Drivers at fault in majority of cycling accidents

Helmet cam study backs up long-held belief

New research from Australia* has shed light on the causes of collisions and near misses involving cycle commuters. 13 adult cyclists in Melbourne were given helmet-mounted video cameras and asked to film 12 hours of commuting each over a four-week period.

In total, 127 hours and 38 minutes of usable footage was obtained. 54 'events' were captured on film – two collisions, six near-collisions (where rapid evasive action by the cyclist was needed) and 46 other incidents (where some collision avoidance was required).

The cameras also recorded the road position and behaviour of the cyclists – including head checks, reactions and manoeuvres. The aim was to identify risk factors for both cyclists and motorists.

In 88.9% of cases, the cyclist had been travelling in a safe/legal manner prior to the collision/near miss. Most happened at or near a junction (70.3%) and most were caused by sudden lane changes by the motorist, with sideswipe the most frequent cause (40.7%).

The motorist was judged at fault in the majority of events (87%), and 83.3% of drivers didn't realise the danger they had put the cyclist in – or at least didn't show any reaction. Riders who frequently looked over their shoulders to check for other traffic were the most successful at avoiding collisions.

While they both happened in cross traffic, the two collisions were very different. One was deemed to be the fault of a motorist, while in the other case the rider was cycling unsafely. In both cases the driver didn't see the cyclist.

Three of the six near-collisions involved trucks, at least five of the drivers didn't see the cyclist, and at least four of the incidents were deemed to be the motorist's fault. The vast majority of all types of incident (87%) happened where there was no traffic control, such as traffic lights or signage. 4x4 drivers were particularly likely not to see the cyclist (85.7%).

The authors of the study concluded that there was a need to improve driver awareness of cyclists and other road users, and to encourage motorists to use their indicators for longer. They also called for greater consistency in cycling facility design. In addition, they highlighted some things cyclists could do to improve their safety on the roads.

These include checking to the left more often (in countries where you ride/drive on the left, the tendency is to look right more often than left because vehicles in left-hand side roads should give way and are thus seen as a lesser threat), riding more defensively around cars and being particularly vigilant when it comes to drivers turning left at junctions, especially if they're in a large vehicle like a 4x4 or lorry.

* 'Naturalistic Cycling Study: Identifying risk factors for on-road commuter cyclists' by Marilyn Johnson, Judith Charlton, Jennifer Oxley and Stuart Newstead at Monash University Accident Research Centre in Melbourne (54th AAAM Annual Conference, Annals of Advances in Automotive Medicine, October 17-20, 2010)

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