Cyclists experience "a very scary incident" once a week according to results emerging from the Near Miss Project, a study to determine how often people experience dangerous incidents while cycling.
For the first time in the UK the project, led by Dr Rachel Aldred, shows the rate of near misses experienced by people cycling and shows those travelling below 8mph experience three times as many near misses than those travelling over 12mph, with women affected more than men.
Writing in the Guardian, Aldred calls this rate "shocking", and though she fears it could put people off cycling she says the issue needs to be discussed, and stopped because the incidents themselves are stopping people cycling.
Aldred, who is a senior lecturer in transport at Westminster University, says: "While a commuting cyclist in the UK might expect a cycling injury (most likely slight and self-treated) once every 20 years, they might be harassed by another road user every month, with a ‘very scary’ incident every week."
"This rate is shocking and I almost feel guilty for mentioning it," she writes.
"Am I, as some people worry, just going to put people off cycling? However, as with other hidden harassment, I feel keeping quiet doesn’t help. This happens to people every day on our streets, and needs to be discussed – and stopped."
Results from the Near Miss Project, to which more than 1500 people responded, show women experience 50% more close passes than men, though statistically the main predictor for near miss rates was speed, rather than gender. In short, the slower you ride, the more likely it is you will experience a near miss, whether because you are less "hardened" to road conditions, whereas faster cyclists might be overtaken less, while higher speeds might be associated with red light jumping, thus avoiding some of the traffic.
Aldred says: "Whatever the reason, it’s deeply concerning that people completing a journey at an average speed of below 8mph experience three times as many near misses as people completing a similar length journey at an average speed of over 12mph."
"The scariest incidents involve motor vehicles, particularly large motor vehicles. They include close passes, incidents where a driver pulls in or out across a cyclist’s path, or nearly left hooks them, sometimes deliberate abuse.
"This shouldn’t just be part of the normal cut and thrust of UK cycling."
A near miss, according to the project's definition, can range from rudeness to almost collision. Aldred says while these incidents can stop people cycling, most were "systematic and predictable".
"Participants said most incidents could have been prevented by different driver behaviour and/or changing the road environment – with the most cited infrastructural change being increased separation of cyclists and motor vehicles. By contrast, most incidents were not judged preventable by the cyclist themselves, adding to a pervasive sense of powerlessness."
Aldred says close passes have become part of the culture of British driving, as drink driving was a generation ago. She said: "As with drink-driving, we need an ongoing, concerted effort to make it socially unacceptable. This should go alongside remedying the many examples of road infrastructure putting cyclists at increased risk of close passes."
There will be a project report and event in September to discuss prevention strategies.
This article was amended on 16 june to say "higher speeds might be associated with red light jumping" where it previously said "perhaps because faster cyclists are jumping red lights".