Will lessons be learned from the tragic death of Zhi Min Soh?

On 31st May 2017, 23yr old medical student, Zhi Min Soh, was killed when she was run over by the driver of a Rabbie’s Tours, Mercedes 16-seater minibus in the centre of Edinburgh, at the junction between Princes Street and Lothian Road.

At the time, there was much speculation that her bicycle’s wheel, which had become trapped in a tram rail, had caused her to loose her balance.  Although the exact cause of her fall will never be known, we do know that after she fell the driver of the bus failed to stop in time and collided with Zhi Min, dragging her body underneath the bus.

One year on, Zhi Min’s parents requested that specialist cycling legal firm, Cycle Law Scotland, investigate a civil claim for damages in a bid to try and get some answers. The family had been informed there would be no criminal case against the driver of the tour bus, but they wanted to understand how their bright, young daughter had been killed on the roads of Scotland’s capital.

Despite the incident occurring during the rush hour, there were no eyewitnesses, nor was there any clear CCTV footage available.  The Road Policing Investigation Report into the collision did not identify any conclusive physical evidence at the scene to explain what had caused Zhi Min to fall from her bicycle into the road.

It was never disputed that the driver of the bus had been travelling behind Zhi Min Soh on Princess Street, the prestigious retail street looking towards Edinburgh Castle, or that he was aware of her being there.  He was however unable to take evasive action or to stop in time.

Cycle Law Scotland assisted in raising a civil claim against the motor insurers of the tour bus, who denied liability stating that the close proximity between Zhi Min Soh and their policyholder’s vehicle did not demonstrate negligence on the part of the driver.  Court actions were subsequently raised on behalf of the family in The Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court.

Although there was no formal admission of liability, the insurers agreed to compensate the family for their grief and sorrow, and in doing so, there was a recognition that there had been negligence on the part of the driver and that negligence had resulted in the untimely death of a young woman which her whole life ahead of her.

Jodi Gordon, Partner at Cycle Law Scotland, commented:

“It is important that we learn lessons from this tragic case. There is no doubt that crossing tramlines poses a hazard to cyclists as do potholes, drain covers and a host of other road surface defects. It is so important to give cyclists room and not just when passing. Drivers must leave room in front to allow a cyclist to cope with a potential hazard safely, as after all, when driving behind a cyclist, remember that you are in control of a potential lethal weapon, capable of causing great harm.

“Whatever caused Zhi Min to fall from her bicycle on the 31st May 2017 may never be known but had she been given sufficient room by the tour bus driver, she would most likely still be here. She would by now have completed her Medical Degree and returned to Malaysia to be with her family.

“Zhi Min’s death was avoidable. The hope is that we learn from this unnecessary loss of life. As drivers, we must learn to recognise the vulnerability of cyclists and the fragility of life as we interact together on the roads.”

Editors comment:

As cyclists, we are repeatedly treated to close passes and having drivers bringing their vehicles far too close to us in cities and towns, but also in the countryside.  Drivers do not take into account how avoidance of debris in the road, potholes, wet and slippery manhole covers and other road features, being hit by cross winds, and of course, tram tracks can alter the line a cyclist may have to take or be forced into.

It is not uncommon to see cars tailgating other motor vehicles and so therefore it comes as no surprise that the same would be done to cyclists.

A bigger gap, a little more attention, a bit more thought as to the ‘what if’ consequences could have saved her life, and many others that are lost on our roads every day.

It doesn’t matter if you’re reading this a cyclist, driver, or both.  Leave room for the unexpected to happen, and ask that others do the same for you.

A comment on tram tracks:

Edinburgh’s tramline is currently being extended further out of the city, and roadworks for the initial phases of this phase of construction are now in place.  Already there has been a demonstrable lack of provisions for both cyclists and pedestrians, but not for cars, to negotiate these works safely.  Only this week have provisions included a very narrow lane, marked by paint, which is barely the width of many handlebars, and which took no account of street furniture such as lamp-posts.

Councillors have subsequently assured the public that action is being taken to safeguard the transit of cyclists and pedestrians, and this specific provision is being re-examined as a matter of urgency.

However, even once built and in operation cyclist are not safe: A report in the The Scotsman, in 2017, the same year that Zhi Min Soh tragically lost her life, said that Edinburgh track injuries had already cost the NHS more than £1million.

The Court of Session ruling relating to Zhi Min Soh was certainly not the first involving the Edinburgh tracks.  On 29th June, 2019, Lady Wolffe found against both Edinburgh Trams Limited and The City of Edinburgh Council, as well as Transport Initiative Edinburgh, in a joint action. You can read the findings here.

Police Scotland have created their own Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with tram incidents, in addition to their normal road traffic accident procedures.

There have been countless incidents as a result of what can only be concluded as poor design in relation to the Edinburgh tram network and its interaction with the accepted cycle network.

Whilst cyclists will welcome measures to tackle climate change, reduce congestion and emissions, by extending the tram network to get more people onto public transport, it has to be recognised that more consideration is desperately required into the provisions for other road users.  These measures need to be in place both during and after construction and account for all road users including cyclists, pedestrian, wheeling, and mobility scooters and wheelchairs etc.

It is also important for cyclists to remember the following advice when coming across tram tracks:

  • expect tracks to be slippery in all weathers
  • where possible cross at 90degrees to the tracks, or the most oblique angle you can
  • if in doubt, get off and walk or select an alternative route

Take care folks.

For more information on Cycle Law Scotland – please visit their website https://www.cyclelawscotland.co.uk

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