Do drivers make cycling less safe?

Cyclist gets "cut off" by driver (15 seconds)

This important article makes two key points about cycling in Australian cities:

  • The main danger to cyclists comes from drivers
  • The key reason people don’t cycle more is concern about safety on the roads

The article reports on research by Marilyn Johnson, a research fellow at the Monash University Accident Research Centre. She attached a video camera to the helmets of a small number of cyclists and studied their everyday interactions with other road users (see exhibits).

A key finding is drivers are responsible for 87% of road “incidents” i.e. a near-crash where at least one party has to take evasive action. In 74% of those events, she says, the driver cut the cyclist off, turning in front of the cyclist without either providing enough space, indicating effectively or doing a head check.

The behaviour of drivers was safe for themselves and other drivers, but not for cyclists:

The role of driver behaviour in cyclist safety was found to be more significant than previously thought. Previously, the emphasis was on how cyclists needed to improve their behaviour to improve their safety……Drivers need to be more aware of cyclists on the road. It is essential for cyclist safety that drivers look for cyclists before they change their direction of travel, particularly when turning left.

Dr Johnson also cites a joint study by the Cycling Promotion Fund and National Heart Foundation which surveyed a random sample of 1,000 adults nationally about their attitudes toward cycling. According to this report on the study, “overwhelmingly, unsafe road conditions were the No.1 reason why people weren’t using their bikes as transport, followed by the speed of traffic and a lack of bike paths”.

Although the number of cyclists involved in the study to date and the range of environments is small, I think Dr Johnson’s research is highly suggestive. It underlines again the importance of focussing attention on the key issues that affect cycling and of not getting distracted by side issues.

Another one of a cyclist getting "cut off" by a driver (29 seconds)

20 Comments on “Do drivers make cycling less safe?”

  1. Zen says:

    Until my early 20s I rode everywhere, in the left hand side of the lane not down the middle of the road like the second clip and never had a problem. Driving in the last few years particularly close to the city has gone from an “intuitive” task to “intense concentration” with the latest whim of non standard road design (docklands) or road markings (Albert st east melb bike lane/parking).

  2. Jac says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Cycle lanes should be between car parking and footpaths.

  3. In a recent survey by the RAC in West Australia, 91% of people using bicycles said they were afraid of sharing the road with people driving cars.

    I agree with you point of “not getting distracted by side issues”!!!!

  4. Oz says:

    Anyone who can find an existing publicly published comment over the last year from a writer who is not a journalist as well as a regular non cycling car driver who states cyclists have equal rights to road space is invited to a free lunch as my guest at University House. (

  5. “overwhelmingly, unsafe road conditions were the No.1 reason why people weren’t using their bikes as transport, followed by the speed of traffic and a lack of bike paths”

    And all of these have a simple, rather cheap solution. Build bike paths, and as suggested above, build bike lanes between parked cars and the curb, not between parked cars and rapidly moving traffic.

  6. John Smith says:

    The sort of ‘bike lane’ that consists of a 500mm strip marked out right in the car door zone is completely hopeless.

    It’s possibly less safe that nothing at all – it may make cyclists think that they are confined to this most dangerous space, and it may make motorists think they are entitled to zoom past as fast as they like, or to get impatient if a cyclist insists on keeping a safe clearance. No markings at all communicates ‘share the space’ better. It would be interesting to know if there is any research on this point.

  7. mike rubbo says:

    I’ll say it again, Alan. Helmets are not a side issue. I saw you provided a hot link to remind us that you think they are.

    I do hope these researchers will now broaden their work to delve out why it is that drivers in Europe treat cyclists so much better than here..

    You’d think that since cars are the pretty much same everywhere, that drivers would tend do similar behavior. if they don’t, Why not?

    Because of the Dutch law and variants on which Dr. Jan Garrand reported? Basically, under that law, if you hit something smaller than yourself, you are always responsible.

    That would certainly be a big wake up call for drivers here. But what are the chances, honestly, of getting such a law, or anything close, when bikes make up such a small percentage of the traffic here? .

    We are thus trapped in a chicken and egg situation. Without vastly more bikes on the roads, we wont get either the laws or driver awareness, which will make bikes safer. So, how do we get many more bikes on the road anyway to prime the safety pump?

    You got it, Mate! Bike share. Bike share’s the proven turbo charger of utility cycling. In city after city, It has signifigantly upped the numbers virtually overnight and usually done so with no driver education progams and no law changes. . So, how do we get bike share working properly? Boy tossing the albatross. Helmet exemption! Side issue, indeed!

    Oh, a word on Barcelona’s Bicings and their lesson for Sydney. As you probably know , Clover’s Moores’ new separated bikesays are under constant attack by the shock jocks to the point that for a while it looked out the new State Govt might rip them out. The reason, lack of patronage and aggrieved motorists and residents who’d lost space for no good reason.

    Barcelona had the same problem, They’d bult bikeways on hope, and when the two wheel traffic did’n’ materialize, the same sort of pressure began to build. But they had an option Sydney doesn’t have . Bike share.

    They bought in the Bicings and soon the public bikes were doing 35,000 trips a day on both the new bikeways and the roads. Opposition to the bikeways died away. Who could oppose them when they were now so well patronized?

    Poor Clover she cant follow suite because she knows the “side issue” will stymie that solution in Sydney. Meanwhile, the verdict of the Barcelonans on our situation? . In the nicest possible way they say. ” You are crazy!” See, The Bicing Story if you doubt it.

  8. wilful says:

    I’ve had far more problems from attentive drivers, ones who were maliciously willing to at the least assert their ‘rights’ over me (where rights means being armoured in a steel cage), or worse to actually target me as a menace to society, than I’ve had problems with inattentive drivers.

  9. Jeffery Jonesft says:

    I only make the ones’s without helmets and those who ride on the footpath less safe.

  10. John Burke says:

    Addressing Mike’s position vs Alan’s on compulsary helmet wearing I can see both points of view, that is if I have got it right that Alan basically supports the theory of cyclying safety in numbers but feels that its a dead end at the moment.

    Figures from several studies seem to show an increase of between 30-50% increase in cycle commutes without helmet laws. Taking the middle figure of 40% and applying it to the general figure of 1% cycle commuting in Au cities and then rounding off, we are left with 1% still.

    So we need a bigger incentive to get people on bikes here.

    I have come to the viewpoint that many interested people people here are of a geographical disposition to place Australia as a small country somewhere between the Netherlands and Denmark complete with mediaeval heritage buildings and alleyways. Average cycle trips in these civic environs are around 3-5 kilometers, probably 1/3 of the Australian average.

    Our cities were built for cars. Electric bikes are the only likely thing to get cars off the road. I could imagine a 10% increase in cycling in short time, thereby making the “no helmet” policy politically feasable at least and increasing cycle commutes to a rounded off 15%.

    Likewise, nearly all cycling initiatives if measured percentagewise are likely to be 2nd tier relative to E-biking, if safety is indeed in numbers. For example speed reductions would be good for cycling and have been implemented on local scales. But only at the cost of enraging carists and are probably limited to the small percentage of increased cycle trips we could expect from helmet laws. The E-bike could lift cycling speeds in on road cycle lanes, improving personal safety, that of other cyclists by the incremental numbers effect and reduce car antagonism.

    I really think we need to get going on this. As far as the viewpoints of conventional cyclists are concerned, is not the enemy of my enemy my friend?

    • Rob says:

      I don’t understand why you are pushing Ebikes
      hub motors are really inefficient at torque delivery for hills
      my experience of an Ebike was when it went flat I was pushing a motor as a generator and a bike also they come with a warning to not ride in the rain I think the Ebike is a dead loss unless one is designed that can be ridden in all weather and can have motor disconnected when battery goes flat so you only have to push the bike

  11. Felix Acker says:

    One thing from you blog entry I would disagree with is that the sample is small. The number of different riders may be small and thus might not be reflective on the whole how often bike riders are at fault for becoming involved in dangerous situations (after all, the sample participants may have all been highly cautious riders), however, 420 hours of video were collected. That amount is quite ample to draw stable conclusions.

    • Alan Davies says:

      I’d say the quantity of video per rider is important for what you can reasonably say about a particular rider’s experience, but the number of riders matters for what you can reliably infer about the experience of the wider population of cyclists. I think both are required.

  12. Alan Parker says:

    I felt sick when I read about this students death in the Age due to being knocked under the wheels of a truck by a car door (Age 26-11-2011).  I and many others  will want to see the coroners report,  because what is missing in the Age report is was it the front or the back wheels before recommending  sound safety measures.    

    If it was the front wheels the government and community  education campaigns in the Age article will  only partially address that problem. Indeed, the proven experience of  Dutch road planners is that a  maximum speed limits 50 Km/hr. Is needed on all roads with bikelanes.  That is the common practice in Denmark, Sweden, and  much of Germany. The French  love and support there Tour de France  and their own bike riders.  This years winner will testify to that the French government had no problem in approving  a new law making it a driving offense  for divers passing cyclists  with less than  one metre clearance in cities, and 1.5 metre clearance  on rural roads.

     I agree with Jac that any bike lane on busy main roads should between the footpath and the car parking lane and that would saved the students life.

    If the cyclist was killed sliding under the rear wheels the cure comes UK and Sweden by providing “side boards”  between the front and rear wheels. On large trucks side boards prevent  cyclists,  pedestrians,  scooter and motor cycle riders from going under the rear wheels  but this proven safety measure and ignored by Vic roads. Also Jac’s idea adopted in the Netherlands was never considered.  

    Alan A. Parker .

    Former President of Bicycle Victoria. 

    • Alan Davies says:

      I can’t comment on the specifics of this particular case because I don’t know them, but when I drive past a cyclist I always assume that the cyclist could fall and so I provide enough clearance to avoid hitting him or her if that were to happen. If I can’t give them enough clearance I slow down and wait until I can (and drivers behind me just have to put up with it).

      Perhaps in this case the truck driver did all that but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. My observation though is that many drivers simply don’t think about the vulnerability of cyclists.

  13. Reblogged this on equityjusticeaccess and commented:
    Ah, so what i thought when I was cycling to town was actually true… it wasn’t me dolly indeed

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