredibly stupid thing to do.
A new study which has just been released also suggests that people who regularly play driving games are worse drivers than those who don’t, claiming they are more likely to speed and go through a red light.
But no, it’s the elderly who should be assessed for driving.
It’s been recently claimed that older drivers may have a heightened awareness of backdrop road-activity, which makes seeing the moving objects more difficult, but I’d take this any day over the heightened awareness of a mobile phone.
By all means provide regular health-checks for the elderly to ensure that they are still road-safe; I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if we really want to look out for the older generation whilst creating a safe driving environment, perhaps we should also take a long hard look at ourselves.