My car was involved in a collision with a teenaged cyclist this morning. As far as I am aware she's shaken but OK, with little worse than a nasty graze to show for the incident. Nothing I'm particularly proud of but fortunately in the view of the police officer who interviewed me it was a fairly unavoidable accident caused by another motorist making a sudden risky manoeuvre hiding me and the cyclist from each other's view. I'm a cyclist, pedestrian and motorcyclist as well as a motorist, and turning it over in my head I can't imagine another outcome. The cyclist wasn't doing anything bad crossing the road in the context of what she could see and I was using a road I've used thousands of times in the last twenty years. My reaction times, good brakes and in the view of the police officer non-excessive speed meant she lives to ride another day.
What did shock me though was the actions of other motorists. I'm a man driving a small hatchback. It's a 5-door family model that has a small economy engine chosen for diesel MPG rather than BHP so it's no sports car, but to them I was obviously a reckless young baby killer in a hot hatch. So they proceded to paint a picture of the incident so ludicrous in its level of malicious falsehood that the policeman said in as many words that he was far more interested in the facts of what had really happened.
It started when I got out of the car. I suddenly had this crazy woman from another car haranguing me. Sorry love, I've just been involved in an accident, I don't need a silly bitch screaming at me. In fact the girl who's just limping to the side of the road doesn't need it either. Shouty woman was lucky, I'm sure someone other than me might have engaged with her as aggressively as she did and she wouldn't have liked that.
Meanwhile I went over and made sure the girl was OK. Her mother was there and turned out to be a lovely lady who had seen the whole thing and said in effect "Don't worry love, I saw what happened and you weren't to blame". Thank you very much for that, I can't express how much that meant to me.
I could see several other motorists who had stopped, discussing it amongst themselves. This was where it started to become scary. I could hear them going over what they had happened, sharing tidbits and embelishing their stories. By the time the police arrived I heard them saying the most outrageous things in their statements, turning an everyday Oxford manoeuvre into something from a particularly boisterous touring car race. I had it seemed swerved around all over the road at an impossible speed, narrowly avoiding killing them all before moving down a helpless child. As I said to the policeman when he came to me, I considered those things to be barefaced malicious falsehoods that I would vigorously contest, and I was able to easily and quietly demonstrate both my lane discipline and with my relatively short stopping distance, evidence of my lack of excessive speed. I consider the fact that the policeman informed me that he would not be recommending any further action as vindication of my actions and if I hear any more credance being given to the lies I will vigorously defend myself.
But I can't help being worried at how close I came to getting into trouble based on someone else's malicious falsehood. In effect, those people made up some lies with no consideration of the effect it might have had on their target. As I told the policeman I am completely certain they wouldn't like someone doing it to them.
I am well spoken, approaching middle age, and the driver of a spectacularly unexciting car. By telling the truth I was able to foil any lies and describe what had happened to the satisfaction of the policeman who interviewed me. But what if I had been driving a performance car? What if I had been a so-called "chav", a non English speaker, or perhaps from an ethnic minority? Would I have had the same experience? I hope the answer would have been a "yes", but I can't help think my path would have not been so pleasant this morning. I also can't help thinking that people who are so ready to lie to put someone in my position in a bad light are not helping either justice or themselves, and that there should be some form of censure for people who do that. Because without it. we're all at risk of being accused of the most outrageous things. Me, you, those lying motorists, everybody. Do you feel comfortable with that? I certainly don't.