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Poll finds that 1 in 3 drivers see cyclists as distraction; but gadget use cited by 8 in 10 as biggest risk to safety

One in three drivers in a new survey have said that among issues outside their control, cyclists are the biggest risk to road safety – prompting the motoring correspondent of the London Evening Standard to call for cycle awareness training to be made part of the driving test.

According to 84 per cent of the respondents to the poll for Zurich Insurance, drivers distracted by gadgets such as smartphones, iPods, DVD players and sat-navs are making motoring more dangerous than it was a decade ago.

“Driving has never been so distracting; gadget overload and the rise of complex road systems has meant concentration is less and roads are trickier to read,” commented Neil Greig, policy director for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).

“With an increase in cyclists there is another major risk factor in play too,” he added.

But the Standard’s motoring editor, David Williams, pointed out in an article yesterday commenting on the survey that while levels of cycling have nearly trebled in London over the past decade or so, Mayor Boris Johnson’s goal is to double them again over the coming years.

The result, he said, is that “there will be a lot more ‘distraction’ — and many thousands of drivers will have a lot more adapting to master.”

Williams, a former motoring editor of the Daily Express and past winner of the the Journalist of the Year award from the Guild of  Motoring Writers, said: "As a Londoner who cycles as frequently as I drive I understand the fear from both sides. I curse vehicles that swish past too close when I pedal. But when driving on city roads that are invariably narrow and twisty, it’s challenging to find the right overtaking opportunity that will leave a sufficiently large gap."

He called for cycle awareness, now included in courses for learner drivers provided by Britain’s two biggest driving schools, AA and BSM, to be made a compulsory part of the driving test.

Almost half (48 per cent) of respondents to Zurich’s survey say they themselves became distracted by phone calls or text messages when at the wheel, and nearly a quarter (22 per cent) admitted checking social media while driving.

Zurich points out that it is a decade since using a hand-held mobile phone while driving was made illegal, but those data suggest that the law is of minimal deterrence.

Earlier this year, fixed penalty fines for the offence were increased from £30 to £60, and drivers caught also have three points put on their licence, but apart from occasional police blitzes – one in Wales recently saw 1,000 motorists fined – enforcement seems minimal.

Insurer Swiftcover has previously said that it believes only 3 per cent of motorists illegally using their phone while driving actually get caught.

Meanwhile, a Transport Research Laboratory report published in March this year claimed that driving while checking social networks such as Facebook or Twitter – neither of which was around when the law came in –was more dangerous than driving while under the influence of drink or drugs.

The Zurich study says that 80 per cent of motorists surveyed feel more at risk now than they did a decade ago. The top 10 risks in 2013 compared to those 10 years ago were:

1. More people using mobile phones (68%)
2. More cars on road (67%)
3. More reckless drivers (61%)
4. More urgency to get to destination (44%)
5. More people using sat navs (39%)
6. The number of vans/lorries on the road (30%)
7. More speed cameras (29%)
8. More cyclists (29%)
9. More signs on the road (27%)
10 .More motorcyclists on the road (16%)

Phil Ost of Zurich Insurance commented: “While the rise of mobile technology has made it easier for us to communicate on the move, it’s also making our lives feel busier.

“Staying safe is far more important than staying in touch. Turn off your gadgets if you think you might be tempted to check them while driving.

“Plan your journey well in advance and don’t just rely on the satnav - make sure you’ve checked the route yourself before setting off on your journey.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.