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'All motorists see is a bike... not the person riding it'

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Liam O'Reilly of Bandon Cycling Club at the spot on the Bandon to Dunmanway road where he was hit by a truck. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision.

Liam O'Reilly of Bandon Cycling Club at the spot on the Bandon to Dunmanway road where he was hit by a truck. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision.

Cyclist Liam O'Reilly following his accident

Cyclist Liam O'Reilly following his accident

Liam O'Reilly at the scene of the accident, without traffic.

Liam O'Reilly at the scene of the accident, without traffic.

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Liam O'Reilly of Bandon Cycling Club at the spot on the Bandon to Dunmanway road where he was hit by a truck. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision.

The rotations were gathering pace as beautiful Bandon awoke on a May morning. Liam O'Reilly, a former garda, was a man on a mission - to cycle 3,325km at a rate of 95k a day around the roads of West Cork to raise funds for his sister who suffered a severe stroke just before last Christmas.

But as he and a fellow cyclist reached the Dunmanway road they heard a truck coming from behind.

"The truck was pulling a wide trailer as it came to a bend, we were on the inside by the verge. As the truck entered the bend the trailer came at me fast and I had no option but to go in on top of the ditch and I fell to the ground beyond. I went down with a bang and had cuts to my legs, wrists and hands. I was so lucky that my injuries weren't a whole lot worse," recalls the 54-year-old father-of-four from Innishannon.

"My friend who was with me said he thought I was a goner. Like another few centimetres and the trailer would have caught me and that would have been that," recalls Liam, who says he's flabbergasted by the recklessness of motorists when it comes to the attention they pay to cyclists.

"What's it going to take for us as a society to make the roads safe for all users?" asks Liam. "You know motorists are cowards, they think they own the road and I think truck drivers are getting worse, if anything. All they see is a bike, they don't see the person on the bike. God forbid a group of cyclists will be mowed down one day and everybody will say 'oh we need to treat cyclists with more humanity and respect' but by then, sure it'll be too late. But that's Ireland in a nutshell, a fire brigade nation, we'll only react after the event."

This year 11 cyclists have tragically lost their lives on Irish roads - the highest annual total since 2008. The latest victim was 55-year-old Mary White, who was struck by a bus on the Burlington Road in Dublin on November 17 - she was pronounced dead two days later at St Vincent's Hospital.

"It's not entirely clear why the numbers are up so much this year on last when five cyclists died. It may not be wise to read too much into these figures though as the fraction of cyclists who die on our roads each year is very small in comparison to motorists and pedestrians. There are more cyclists on the road today and this will impact on the figures obviously," says Dr Mike McKillen, chairman of cyclist.ie.

"In general, our roads are very safe and I hope people aren't put off taking to them. Motorists have improved dramatically in Ireland thanks largely to awareness and information campaigns run by the Road Safety Authority (RSA). Sadly though, there will always be some drivers who just won't be told, they won't stop speeding and they won't respect cyclists on the road."

For 33-year-old software engineer Dave Barry, the fact he was wearing his helmet potentially saved his life when he was struck by a car in Templeogue in June 2008.

"It was a bright Saturday morning and I'd just finished training with the Irish Mountain Bike Racing Club of which I was a member and going in the direction of Knocklyon," explains Dave. "I entered a roundabout and needed to take the third exit so around I went. I saw a car out of the corner of my eye at the second exit and I thought he saw me. . . but he didn't."

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The driver collided straight into the side of Dave's bicycle. He fell to the tarmac at speed and his helmet took the brunt of the impact.

"It cracked right down the middle. I was concussed and out of it, I can't remember what happened after I fell, but just remember being taken away in the ambulance to Tallaght hospital," recalls Dave.

He was battered and bruised and many of his teeth were broken but Dave emerged from the accident relatively unscathed.

"I was so lucky but looking back it was the scariest moment of my life, you get this 'fight or flight' feeling as you see the vehicle coming at you but in my case I couldn't get out of the way in time," he told Weekend Review.

Declan O'Donoghue, of the Lee Roadies Cycling Club in Cork, managed to bring the driver of the truck which nearly killed him and five fellow cyclists to court with a fine of €600 being issued.

"There were six of us cycling, all very experienced riders, and we were turning off for Little Island in Cork," explains Declan. "Suddenly this truck took the corner and nearly took all six of us with him - I could feel the straps on the side of it hitting me, that's how close we were to it. Another few millimetres and we'd have been sucked in under the truck."

Declan believes that cyclists need to be ready before they take to the roads. "If anyone really is serious about cycling I'd advise they join their local cycling club where experienced riders can warn them of the dos and don'ts," he says.

And he believes even more needs to be done to make motorists fully aware of the need for keeping a safe distance between themselves and cyclists.

"The RSA ad campaigns are very effective but I think the message that motorists need to allow a distance of 1.5 metres between themselves and the cyclists is still not getting through. In Majorca there are signs everywhere reminding drivers of this, perhaps we need something like that here too", he said.

The new head of the RSA, and Irish Independent columnist, Liz O'Donnell warned that when a vehicle and a bike collide there is always going to be the same loser every time.

"There has been a noticeable explosion in the number of cyclists using the roads and increased numbers means more risk," she said.

"A soon-to-be-published report by the RSA will show that there has been a 59pc increase in injuries among cyclists. Regardless of who is at fault, drivers need to appreciate that if involved in a collision with a cyclist, the cyclist is going to suffer the most."

Cycling Ireland told Weekend Review that over the last decade their membership figures have jumped by an astonishing 620pc and this year there has been a leap of 20pc on the 2013 figure for new members. Over 23,000 cyclists have now registered with the body.

"Hopefully as more and more drivers become part-time cyclists they will be able to keep the vulnerability of the cyclist in mind as they drive, taking more care when pulling out and turning corners," said Heather Boyle of Cycling Ireland.

"All road users must learn to share the space and be able to co-exist together safely."

Just how safe is the modern Irish cyclist?

More cyclists have died on Irish roads this year than in any other year since 2008. But the rate, though tragic, represents a massive improvement on decades past as driver awareness has improved as has the quality of cycling helmets.

In 1998, 21 cyclists died on Irish roads - including six children. By 2006, after sustained campaigning by the Road Safety Authority and the gardaí, that figure fell to just nine. Last year it was down to five despite there being a huge increase in the amount of cyclists on the road as well as increased motor traffic.

In the UK last year, 109 cyclists lost their lives and over 3,000 suffered 'serious injury'. In November 2013, six cyclists were killed on London streets within a two-week period.

It's estimated that pedal cyclist fatalities make up 5pc of the total of road deaths worldwide each year - approximately 60,000 cyclists are killed annually.

The Netherlands is the most cycle-friendly nation on the planet with some cities reporting that 60pc of all journeys involve the bicycle.

With excellent cycling infrastructure, Dutch citizens are encouraged to bike everywhere. They even train their children to ride so they can confidently take to the roads when aged 12, just before they start secondary school.

Only if they pass their traffic exam are they awarded their 'Verkeersdiploma'. Three quarters (75pc) of secondary school pupils cycle to school, rising to 84pc riding for those living within 5km of school.


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