Burry Stander – A life not wasted

We are still reeling from the news of last Thursday, 3 January 2013. Countrywide, there has been a groundswell of pro-cycle-safety activism, ranging from Burry Stander Memorial Rides in virtually every major centre, to impassioned letters to the newspapers, to unfortunate vitriol on social media sites. Burry’s passing has not gone unnoticed outside the cycling sphere, either. Bafana Bafana has shown respect, Giniel de Villiers is hammering the field at the Dakar rally with a picture of Burry taped inside his car. The minister of sport has even got involved. Which is all wonderful, and testament to the incredible impact he had in a tragically short life.

But now we need to take the momentum that has been gained here and ensure there is some concrete progress made in the ongoing fight for cycle safety. And the challenge is frighteningly immense. Something like 1200 people (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) die on South African roads every month. I wasn’t great at maths back in the day, but I think that means that every 20 minutes, a family loses a loved one. That is insane. Unfathomable.

And, as cyclists, it is not hard to see why. We tend to be more aware of our surroundings than the average motorist, mainly because it is in our best interests to be. And, for every ‘you guys always ride two abreast’ dinner-party argument we hear, we can all hit back with a dozen or more stupid-motorist stories from our most recent ride. A lack of simple civil obedience and common courtesy is what is killing 40 people a day on our roads. 70 in a 60 zone (we know the road, it is safe!), checking messages on our phone, boasting to our mates how we talked our way out of a traffic fine: we are all guilty of it to some extent. It is a national sport.

The much-vaunted 1.5m law that is being pushed through will do a lot to help. Yes, I know you will now ask how it will be policed if they can’t keep up with all the current level of offence, but that is not the point. It is about consequence. With this in place, it will be a simple equation: you hit a cyclist, you have broken the law. Currently, I don’t think the courts have the power needed to prosecute, it is too easy to negotiate your way out of a prosecution, but with this in place, I suspect that will be a lot more challenging. What could be argued away as a mistake, or a lapse in concentration, is now a criminal act.

Now we need the government to push an education plan for motorists, around this ‘new’ piece of legislation. TV, radio, newspapers, the works. As an exercise in preaching tolerance and awreness, I think the entire road-user community will profit from one small law change.

So what can we do now, to make a difference for tomorrow?

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we need to behave impeccably. Beyond reproach, no matter how badly those around us are behaving. Stop at traffic lights and stop streets. Ride single file. Indicate, show intention, interact and be pleasant in the traffic. Ride in smaller groups – keeping single file – that don’t clog the traffic. Ditch the back-up vehicle and this strength-in-numbers fallacy – all we are doing is fighting law-breakers by breaking the law ourselves. (I know this statement will make me unpopular, but that is how I feel…). Two-abreast for ‘safety’ might get you home in one piece, but what about the next rider the motorist you held up comes across? Will he be so lucky, will the tin-can-pilot have clamed down by then?

Even if we are in the right, and a motorist has made a mistake, it really is pointless getting angry and educating old-school. A smile and a thumbs-up is infinitely more powerful than a middle finger and a reference to his mother. The next cyclist he sees, he will probably think a split-second longer about. That is all it might take.

  • Dean

    I think that the “you are breaking the law” argument, while well intentioned, has little effect on Saffers. I feel we need to go the “how would you feel if you caused the death of another human” more emotional route.

  • MakeYourSelfVisible

    If such a law is going to be imposed shouldn’t there be an onus on the cyclist to ensure he/she is highly visible? The chance of seeing someone in a high visibility shirt is much higher than someone wearing a black branded top. Sadly how one looks on a bike seems to be as or more important than staying alive which is why very few cyclists wear high vis clothing.

  • Responsibility on the roads begins with ourselves as you say. The irony of watching most cyclists during the Durban Memorial Ride on Saturday evening ride through stop streets and robots plus seeing too many without helmets, was a sad indictment of road cycling mentality. How do they believe others should obey the National Transport Act if they don’t? There’s a need for them to learn to drive their car/truck responsibly too, just as they would vehicles be driven when riding their bikes on the road.

  • Mark

    The key is respect. Respect for the rules of the road, respect for the law and respect for each other. The guy riding the bike with no helmet is the same guy driving the car with no seat belt, hes an asshole in general, nothing to do with the bike between his legs. Respect is key, a few seconds of your life isn’t worth the rest of someone else’s.

  • Andrew Kummer

    Nice one Tim. I agree. I am a life long cyclist – but sold my road bike years ago after too many near death experiences with morons in metal boxes, Yet I have zero respect for the riders who arrogantly flout the road rules, running through red lights, stop streets, bunches riding 3-4 abreast and blocking the lanes etc. Idiots. Never mind how the motorists behave… .As Gandhi said, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. It starts with us, We need to lose the ‘Holier than thou attitude’.