High-visibility clothing does not deter drivers from dangerously overtaking cyclists on shared roadways, new research has found.
Canberra’s peak cycling group Pedal Power welcomed the findings from the University of Bath and Brunel University study, including that about 2 per cent of all drivers will pass dangerously close when overtaking cyclists.
Researcher Ian Garrard found cyclists altering their outfits or wearing a high-visibility jacket made little difference to their safety, as motorists passed on average 118cm from cyclists.
Using an ultrasonic distance sensor, Dr Garrard wore one of seven outfits, ranging from tight lycra to signal high cycling experience or a high-visibility vest with “novice cyclist” printed on the back to signal low experience.
“Many people have theories to say that cyclists can make themselves safer if they wear this or that,” Dr Garrard said.
“Our study suggests that, no matter what you wear, it will do nothing to prevent a small minority of people from getting dangerously close when they overtake you.”
Using data from several months of daily commuting and 5690 passing vehicles, Dr Garrard also wore a vest resembling a UK police jacket but with “POLITE” printed on the back and another warning drivers there was a video recording taking place.
While the vest alerting drivers to the video showed a small increase in the average amount of space drivers left there was no difference between the outfits in the most dangerous driving, where motorists passed within 50 cm of the rider.
University of Bath psychology department lead research Ian Walker said the solution to reducing death and injury of cyclists rested with all road users.
“We can’t make cycling safer by telling cyclists what they should wear,” Dr Walker said.
“Rather, we should be creating safer spaces for cycling – perhaps by building high-quality separate cycle paths, by encouraging gentler roads with less stop-start traffic, or by making drivers more aware of how it feels to cycle on our roads and the consequences of impatient overtaking.”
Pedal Power ACT communications manager Matt Larkin said the study was a renewed call for all road users to show respect to each other.
“It was a fairly extensive sample group and you can’t argue with the fact that cars do not seem to be giving more space to bike riders regardless of whether they are wearing fluro or not,” he said.
“If someone has seen a bike rider, hopefully they will give them enough space regardless of what they are wearing. In Australia, the Amy Gillett Foundation are running a strong campaign around the theme “a metre matters” and trying to get that included into road rules in different places around Australia.”
Mr Larkin said the expectation that riders must dress in highly visible clothing to ensure other road users notice them was outdated.
“We don’t say that every pedestrian must wear fluoro clothing when they are crossing the road or that every car should be in bright orange so we see it when it’s coming down the road. Somehow when we talk about people on bikes, all of that baggage somehow falls onto them.”
Mr Larkin said drivers and road users were awaiting the results of an ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry into vulnerable road users, due in April 2014.
“It’s about remembering that we are all people. At the end of the day there are people who are aggressive on the road… whatever mode of transport they are using. Most of the people you see on bikes on the road will also drive cars at some time,” he said.
The research is set to be published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.