Risky Cycling: Not the Problem

December 28th, 2009 by hughillustration

Ghost Bicycle @ 20th/R & Ct. Ave. NW in Memory of Alice Swanson

When there’s an accident involving a car and a bike, many people make the common-sense assumption that risky behavior by the cyclist is probably to blame. Everyone knows that bicyclists all ride without helmets, don’t have the proper lighting, and are running red lights and stop signs with increasing frequency. If there’s an accident, it must be the cyclist’s fault, right?

That assumption is almost entirely false, a new UK study has found:

The study, carried out for the Department for Transport, found that in 2% of cases where cyclists were seriously injured in collisions with other road users police said that the rider disobeying a stop sign or traffic light was a likely contributing factor. Wearing dark clothing at night was seen as a potential cause in about 2.5% of cases, and failure to use lights was mentioned 2% of the time.

Those are some pretty tiny percentages — hardly the type of numbers that would justify a strong police bias towards the assumption of bicyclist guilt in everyday accidents. Meanwhile, the study reports that more than 25% of accidents occur when the motorist strikes the bicyclist from behind — and that figure rises to 40% for collisions that take place away from intersections.

With adult cyclists, police found the driver solely responsible in about 60%-75% of all cases, and riders solely at fault 17%-25% of the time.

This is a study of accidents in the UK, and these numbers would likely shift around some if this same study were done in California. But it’s a pretty good indication that the key to preventing bike accidents and reducing the loss of life on city streets is not to freak bicyclists out about the dangers of biking — insisting they wear hideous florescent outfits and dorky helmets, for example — but to educate motorists about the need to share the road, and build infrastructure that alerts motorists to the presence of people on bikes. Lives depend upon it!

[photo by dbking, CC attribution license — thanks!]

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One Response to “Risky Cycling: Not the Problem”

  1. I wonder if “struck from behind” includes sideswipes from driver miscalculation about available space while passing. Sounds like it.

    One of the big problems with automobile culture is that people have become accustomed to the presence of a large, dangerous object and all it’s inflicted violence–to the point where it’s invisible. If you say “cars are dangerous”, it’s such a boring truism that people won’t absorb the meaning of those words. Sometimes that elaborates into Yes, they are dangerous, so you’re “asking for it” to ride in “their” space, i.e. the public roadways.

    There are so many amazing ways that the human psyche warps to accommodate shitty conditions. Does that make humans blissful or merely ignorant? (Seems like the root of that word ‘ignorant’–ignore–tells all.)