‘Dangerous Cyclists’

I just watched a solo driver in a massive Escalade with too-thin tires (new urban calculation: the thinner the tires, the longer the rap sheet) shout at two cyclists on my street as he passed (driving faster than the speed limit).

Then I came home to read this, from physician Chris Cavacuiti in Toronto, on understanding causality in car-bike collisions. I realize that science and reason often do not reign these days, if they ever did, but it’s nice, once in a while, to find there are people like this, correcting the lazy “bike-ist” misperceptions:

While there is a public perception that cyclists are usually the cause of accidents between cars and bikes, an analysis of Toronto police collision reports shows otherwise: The most common type of crash in this study involved a motorist entering an intersection and either failing to stop properly or proceeding before it was safe to do so. The second most common crash type involved a motorist overtaking unsafely. The third involved a motorist opening a door onto an oncoming cyclist. The study concluded that cyclists are the cause of less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents in this study.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 at 3:49 pm and is filed under Bicycles, Cities. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “‘Dangerous Cyclists’”

  1. Rich Wilson Says:

    And when cyclists are at fault, it’s often because they have a mis-conceived idea about what is safest (riding on the sidewalk or riding facing traffic).

    The other bigs one are riding without lights and riding drunk.

  2. Nick Says:

    Toronto seems to be one of the few places in the world right now that is interested in doing truly factual transportation research, particularly when it comes to cyclists. It’s amazing how much cycling-related “research” has an obvious agenda and doesn’t stand up to a minute’s scrutiny.

    The Toronto coroner’s report from about ten years ago on the causes of death for cyclists is a ground-breaking piece of work, and the only such work in North America I’m aware of. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard a government official say that cyclists shouldn’t be ticketed for running stop signs. Well, outside of Idaho!

  3. Bossi Says:

    Just some food for thought: in many cases motorists are immediately assigned fault in motorist/pedestrian collisions. This means that even if the pedestrian was doing something outright stupid: a review of police reports & crash data may indicate such crashes are 100% the fault of motorists.

    I can’t say I’ve ever had to dwell upon whether or not this would be an issue for motorist/bicyclist collisions, as well. The quality of your data relies heavily on the officer that writes it, and also on the laws which govern an officer’s viewpoint.

    So while collisions could indeed be largely the fault of motorists… always keep a little skepticism in mind until one understands the root foundations of where the data comes from.

  4. Tom Says:

    I agree with Bossi. I would rather rely on anecdotal evidence.

  5. Rich Wilson Says:

    Bob Mionske writes a lot about institutional bias against cyclists. He is of the opinion that cyclists are often faulted incorrectly. In many cases the cyclist isn’t able to give their side of the story, or by the time they are, the report is already written.

    Recognizing that I’m biased on this issue, the evidence I’ve seen indicates that if anything, police reports favor the car driver, not the cyclist.

  6. Tom L Says:

    Dr. Chris Cavicuiti wrote in his article:

    “Many European countries have far lower rates of cycling fatalities than … in Canada …

    They have managed this through a combination of rigorous driver education and training as well as strong law enforcement policies …”

    “Rigorous driver education” in Europe is a key difference compared to driver training in the 50 states. Witness the widespread failure to use turn signals, the prevalence of rolling ‘California stops’, the incredible frequency of red-light runners as well as tailgaters, and the aggressive rudeness of motorists who cut off other drivers making lane changes or trying to safely merge. These are just a few examples of poor, dangerous and even reckless driving behaviors. Talk to any professional truck driver with 10 or more years of experience and they will give you scores of other examples.

    It is just too easy to get a non-commercial driver’s license in the US.

  7. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    I find it incredible that the US has such car-centric laws & that the issue of who’s at fault when a cyclist is hit NEEDS to be debated! I nearly fell off my seat when the jay-walking laws were first explained to me.

    In the UK it is the responsibility of the car driver to not hit cyclists & pedestrians. These are what’s known as ‘Vulnerable Road Users’ – i.e. they can suffer great harm easily from motor vehicles. All vehicle drivers have a duty of care to others.

  8. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    @Rich Wilson – … & when cyclists are ‘at fault’ – how much harm do they cause others compared to when vehicle drivers are ‘at fault’?

    The only reason car-bike accidents are being investigated at all is that they cause severe damage … to the cyclist!

    Is there a study to look into bike-pedestrian collisions? No… because there is no significant problem to look into. The harm is caused when vehicles interact with cyclists & pedestrians.

    BTW – if you’re driving in conditions that would not allow you to see a cyclist (with the built in reflectors that bikes have & general profile) then you are unable to see children, the elderly, someone ill or in distress, debris … so you’re going too fast, slow down!

  9. bowsprite Says:

    I’ve been biking the streets of manhattan for 29yrs, and I say it is dangerous! but it’s getting better.

    It seems safer to bike on the sidewalk, but not in the long run: cyclists need to take to the streets, “reclaim” as Transportation Alternatives say, and I do see more and more cyclists. Motorists will too.

    In NYC, we have haunting, well-done reminders, “Ghost Bikes” memorials erected at points of accidents, tended with plastic and real flowers, with plaques indictating the of the name, gender and age of the victim, and usually stating that the driver was drunk…

  10. HB - Amsterdam Says:

    Sad to read that people like Bossi or Rich Wilson fail to recognize the simple fact, which mikey already mentioned, that when you drive a car you have to take care of all the other more vulnerable road users.

    In the US you basically give a loaded weapon to kids/adults without any real training. And don’t forget that the car is still the most lethal weapon. I don’t know the number exactly, but I believe they are near 50.000 deaths in the US alone per year! And this cold number does not even account for the 100.000s injured, some for live.

    So, don’t be so easy as to blame pedestrians or cyclists for foolish behaviour in traffic causing their own injury or death. As a car (weapon) owner you should feel more responsible for those without a cage constuction to protect themselves…

  11. fred_dot_u Says:

    As a vehicular cyclist in the USA, I’ve been collecting video recorded from front and rear view cameras mounted on my velomobile, posting some of the more “interesting” ones on YouTube and Vimeo. The comments section had to become on-approval only, as the majority of those who posted comments were attacking me for operating in the safest manner possible (and legal here in FL), including accusing me of being a danger to motorists.

    I do not know of any cyclists who have been responsible for killing a motorist, but there are too many articles describing cyclists being killed by motorists.

    Because my speeds are reasonably high, I am well aware of the rights of pedestrians and adjust my operation accordingly. Too many (not all) USA drivers are self-centered, selfish and inconsiderate when placed in a motor vehicle, in my opinion.

  12. DoctorJay Says:

    Cars isolate people from others to the point where the cyclists aren’t human; they’re obstacles and hinderances to where the motorist wants to go. This de-humanization drives the inconsiderate actions of drivers.

  13. njkayaker Says:

    #7 “In the UK it is the responsibility of the car driver to not hit cyclists & pedestrians. These are what’s known as ‘Vulnerable Road Users’ – i.e. they can suffer great harm easily from motor vehicles.”

    I’m going to guess that this doesn’t grant cyclists the freedom to do whatever they want. That is, they might be “vulnerable road users”, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be negligent or careless (and be at fault for their own injuries). (I do cycle, by the way.)

  14. njkayaker Says:

    #12 “Cars isolate people from others to the point where the cyclists aren’t human; they’re obstacles and hinderances to where the motorist wants to go. This de-humanization drives the inconsiderate actions of drivers.”

    I think that the problem in the US is that cyclists are relatively rare things for most drivers. It’s an experience issue.

  15. fred_dot_u Says:

    njkayaker, I’d be willing to bet that bicycle operators might be better trained/educated than counterparts in the USA.

    The rarity of cyclists in the USA is directly related to the lack of skill those on bikes now display, in my opinion. If more people were properly trained in safe cycling practices, there would be more and the safety figures would improve.

    Many people think I’m crazy to be riding in traffic, but I’ve taken two LAB courses in the last two years. Prior to that, I felt I was an experienced cyclist, but then I became a skilled and educated cyclist and my safety increased.

    Few people in the USA would be willing to believe that they should take a class to become a safe cyclist.

  16. Virginia Bicycling Federation Says:

    Does anyone have a link to the “analysis of Toronto police collision reports” being referred to by Dr. Cavacuiti?

  17. njkayaker Says:

    #15 “I’d be willing to bet that bicycle operators might be better trained/educated than [their] counterparts in the USA.”

    I wonder if there is any formal training. I suspect that, since cycling is a normal/regular transportation activity (in the Netherlands, at least), new cyclists learn from other cyclists (maybe, even their parents) and also get more regular experience. That is, the culture might provide the education.

    #15: “The rarity of cyclists in the USA is directly related to the lack of skill those on bikes now display, in my opinion.”

    I think it’s more directly related (in the US): longer distances, cars are relatively cheaper, there’s much more accommodation for keeping/parking cars, and that, in the culture, cycling is a recreational activity. People (adults at least) have to be motivated to ride before they have any motivation to get skill/training.

  18. Jim M Says:

    Something seems fishy about the statistics. Crash causation is not a zero-sum game. Conventional wisdom says human factors (human error, illness, licit or illicit drugs, etc) contribute to 85% of crashes. Road and environmental factors (weather, road design and maintenance, glare, etc) are implicated in 30 to 50%, and vehicle factors are involved in 12%. These add to more than 100% because most crashes have more than one contributing factor. Take for example, a person that goes off the road while speeding in the rain on bald tires. One crash, three factors.

    I could believe that drives made mistakes in 90% of crashes where human error played a role, but that doesn’t mean cyclist error only accounts for 10%. There are many different ways that both road users can make mistakes that contribute to the crash.

  19. Jim M Says:

    #7, most states in the US have a “Due Care” law. For example, NY’s law says in part:

    …every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist, pedestrian or domestic animal upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary…

  20. azbikelaw Says:

    I, too, was drawn to the remarkable claim that “The study concluded that cyclists are the cause of less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents in this study”

    if you scroll down there is a correction added a couple of days ago… “Dr. Cavacuiti has asked us to make readers aware that the Toronto Collision study was actually designed to look at the cause of bicycle/motorist collisions but not culpability. It is actually several studies conducted by the Charles Komanoff and member of the Right of Way organization in New York that concluded that concluded that cyclists were strictly culpable for less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents.”

    One of the things I’ve noticed in looking at bike-car collision stats for our city (Phoenix, AZ) is that on crash reports police apparently code a large number of “Other” violations for bicyclists compared to motorists (the ratio is like 5 to one!). It is my suspicion that the police in many cases just feel that the bicyclist must have done something wrong.

  21. Ed W Says:

    Tom…go read the update on the university website, and then read Komanoff’s study on Cars Suck. Click on Research/Killed by Automobile. I think you’ll agree that his study is more on the order of propaganda that research.

    And please update your post afterward. Well meaning people jump on something like this, yet such an obviously biased report only serves to increase conflicts on our roads. It may make headlines, but it doesn’t serve the very real needs of cyclists.

  22. njkayaker Says:

    #19 “most states in the US have a “Due Care” law. For example, NY’s law says in part:”

    Yes. Even without an explicit law, that duty exists. To put it another way, to assume that drivers don’t have such a duty (even implicitly) is absurd.

  23. mikey2gorgeous Says:

    @njkayaker … yes, ultimately the courts can decide the culpability & motorists are not penalised for things they cannot have prevented. However, the law clearly places the duty of care onto the motorist and as such leaves the court unhindered when blame is ascribed to a motorist.

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