Cyclist hit by car challenges police over fine, video evidence

The video starts off like any other typical workday ride.

A cyclist is riding along the road, glancing over his shoulder to check on other vehicles, when a white jeep flashes past.

Suddenly, the car's side mirror knocks him from his bike, sending him tumbling to the ground at high speed. As the camera comes to rest, you can hear the cyclist's screams of agony. His upper leg has been shattered.

This video is gaining traction on social media after being posted by the Brisbane cyclist who claims Queensland police fabricated his testimony on the official crash report, in the course of fining the driver of the car one demerit point for "following too closely".

It comes to light at a time when cycling advocacy groups are renewing a national campaign for a minimum passing distance law, following the death of cyclist Richard Pollett in similar circumstances.

Craig Cowled, 38, who lost 1.5 litres of blood while spending seven hours in surgery, remembers the events leading up to the incident clearly, including an early premonition of danger.

‘‘As I was approaching a set of lights ... a white car came very close to me,’’ Mr Cowled said. ‘‘It unnerved me a little but sometimes you shrug off these close passes and move on.’’

Mr Cowled said he started off again, ‘‘really putting my head down’’, taking a legal position in the middle of the left lane and staying out of a turning lane while constantly doing ‘‘head checks’’ over his shoulder for following cars.

‘‘It came as a real surprise to me when this [white] car moved into my field of vision and suddenly I was hit. The bike went out from underneath and I slammed down onto the road.’’

Although he was in tremendous pain at the time of the incident, he clearly recalls passers-by creating a safe space around him and the speedy arrival of an ambulance. The police arrived and took a statement from the driver of the vehicle that had hit him, but Mr Cowled says he was rushed to hospital without speaking to them.

‘‘I had a compound fracture right through my femur - the thigh bone, the biggest bone in your body - it was fractured clean through,’’ he says.

He praised the ‘‘amazing’’ skills of the medical staff at the Royal Brisbane Hospital who inserted a titanium rod through the length of the bone, and reattached his leg to his hip joint.

While he was in hospital, a police officer visited but he was in treatment. He was later told the officer had merely come to tell him the location of his bicycle, which had been damaged in the crash.

When he was released from hospital almost a week later, Mr Cowled called police to give a statement and show them his video footage of the incident.

In a letter he delivered on Friday to the office of the Queensland Commissioner of Police, Ian Stewart, Mr Cowled details what happened next.

After leaving several messages and getting no reply, he eventually made contact.

"The officer advised me that I was not required to make a statement as the matter had been finalised," he writes. "I was very surprised and asked several times, why not?"

Mr Cowled said he was told that the driver been charged with a traffic offence. The officer would not tell him what the charge was, but told him that he should be happy that police had found 100 per cent in his favour, which would help to facilitate his personal injury claim.

A few weeks later Mr Cowled received a copy of the police report via his solicitor.

He was amazed to find that a statement had been filled in on his behalf, in first person speech. Inaccuracies included an entry that he had been cycling for recreation - he was in fact en route to work. Much of the statement attributed to him contains the same information as the statement given by the motorist who hit him. It ends by saying: "I have been struck by a vehicle on my right. I have then hit the bitumen and was instantly in pain."

The driver’s statement in the report said he had seen the cyclist up ahead, and had noticed him when nearly overtaking him at the earlier intersection. The driver said he was ‘‘trying to go around [the cyclist] in the lane’’ and ‘‘his bike has clipped the car’’.

The report concludes that the driver of the vehicle ‘‘has seen a bicycle up ahead and attempted to overtake ... and not left enough space’’, thereby causing a collision. This was judged as requiring a fine of ‘‘follow too closely’’, with the recommendation that ‘‘no further action be taken’’.

‘‘In all honesty, I feel I have been brushed aside on this issue,’’ said Mr Cowled, a PhD candidate with three sons under the age of six. ‘‘It’s galling.’’

He has sought legal advice, and hopes that his letter to the Commissioner will spark an investigation into police handling of the matter.

Police told Fairfax Media on Monday afternoon the matter was the subject of an internal inquiry.

‘‘The Queensland Police Service is currently making inquiries in relation to allegations that have been raised to the police handling of an investigation where a cyclist was injured on Kingsford Smith Drive,’’ police said in a statement.

‘‘Those allegations have been forwarded to the Ethical Standards Command and this matter is now the subject of an internal inquiry.’’

Mr Cowled has been told it may take a year for him to recover full mobility, and there is a chance he will need a hip replacement. Six weeks later, he is still taking strong medication to manage constant pain.

The incident has come at a time when cycling advocacy organisations are campaigning for states to adopt laws that enforce a minimum distance for cars passing bicycles.

Sean Sampson of the Amy Gillett Foundation, which is campaigning under the slogan "a metre matters", said: "This incident highlights the need for change to create a safer environment for bicycle riders, the type of behavioural and legislative change that can be delivered through the introduction of minimum passing distance laws."

After months of public hearings and requests for submissions, a government inquiry into cycling in Queensland was completed last week. It is due to deliver its findings on November 29.

The inquiry follows a court case over the death of Mr Pollett, a virtuoso violinist, who was run over by a truck while cycling on Brisbane's Moggill Road in September 2011. In May this year, a jury found the truck driver was not guilty of any offence under the available laws.

Twitter: Michael O'Reilly

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