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Serious incidents are rare – but it doesn’t always feel like that when you’re cycling

“Terrifying near misses are a normal, everyday experience for people cycling on Britain’s streets.” That is the conclusion of Dr Rachel Aldred after running the Near Miss Project for the last few months. She believes that the uncontrollable nature of the threats experienced while on a bike provides an insight into why people apparently overestimate the risk of cycling.

Senior transport lecturer, Dr Rachel Aldred, and cycle light company, Blaze, teamed up last autumn to try and gauge the frequency of near misses and to evaluate the impact they have on cyclists. Nearly 1,700 riders across Britain kept a record of all trips and any incidents experienced on their chosen ‘diary day’ and Aldred and her team have since been reviewing what was reported.

In an article for The Guardian, Aldred writes:

“Running through many of the stories we gathered is a feeling of systematic disregard for cyclist safety and comfort – on the part of motorists, traffic engineers, designers and policymakers. Cyclists spoke of feeling powerless and humiliated, of feeling that despite their best efforts there may be nothing that they can do to prevent injury.”

Aldred cites an apparent discrepancy between a fear of cycling among many people and actual injury figures. She says that a regular commuting cyclist might only experience a slight injury once every decade, with a much lower chance of serious injury, and argues that it may therefore be near misses which are leading people to conclude that cycling is a dangerous activity.

She believes that it is both infrastructure and the behaviour of other road users that contributes to this.

“The data paints a picture of streets where road users who pose the least risk to others are systematically marginalised, through a combination of dangerous road environments and thoughtless to hostile behaviour.

“Most people in the project experienced several incidents on their diary day, with around one in seven of these classed as ‘very scary’, often involving buses, coaches or HGVs. This means terrifying near misses are a normal, everyday experience for people cycling on Britain’s streets and, where larger vehicles are involved, a small error could have catastrophic consequences.”

Almost a third of the reported incidents involved cyclists being tailgated or drivers passing too close. Aldred says that the lack of control felt by the cyclist in these situations exacerbates how they are likely to feel about the experience. She has also previously highlighted pinch points that narrow the carriageway with the aim of forcing motorists to slow down as being another major source of anxiety.

Aldred argues that all of these near misses contribute to an ‘invisible everyday burden of fear’ and says that there is an urgent need to separate cyclists from the most frightening situations.

“As we have seen recently in London, measures to build proper infrastructure, that protects people cycling rather than putting them at risk, will be opposed by powerful organisations and individuals. Reading the diaries we collected in the Near Miss Project brings home to me the urgent need to separate cyclists from the most frightening situations, and to change our road culture away from one that implicitly prioritises the most dangerous vehicles.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

24 comments

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joemmo [1164 posts] 2 years ago
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saw this on that twitter today:
http://www.voleospeed.co.uk/2011/07/cycling-is-dangerous.html
relevant and well written.

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Housecathst [607 posts] 2 years ago
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The collective shrug of shoulders from motorist is palpable. Just as long as they get to txt all they want and drive at double the speed limit at all times.

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Quince [381 posts] 2 years ago
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A fiercely accurate summary. And, I think, an important topic of study. It sounds hazy, but the way cycling 'feels' is as much a barrier to it as the actual probability of death of injury.

To paraphrase Dr Aldred in an earlier piece, " 'not dying' is a pretty low bar for making an activity attractive and appealing". 'Not even having to think about dying' would be a next good step.

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Argos74 [452 posts] 2 years ago
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Not as dangerous as me driving or taking the bus / tube / metro / train to work every day. The pollution, the boredom, the lack of exercise, not being able to engage with the world around me, trapped in a random tin boxtube like a neurotic rabid rat ready to rip the limbs off the next person who wants to spend the entire journey on their mobile phone.

Even with near misses from lousy driving every 25-35 miles, it's really better all round if I take the bike.

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tonymod [28 posts] 2 years ago
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What we're talking about is poor and irresponsible human behaviour. You cannot blame the concept or the inanimate object.
A loaded gun is not dangerous left alone and locked away, but put it in the hands of a religious fanatic, suicidal maniac, psychopathic murderer or naive child and the risk of something harmful to other human beings increases dramatically.
Likewise, put an idiot behind the wheel of a car/truck and the risk of him/her harming other road users increases dramatically.
It's not that cycling or driving or guns are dangerous, it's the behaviour of those that use these tools that increases the hazards to others.

There are exceptions to this however especially when a hazard cannot be detected or risk assessed in time for someone to react in order to avoid an a dangerous incident occurring. For example, an unseen pot hole in the road, black ice or when a bike suffers a catastrophic technical failure like the frame breaking or both brake cables snapping on a downhill section.

It's education and re-education and training first and foremost that can reduce risks. Then, it's holding irresponsible individuals to proper account for their poor behaviour through the justice system. Let's not blame the objects. They have no idea how they're being used!

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A V Lowe [619 posts] 2 years ago
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Oh dear @Tonymod the very point is that in taking a motor vehicle out on the road you have a substantial duty of care to fulfill. That vehicle can do far more damage than a loaded gun. Increase the size and a loaded tipper truck travelling at the legal speed on a road outside the urban area has to dissipate 5.5MJ of energy when it is abruptly stopped. that is a frightening amount and increasing that speed by 10mph (as lobbied for) increases the power to do damage by around 70%.

I am increasingly convinced that I need to have a set of cameras. Almost every daytime trip involves either a near miss or an action I am forced to take to avoid being put in danger by the user of a motor vehicle. Even if no dnager is presented to me there are also so many vehicles in a faulty condition, it is a wonder we see so few condition-caused crashes.

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A V Lowe [619 posts] 2 years ago
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Oh dear @Tonymod the very point is that in taking a motor vehicle out on the road you have a substantial duty of care to fulfill. That vehicle can do far more damage than a loaded gun. Increase the size and a loaded tipper truck travelling at the legal speed on a road outside the urban area has to dissipate 5.5MJ of energy when it is abruptly stopped. that is a frightening amount and increasing that speed by 10mph (as lobbied for) increases the power to do damage by around 70%.

I am increasingly convinced that I need to have a set of cameras. Almost every daytime trip involves either a near miss or an action I am forced to take to avoid being put in danger by the user of a motor vehicle. Even if no dnager is presented to me there are also so many vehicles in a faulty condition, it is a wonder we see so few condition-caused crashes.

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teaboy [307 posts] 2 years ago
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tonymod wrote:

What we're talking about is poor and irresponsible human behaviour. You cannot blame the concept or the inanimate object.
A loaded gun is not dangerous left alone and locked away, but put it in the hands of a religious fanatic, suicidal maniac, psychopathic murderer or naive child and the risk of something harmful to other human beings increases dramatically.
Likewise, put an idiot behind the wheel of a car/truck and the risk of him/her harming other road users increases dramatically.
It's not that cycling or driving or guns are dangerous, it's the behaviour of those that use these tools that increases the hazards to others.

There are exceptions to this however especially when a hazard cannot be detected or risk assessed in time for someone to react in order to avoid an a dangerous incident occurring. For example, an unseen pot hole in the road, black ice or when a bike suffers a catastrophic technical failure like the frame breaking or both brake cables snapping on a downhill section.

It's education and re-education and training first and foremost that can reduce risks. Then, it's holding irresponsible individuals to proper account for their poor behaviour through the justice system. Let's not blame the objects. They have no idea how they're being used!

How do you prevent the exceptions you mention from killing someone, or is it just seen as 'one of those things' that people not in motor vehicles have to accept?

People make mistakes, and the vast majority of drivers do not want to injure or kill someone. No amount of education can prevent somebody from misjudging something every now and again, or not seeing a pothole. Infrastructure design can prevent these things from causing collisions, injuries and deaths.

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brooksby [2697 posts] 2 years ago
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teaboy wrote:

People make mistakes, and the vast majority of drivers do not want to injure or kill someone. No amount of education can prevent somebody from misjudging something every now and again, or not seeing a pothole. Infrastructure design can prevent these things from causing collisions, injuries and deaths.

I accept that there are circumstances outside the motorist's control, elements of the environment which s/he might not have anticipated. Of course, if they were driving as per the Book then it still wouldn't be a problem as they would be making sure they were always driving at an appropriate speed and with enough room to stop.

Anyway... There do seem to be a quite scary number of people driving motor vehicles who have the emotional intelligence of the average toddler, and who think that it's OK to just nudge someone, or close pass, or tailgate, and cannot seem to grasp that there could be some very serious consequences (to the cyclist, anyway; as we all know, the motorist will probably get away with it).

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mark shelton [16 posts] 2 years ago
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Riding round the moors and the countryside in West Yorkshire it's very rare i can come home from a decent ride that was free from a 'driver incident' very rare! Most, if not all of us have been on the receiving end of a punishment pass, but the really scary thing is was it a punishment pass or did the driver just not see us? especially on the tops when the sun is so low in the sky. Just the other day coming up to a mini roundabout a driver pulled straight out from the left right in front of me, anchoring on and using all my strength to stop my bike from literally 'jack knifing' and keeping it in a straight line, the driver stopped directly in front of me looked at my more than slightly raised eyebrows over my sunglasses give me the finger and drove off! i was left in the middle of the road shaking my head. Luckily the road was dry, if the road was wet i would of just lost the front end and slid beneath him or i would of just 't boned ' him and hoped for the best. Another near miss, that on a different day could of been another road rage incident or worse another 'cyclist in serious accident' headline. while a near miss is never pleasant ,i wouldn't swap a lifetime near misses for one serious accident. We have to look out for ourselves and keep the near misses happening because i can't see the bad drivers out there stopping driving badly?  13

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tonymod [28 posts] 2 years ago
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Yes. You're right. The driver of a tipper truck has an enormous duty of care to ensure he/she is driving safely and responsibly. In order to attempt to achieve this the haulage firm's management should have a rigorous recruitment process to weed out the idiots and law breakers along with training and re-training for current drivers in order to reduce the risks to other road users like ourselves. Moreover, it's the responsibility of the police and govt to ensure all haulage companies are operating safely.
You can't completely eliminate risks and hazards from any activity even cooking a meal in your kitchen presents hazards, so the point is to reduce them to a minimum by having a set of standards to work with. As I work in the oil and gas sector, I am fully aware of risks and hazards to human health, but with ongoing training and reviews of operational procedures, we manage the risks thus keeping accidents and incidents to a minimum.
The harder task in my opinion is how to effectively police idiots in cars and one way is like you said for us as cyclists to regularly wear cameras and report cases of irresponsible and/or dangerous driving and get the media involved.

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tonymod [28 posts] 2 years ago
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You can't completely eliminate risks and hazards from any human activity, you can only manage them, so yes accidents will always happen unfortunately.
With difficult to spot potholes that could cause a serious problem for a road bike user for example, I actually feel I have a duty of care to report them to my local council. Whether the council would act upon this is more difficult to assess since it would require following up and not all of us have acres of free time to pursue this.

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teaboy [307 posts] 2 years ago
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I suspect the oil and gas industry has rigorous infrastructure standards, or do you just let local councils make it up, put it in and then ask you to 'be careful'?

I'd still like someone from the "we just need more education" side to explain how you ensure that every single person always drives perfectly 100% of the time, thus preventing all collisions forever. Increased punishment is not a prevention, by the way.

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Quince [381 posts] 2 years ago
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Clearly education has a large role to play, but it would be naive to suggest that the environment through which both cycle and motor traffic flow does not need to be adapted.

Currently, transportation of bicycles through most urban spaces is not properly considered as a factor in their design. The roads - in their modern forms - are designed almost exclusively with motor traffic in mind, to the detriment of safety and efficiency of cycle traffic.

I am of no doubt that safety in the oil and gas industry is fundamentally build into the environment, as well as into the minds of the people working within it.

A loaded gun is not dangerous as it is not moving, much as a parked car is not dangerous for the same reason. But it is not parked cars that people are worried about; it's the moving ones. Perhaps one could argue that a fired bullet in not dangerous; so long as no-one gets in its way, but I would argue that it possesses an inherent danger due to almost any contact with it resulting in serious injury or death.

It is for the same reason that I believe a tonne of metal moving at 30+mph is inherently dangerous (even if it that can somewhat adjust its speed and direction), and because of this that I believe some OPTION of physical separation is necessary in built-up areas to provide inherent safety and security for its inhabitants who wish to ride a bicycle.

To make cycling an attractive and enjoyable option on a non-trivial scale, I believe we must construct environments in which it is EVIDENT that riding a bike does not place you directly into the same environment as objects that CAN kill you; moving cars, flying bullets, or anything else. If we want lots of people cycling, we're working against a fundamental human dislike of big, fast, heavy moving things. This, I feel, is much better dealt with using equally physical solutions to a physical problem. Education and assurance do so much to quell people's fears.

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jacknorell [987 posts] 2 years ago
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tonymod wrote:

It's education and re-education and training first and foremost that can reduce risks. Then, it's holding irresponsible individuals to proper account for their poor behaviour through the justice system. Let's not blame the objects. They have no idea how they're being used!

People who do safety systems professionally put education/training last, and design risk out first.

The object (car) is while used as intended a dangerous item because the operator is a human being, running a 'flawed' operating system and sensor array. I.e. saccadic vision, attention lapses, etc that are unavoidable.

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ibike [166 posts] 2 years ago
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An immensely valuable project. It’s precisely these experiences occurring thousands of times every day that deter even the most enthusiastic cyclist from riding a bike.

I used to work in the aviation industry where a “near miss” was treated as an invaluable early warning to make the necessary changes to avoid it becoming an actual disaster next time. We should apply the same logic to our roads.

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tonymod [28 posts] 2 years ago
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I reiterate, it's not the object that is inherently dangerous. No car company builds a car designed to kill or one that greatly raises the level of danger to other road users. Car companies put safety first...well perhaps I might be naive there, but let's just say safety in design should be the number one concern for them. I still stick to my argument, it's only the driver and his/her 'flawed actions' that turns a motor vehicle into something dangerous.
Of course, the fact that drivers will continue to demonstrate their 'flaws' on the roads, only leads to one method of reducing the risk as has been mentioned in other posts....Dutch style nationwide segregated cycle ways built the length and breadth of the country. I'm certainly not holding my breath on that score!

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Initialised [328 posts] 2 years ago
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Don't worry, Tesla, Volvo, BMW, Google and Apple are about to usher in a new generation of crash proof electric vehicles. The insurance industry and environmental lobby will price out all but the super rich from driving anything that isn't highly or fully automated or runs primarily on fossil fuel. In the time it's taken for the vast majority to switch from landlines to smart phones this problem will be solved.

Until then, take the lane, ride assertively and stay vigilant.

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severs1966 [415 posts] 2 years ago
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Initialised wrote:

Don't worry, Tesla, Volvo, BMW, Google and Apple are about to usher in a new generation of crash proof electric vehicles... In the time it's taken for the vast majority to switch from landlines to smart phones this problem will be solved.

So all the killing for the next 25 years will be from people driving old cars, plus the existing enormously expensive lorries and buses that are expected to have service lives of 30 years or more.

But no worries, I noticed that actually you were being sarcastic.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1888 posts] 2 years ago
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tonymod wrote:

Car companies put safety first...well perhaps I might be naive there, but let's just say safety in design should be the number one concern for them.!

Well, they put the safety of their paying customer and their nearest-and-dearest (assuming they are in there with them) first. The safety of everyone outside the vehicle is a much lower priority, if it features at all.

How else do you explain bull-bars, improved sound insulation, the focus on in-car stereos and other distracting gadgets, and the general attitude promoted by car companies' adverts that the ideal is to be able to drive as if totally insulated and cut-off from an outside world which can't affect you in any way, even if you drive into bits of it at great speed?

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atgni [439 posts] 2 years ago
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FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
tonymod wrote:

Car companies put safety first...well perhaps I might be naive there, but let's just say safety in design should be the number one concern for them.!

Well, they put the safety of their paying customer and their nearest-and-dearest (assuming they are in there with them) first. The safety of everyone outside the vehicle is a much lower priority, if it features at all.

How else do you explain bull-bars, improved sound insulation, the focus on in-car stereos and other distracting gadgets, and the general attitude promoted by car companies' adverts that the ideal is to be able to drive as if totally insulated and cut-off from an outside world which can't affect you in any way, even if you drive into bits of it at great speed?

Bull bars banned on new cars across all of Europe and UK in 2002.
NCAP crash tests feature pedestrian impact assessments.
Lots of adverts appear to show collision avoidance and stopping.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1888 posts] 2 years ago
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atgni wrote:
FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
tonymod wrote:

Car companies put safety first...well perhaps I might be naive there, but let's just say safety in design should be the number one concern for them.!

Well, they put the safety of their paying customer and their nearest-and-dearest (assuming they are in there with them) first. The safety of everyone outside the vehicle is a much lower priority, if it features at all.

How else do you explain bull-bars, improved sound insulation, the focus on in-car stereos and other distracting gadgets, and the general attitude promoted by car companies' adverts that the ideal is to be able to drive as if totally insulated and cut-off from an outside world which can't affect you in any way, even if you drive into bits of it at great speed?

Bull bars banned on new cars across all of Europe and UK in 2002.
NCAP crash tests feature pedestrian impact assessments.
Lots of adverts appear to show collision avoidance and stopping.

So you make my point, I guess. It took state action to get rid of bull bars, not the car manufacturers.

Your second point is irrelevant. It doesn't address my point at all about the general tenor of car marketing ("drive confident"?). Car manufacturers are there to make money and they respond to what they think will increase profits. Worrying greatly about the safety of those outside the vehicle is clearly not going to be a priority [it will only feature insofar as it features in the mind of potential car buyers, which means, pretty low down the list].

(How many decades did it take to get rid of lead in petrol, incidentally?)

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atgni [439 posts] 2 years ago
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FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

So you make my point, I guess.

(How many decades did it take to get rid of lead in petrol, incidentally?)

No, I was suggesting the error of your assertion.

And lead replaced 'by the state' with a known carcinogen.

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stealth [254 posts] 2 years ago
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teaboy wrote:

I suspect the oil and gas industry has rigorous infrastructure standards, or do you just let local councils make it up, put it in and then ask you to 'be careful'?

I'd still like someone from the "we just need more education" side to explain how you ensure that every single person always drives perfectly 100% of the time, thus preventing all collisions forever. Increased punishment is not a prevention, by the way.

This is where the argument for presumed liability kicks in, it just makes you think about your responsibilities more. It would lead to a better standard of driving. As would altering death by dangerous driving to manslaughter & death by reckless driving to murder.