2014 will be remembered by cyclists as exceptional in terms of road rage incidents. Examples abound but some stand out. When I was in Montreal a few weeks ago a young driver posted a film on his Facebook page of himself screaming obscenities at a group of cyclists. He later removed it but it is still available here:
English translation: …and after that they wonder why they get hit, like squirrels crossing the street, look at that, you’re in my way, GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT! it is like we are following a group of ducks crossing the street, yes, that’s right, after that you (cyclists) can complain that car drivers are all crazy in their heads…
One could easily dismiss this as an isolated incident but it is unfortunately not the case. This July, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy implied in his column that it is acceptable to run over cyclists: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers may think it is worth it.”
But the grand prize goes to a Laura Weintraub, a reserve police officer in California that posted a video on her YouTube channel of how she “hates bicyclists, every single one of them” and wants “to run them over”. The film ends with a tragic picture of a car crashing into a cycling peloton during a race in Mexico (2008) with the caption: “Like you’ve never thought about it…”
The original video was removed but can be found here. After being fired by the police department Laura went through an awakening and posted this interesting response:
Research confirms the negative attitudes of drivers towards cyclists (e.g. cyclists are unpredictable, repeatedly overtaking them is frustrating, etc.). But are they justified?
Is the Road Rage Against Cyclists Justified?
The “Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine” carried out a study with cyclists wearing helmet-mounted video cameras. Analysis of the films helped determine the circumstances of accidents. In the vast majority of cases (89%) cyclists were riding safely and abiding by the law. Car drivers were at fault for 87% of the collisions. The most common cause being drivers turning across the path of a cyclist – generally without slowing down or braking, implying the driver did not see the bike. 4WD drivers were the most likely not to see cyclists.
What Can be Done?
The main recommendation is for car drivers to follow the law… Drivers would often not indicate their intention to turn (Australian Law requires to indicate it 5 seconds before turning) and often lack awareness of cyclists alongside and behind them. Another study in the UK provides similar findings: 68% of collisions with cyclists were caused by drivers mainly because they fail to see them, drive too fast or carelessly, fail to judge the cyclist’s speed or path, or overtake to close to the cyclist.
They highlight the importance for cyclists of anticipating the actions of drivers and their ability to maneuver around vehicles that suddenly change course as a major factor in avoiding collisions. Male cyclists traveling at higher speeds were more successful at that then slower moving female cyclists. But even the most experienced riders can’t always escape. Just last week former world cycling champion Mario Cipollini was seriously hit by a car during a training ride. Several other stars like Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and star-sprinter Mark Cavendish also suffered injuries in similar circumstances. This prompted the British Cycling federation to call for the government to put cycling safety at the heart of transport policy.
Proper biking infrastructure was also a factor. In the study, cycling lanes were often disjointed or ended abruptly with no viable option for the cyclist to continue.
Cycling Lessons for Motorists?
Education for a better awareness by drivers comes up repeatedly as a necessary pre-requisite to improve the safety of cyclists and all road users. An interesting suggestion is to change the driving tests to include not only more instruction on cycling but also a live cycling module where new drivers would have to pass a cycling test before they are allowed to drive a car. British time-trial cyclist Michael Hutchison says this would “help people realize the dangers that cyclists are in and their vulnerability – something that a lot of people do not realize”. This echoes the words of Laura Weintraub following her epiphany on the importance of “understanding what it is like to share the road from the point of view of cyclists” and that her experience riding a bike was “eye opening”. This is also consistent with research about the negative attitudes of drivers that are not cyclists which make roads more dangerous for everyone. Such measures would help raise understanding, empathy, and the realization that cyclists are also fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.
About the author: Adam Koniuszewski is a driver and a cyclist with experience riding in North America, the Caribbean, Western and Central Europe, Asia and Australia. He is also a husband, a son, a brother and an uncle.