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Top risks to riders

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There are many confident riders who have the knack of identifying the risks on the roads, and who have developed good riding practices to manage the uncertainty that shadows every vulnerable road user. But are riders totally responsible for their welfare, or do other road users, and roads management authorities, also have an obligation get us home each day? Simon Vincett investigates.

Most people think that when they ride on the road the greatest danger is behind them—that they could be rear-ended. However, the statistics tell a different story: there’s more risk ahead and to the side, and intersections are where most collisions occur. So what are the most common collisions for bike riders?

Victoria has high bicycle usage relative to most of Australia and the longest history of all the states and territories of collecting and classifying crash statistics. So Victorian crash stats, as they are known, provide a good guide for bike riders.

Cyclist-crashes-by-DCAThe graph here shows the 30 most common types of crashes, of all degrees of severity, involving bike riders in Victoria in the ten years from 2002 to 2012. The figures also show the proportion each crash type represents within the total of all crash types.

The names of all the types do not clearly explain how the crash occurred, so a close look at the top 11 with their official diagrams is the best way to devise strategies to best deal with the risk. These top 11 accounted for 77% of bike rider crashes in Victoria in the ten years of 2002 to 2012.

Intersections—where roads users cross paths and merge—account for seven of the top 11 crashes. This is despite road signs, traffic lights and driver’s licence examinations. It seems the inevitable give and take of sharing the road can test drivers’ cognition and control,  leading to collisions. If road users are distracted or inattentive, or they have a poor understanding of the road rules, the likelihood of crashes rises.

Nine of the 11 most common crash types— right through, cross traffic, dooring, from footway, emerging from driveway, left turn swipe, lane side swipe, right near and left near—are problems of one road user failing to acknowledge the rights of another.

While this can be a failure to pay attention, the Victorian Government is convinced that the mood of road users plays a major role.

In April this year, VicRoads launched the three-year road safety strategy, ‘Travel Happy: Share the Road’, which aims to bring a new mood to Victoria’s roads—a caring, sharing, and above all, happy disposition.

The campaign will focus on the impact that mood and driver behaviour can have on road safety. Road users are encouraged to be happy and smiling rather than snapping and snarling.

A recent survey of 1,000 road users undertaken by VicRoads found that:

  • 70 per cent say the behaviour of others on the road impacts their mood;
  • 46 per cent of frustrated or angry road users attribute their frustration to other road users;
  • Only 47 per cent of road users feel happy on their daily commute.

Many road users are putting their urgency to get somewhere over their treatment of others, according to the campaign.

Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Luke Donnellan said: “More than five million Victorians use our roads every day, and we want to make sure they are doing so in the safest environment possible.”

“All road users, regardless of their mode of transport, will benefit by being aware of their behaviour on the road.”

“Road safety is everyone’s responsibility, and we want all road users to share the road and be mindful of others.”

The three-year campaign will be rolled out in four phases with each targeting individual road user groups.

69903_ComplimentAmong the messages in the VicRoads “Travel happy” campaign for bike riders are:

Choose your route thoughtfully

Rather than using arterial routes, take parallel roads and back streets as they can be quieter and more pleasant to cycle along.

Hook turns

Doing a hook turn at an intersection is a safer way for bikes to turn right while keeping the way clear for other road users (unless posted otherwise).

Be aware

Always check and scan the road so that you know what’s going on, particularly at intersections, roundabouts and when crossing slip lanes.

Use hand signals

To keep other road users in the know, use clear hand signals as often as possible to indicate your next move.

Obey the rules

As a fellow road user, bike riders are governed by the same rules as other vehicles, including stopping at all red traffic lights and stop signs.

Steer clear of distractions

Keep your mobile phone hands-free and cycle unplugged so that you’re aware of your surroundings.

Stay visible

You can often disappear in the blind spots of larger vehicles and are trickier to see at night. Smart positioning on the road, lights and reflective gear are a must.

Sharing is caring

On shared footpaths remember to give way to pedestrians. Let them know you’re there, slow down and leave them plenty of room.

Wave

A friendly wave is a simple and effective way to make connections on the road and say thanks.

For more info, visit www.travelhappy.vic.gov.au.

Dr Cameron Munro, a traffic engineering expert and principal with CDM Research, offers another perspective—one that focuses on the character of the roads we use.

“People become obsessed with the legal side of things,” he contends. “They say that if everyone read the road rules we wouldn’t have any of these problems. Well that’s not human behaviour. Humans are looking at the road and seeing the visual cues, the physical cues, the signs, to understand how they ought to behave.”

“A road that looks like a runway invites people to do 80km/h on it, though it’s a local road with a 50km/h limit,” he says. “We get a lot of these roads where the physical cues, road signs and road rules are inconsistent with each other.”

“At slower speed the vulnerable are more likely to be seen,” Munro argues. “Best practice is to reduce speed to 25km/h at least 40m before the intersection, depending on the intersection. This helps with the two important aspects: crash frequency and crash severity.”

Bike riders must slow down in a variety of different situations as well to minimise the risk of collision. However, slowing down bike riders is not enough to remove risk says Munro. He argues that, in a practical sense, you can’t go slow enough to avoid collisions altogether: “Take a busy road that’s renowned for dooring. If rode down that at 15km/h, you can be at the rear bumper of a car when the door opens and you would still not be able to respond in time. The human capacity and physics work against us.”

“Vigilance, trying to predict what’s going to occur, riding defensively is the prudent thing to do,” he continues. “But I would caveat that be saying that a lot of these things happen in such a short period of time that the notion that a good rider or a good driver can avoid collisions is somewhat moot. We have limitations on our human capacity to see something happening ahead of us, mentally respond and then physically react to brake or manoeuvre in time.”

To Munro the guiding principles in reducing road crashes come from a ‘safe system’ approach to traffic engineering, such as exist in Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. In such a system, human failings are anticipated and solutions such as separated bike lanes are devised to mitigate the mistakes that people inevitably make.

“There are certain things riders can do to reduce the risks but they can by no means eliminate the risks,” explains Munro. “In order to eliminate them we need a complete transformation of the way in which the road system operates.”

This transformation needs to be built on good evidence, such as crash stats. Though the current system provides valuable data, it is estimated that 80% of crashes involving bike riders, including serious crashes, are unrecorded. VicRoads, the holder of Victorian crash stats, is reviewing the system with the aim of streamlining Police and hospital reporting into its records.

Munro also queries the validity of the single-DCA-code data as an adequate planning tool. “When you actually look at the police record with the description of what actually happened, quite often there are doorings that are happening in other codes, for instance ‘out of control on the carriageway’,” he suggests. “If you’re riding down the street and a courier opens his door, you don’t actually physically collide with the door but you go across the tram tracks and come off. That’s really common and that will be coded as ‘out of control on the carriageway’. Perhaps that should be coded both as a car dooring crash and as an ‘out of control on the carriageway’ crash.”

As a regular bike commuter, Munro is pragmatic: “The future is getting serious about speed limits and the safe system approach to designing our traffic systems. In the meantime, we need early lights for riders and physical separation.”

Safe system has now become the bedrock of road safety at the national and state level in Australia, but the influence of this new way of thinking has been slow to percolate.

The Top 11 risks to riders

Right through

Right-through-DCAThis most commonly occurs when a motor-vehicle traffic is backed up but a bike rider is travelling unimpeded up the left. Adjacent to a side street the motor vehicle traffic leaves a gap and a driver coming from the other direction turns right through the  gap to access the side street and fails to give way to the rider.

The solution is to be aware of gaps in backed up traffic, slow down well before any gap and watch for a driver turning through the gap. Often this situation is complicated by a driver in the stalled car just before the gap waving the right turning driver through, making them slightly less careful with their scanning.

Approximately 10% of right-through crashes involve the bike rider making the right turn and being hit by a car coming straight ahead. In this case the rider should not make the turn unless they are sure they can complete the turn in the space and time before the on-coming car. Better still use a hook turn. Bike riders can make hook turns at any intersection (unless a sign prohibits them).

Cross traffic

Cross-traffic-DCAThis crash type captures any situation where the bike rider is travelling straight ahead and a driver travelling in a straight line across the line of the rider crashes into the rider. This could occur at traffic lights, a give way sign or any minor cross road where both parties are intending to travel straight ahead. The code does not capture the information of which party is at fault.

The solution here is to give way or stop at signals as required. If there is no give way sign or traffic lights, riders need to be very observant and ride defensively, which in this case means being ready to stop if there’s any risk of a collision.

Dooring

There’s no ambiguity of who’s at fault here: anyone opening a vehicle door is legally obliged to check that they will not impede anyone coming past.

The best practice is to stay wide of the door zone (the space a door will occupy when opened). That might mean that you must ride in the main traffic lane. If you must ride in the door zone, scan the parked cars for signs that anyone is about to open a door. Be ready to stop. Do not swerve into the path of passing traffic.

Protected bike lanes are designed to move bike away from the door zone and will reduce this risk as more and more are built. Think about whether you can change your route to reduce your exposure to people opening vehicle doors.

From footway

From-footway-DCAThis crash is most likely to occur as a result of riders, often children, on the footpath crossing a side street and a car fails to give way. Drivers must give way to cyclist riding on the footpath, the same as they must give way to pedestrians. All cyclists in QLD, TAS, NT and ACT can legally ride on the footpath and across Australia children under 12 years old and adults accompanying them can legally ride on the footpath.

Despite having right of way, riders need to act defensively in this situation and stop if a car does not look like it’s going to give way. Children riding with adults need to agree to stop at each street crossing and proceed only when given the go-ahead.

In another scenario, if a rider leaves the footpath mid-block to join the road and is hit by a car, it is the rider that has failed to give way. Note, there is a separate classification for a collision resulting from emerging from a driveway.

Emerging from driveway

Emerging-from-driveway-DCAThis situation is another that is particularly a risk for footpath riders (see ‘From footway’ above).  It most often involves a driver failing to give way to a passing bike rider as they emerge from a driveway.

Many driveways make it very hard or impossible for drivers to see passing traffic as they emerge. Riders need to assume that a vehicle could come out of any driveway they pass and be ready to stop. Ringing your bell before crossing the driveway can help as well.

In approximately 12% of instances of this crash type, it is the bike rider emerging from the driveway that fails to give way to passing traffic.

Out of control

Out-of-control-DCAThis classification is possibly a catch-all for a lot of different scenarios but it most likely describes a situation where the bike rider has crashed and no other road user is involved. This could be due to a slippery, rough or pot-holed road surface; tram or train tracks; poor control by the rider; inattention by the rider; alcohol or drug impairment; or a variety of other factors. However, it is possible that the rider could lose control while avoiding a dooring; a vehicle that has failed to give way; or some action by a second party.

Left turn side swipe

Left-turn-side-swipe-DCABike riders are allowed to overtake other vehicles on the left but this often causes confusion at intersections. The Australian Road Rules state, “The rider of a bicycle must not ride past, or overtake, to the left of a vehicle that is turning left and is giving a left change of direction signal.”

In practice, who gives way to who can be challenging to determine and negotiate. If a rider is level with the driver of a motor vehicle, the driver will usually let the rider pass before turning. Riders must be very wary and ready to stop if the driver does not give way though. Make sure you communicate that you are stopping to the riders behind you, so they don’t run into you.

When you’re behind level with the driver and they are ready to turn and indicating, you should give way and let the vehicle turn in front of you.

Lane side swipe

Lane-side-swipe-DCAWhen a driver fails to leave enough room when passing and collides with the rider it is recorded as a ‘Lane side swipe’.

While mostly out of the rider’s control, the best management of this risk is with lane position. For instance, when the space is too tight for a vehicle and bike to travel side-by-side, the rider must move out and occupy the whole lane until there is room again for a vehicle to pass. This is a recommended strategy for roundabouts, for instance, and it applies to all situations where lanes are narrow.

Being this assertive is difficult for some riders, however, particularly for riders with a slower average speed and for women, who tend to receive more aggression from drivers. An alternative is to pull over to the footpath and walk the bike until the riding conditions are less challenging.

Rear end

Rear-end-DCAAt number nine, and representing 4.9% of all crashes involving cyclists in this data set, comes the dreaded rear ender. It’s understandable that this situation is a bogey in bikers minds—it’s natural to be scared of the unseen and unknown. This crash occurs most often on rural, high-speed roads when driver distraction and inattention have more devastating effects. Often the perpetrator claims to have been temporarily unable to see the rider.

Some riders favour a powerful rear light as an aid to this situation—some lights have a daytime setting, which is an ultra-bright flashing mode. Research into distracted driving suggests this technique may be limited in effect.  A good strategy is to ride on the shoulder of the road, providing there is a shoulder and it is in a rideable condition.

Right near

Right-near-DCAHere’s another instance of intersection confusion. There are two main scenarios where a bike rider can come unstuck.

In the first, it is the driver that has to give way but does not allow enough time for rider to complete the right turn. In the second, the rider has to give way but misjudges the opportunity to turn right and rides into the path of traffic. Both serve to demonstrate that we all need to slow down a little and give our fellow road users the time they need.

Left near

Left-near-DCAThis particularly occurs where drivers have a slip-lane to turn left. The extra speed allowed by the wide arc of the slip-lane discourages deceleration and reduces the time and angle for adequate scanning. So even though the vehicle emerging from the slip-lane must give way, they don’t in this case and hit the bike rider going past.

The only thing the rider can do is scan carefully, ride defensively and be ready to stop to avoid a collision.

Another scenario leading to this crash type is where a rider fails to give way when turning left. The solution is not to turn left when a vehicle is passing but wait until it has gone past and the way is entirely clear.

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

One thought on “30”

    1. Possibly and worth having, but you can’t always be looking in a mirror and a car doing 80 is unlikely to be avoidable. Then there are the vast blind spots on any mirror, especially on bike ones.

  1. As a rider I can’t believe how many riders wear all black. Its the colour used by tactical squads like SWAT etc to blend into the Urban environment . In fact I think the large teams like SKY etc. should be included in a campaign to have tops that are more visible eg Lampre, Tinkoff Saxo

    1. I used to think this too, but many roads are a light grey colour, and the black shows up well in contrast during the day, particularly with a light coloured stripe or two on shoulders or arms and helmet, etc. This makes a cyclist visible enough, IMO. Not at night though, where a light colour and reflective stripes are obviously better than black, although it is often said that a good light is better than an acre of tinsel.

    2. Yep, you may as well be riding around in a ninja suit. I’m also surprised at how limited the range still is for non-fuggly hi-viz kit – the LBS wins hands down over the internet shops on this one.

  2. No mention of crash’s due to incorrect construction by city council. Chicane with 50 mm pipe not coloured, not seen, straight over the top. Shoulder popped out.

  3. Great article – thanks! I’ve found riding the exact same route to work everyday is helpful. I know where to ring my bell, I know where things are dicey.

  4. You missed out one very important scenario – the rider who has earphones stuck in their ears listening to music. Or do those who are in accidents not want to admit their stupidity. Hearing the sound of other cars, especially those coming from from the rear, is of paramount importance to riders.

    1. I’ve used earphones from time to time. They are never pushed in tight enough that ambient external noise can not also be heard to some extent. If a car is going to hit me from behind the sound is not going to be distinguishable from a car that is passing safely, so to assume that not wearing headphones will protect any rider in this scenario is simply not true. For all other situations my sight and vigilance is what keeps me safe, not my hearing.

        1. I wear headphones when riding (60km round commute) daily. I still can hear some noises. However, the main reason is that it makes me react less to the aggressive or bogan driver who feels compelled to yell something stupid at me. When not wearing them I have been startled by these bogans and swerved accidentally. Wearing them I dont react.

    2. Don’t assume every rider with headphones can’t hear traffic – I wear them on longer rides (not the commute) and I always make sure I can still hear traffic.

  5. Great article thanks. I also agree that a rear vision mirror is Indispensable for cyclists. Who would drive a car without one? They are even more important than a bell, which is compulsory. Because you don’t need to turn your head and body, you are free to use your vision to be scanning elsewhere, thus preventing side-on and other accidents. I think a rear-view mirror should be legislated in the same way as a helmet.

    1. There is a big difference between making the case for using a mirror and making the case for compulsion.

      It’s worse with helmets, of course. Frequently, there is a case to wear a helmet – I would wear one on my commute whether it was compulsory or not. The case to wearing one because it is a good idea is different from the case to legislate and enforce. Please recognize the difference and amend your argument accordingly.

  6. This analysis really needs to be conducted by severity of injury.
    I understand that the AGF indicates that the leading cause of death of cyclists in Australia is actually from being rear ended.

  7. My pet hate is what I call ‘pass and turn’. The driver overtakes you and then immediately turns left. Ive also been collected while turning right and the driver tries to overtake me on the turn.

  8. Regarding – From a footway – “Drivers must give way to cyclist riding on the footpath, the same as they must give way to pedestrians.”
    Never have I seen a driver give way to either pedestrian or cyclist in this situation. It really is a might verses right situation in Australia and pedestrians and cyclists are bullied into waiting to cross side streets by motorists who may be blissfully unaware of this rule.
    Perhaps a campaign to promote this road rule is required.
    This is a major factor in my decision to ride on the road rather than on the adjacent paths. Being on the road seems to allow greater visibility and ‘status’ as an oncoming vehicle to motorists approaching from a side street.
    Just my 2c.

  9. I agree with what riders wear. So many are in black, blue or grey making it difficult to be seen. Fluro and other bright colours are a must as are lights. If you must ride with music, leave one ear open so you can hear the traffic – works fine.

  10. In reply to Chris, often called “the left hook ” too. A motorist overtakes and turns left without care, hitting the cyclist or causing cyclist to lose control.

    This article would be improved if it included what motorists should do as well, and what road rules apply to them, such as overtaking safely. In the “left hook” case, a motorist turning left should give way if a cyclist on their left is ahead (similar to the merge rule) which means slowing down and tucking in behind, rather than speeding up to “get around” the cyclist. A campaign to do just this aimed at motorists, eg “slow down, tuck in, then turn” might be useful. Corners can be redesigned to slow motorists.

  11. I’ve commuted to the Sydney cbd on most days for the past 14 years. The one tip I’d throw in is if possible don’t ride alone. 4 to 6 riders is a good number. As a larger object you’ll be treated differently. Obey the road rules, be courteous to drivers and don’t hog the road.

  12. It would help if the diagrams clearly identified the bike.
    A favourite danger spot of mine is the follow-on car – you are approaching an intersection with right-turning traffic queued up. The first driver decides he or she has enough room to turn across your path and turns. The next driver simply follows the first driver. By this time you have to brake hard to avoid getting collected.

  13. I am an infrequent cyclist and a frequent motorist. I have seen motorists do stupid things and I have, equally, seen cyclists do very stupid things on the road as well. I agree that road design should take into account the safety of cyclists BUT I really think more should be done to educate drivers about dooring and keeping an eye out for cyclists in general. By more I mean more public service ads on tv and in all forms of media.

    The suggestion that we further reduce speed limits is just not on. Already you have a growing backlash against 40kmh zones (not school zones, mind) set up to “protect” cyclists. It’s not feasible and it’s not fair in terms of ratio of cyclists to motorists using the roads. Should we reduce the limits so much that we go back to the time where a person had to walk in front of a car with a red flag?

    Cars are becoming safer…the automatic braking systems are set up to deal with errant pedestrians and mishaps with cyclists. As our car fleet is modernised the number of cars with this technology will increase. In the meantime the catchcry for all road users should be mutual respect and awareness. By all means re-engineer roads but don’t disadvantage the largest group of road users because it MIGHT help this situation.

  14. Melbourne City Council allows horse and carts to park very close to Young and Jackson’s on Swanston Street near Flinders Street. When the horses get bored or nervous, they step slightly, which causes bike riders to swerve outwards. I hit the tram tracks when this happened, came off, almost hit by a tram, broke both wrists, ribs and one elbow. Two others came off behind me.

    Cops said this happens all the time but MCC had made an exception for horses to illegally park close to corners. Annoying — operation cost $12,000. WorkCover and TAC didn’t cover it.

    Melbourne is a very dangerous city for bike riders.

  15. Riders dressed all in black, with no lights. Or a single LED light that can only be seen from three metres away. It’s a bit like smoking. It says that “I’m about to die, and I don’t care.”

  16. It’s also important to note that these figures came from police-reported or hospital-reported crashes only and don’t take into account those crashes where the cyclists only suffered minor injuries. There is also no information from cyclists themselves to refer to. Admin, do you have the link to the actual report.

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