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Australian helmet cam study reveals motorists to blame in vast majority of cycling crashes (+ videos)

Drivers held at fault for three quarters of the 54 "incidents" captured on camera...

We’ve regularly featured stories here on highlighting the valuable role that helmet cameras can play in providing evidence of dangerous driving an even assault putting cyclists at risk of injury or worse. Now, a doctoral student in Australia have used the devices to assess the risks involved in cycling through Melbourne, and to establish the sequence of events that take place during a crash.

We’ve reported the topline results of the study by Marilyn Johnson, a research fellow from Monash University, here on before, but now further details of some of its key findings have been reported on the website, The Conversation, while four of the videos showing near misses have been posted to the video-sharing website, Vimeo.

Ms Johnson analysed 127 hours of footage compiled from helmet cameras used by 13 cyclists to record their commute in the Victorian capital, and found that drivers were responsible for nearly nine in ten potential crashes. In three quarters of those incidents, the driver was assessed as being at fault.

The project was funded by a joint PhD scholarship from the Monash University Accident Research Foundation and the Amy Gillett Foundation, set up with the vision “to try and eliminate bike-related fatalities” and named for the Australian cyclist killed while riding in Germany in 2005 in an incident that left five of her team mates from the Australian Institute of Sport injured when a motorist drove into them while they were on a training ride.

The footage from the study posted to Vimeo shows the type of incident that will be all too familiar to anyone regularly commuting on their bike.

Naturalised cycling study (clip 1) from conversationEDU on Vimeo.

Naturalised cycling study (clip 2) from conversationEDU on Vimeo.

Naturalised cycling study (clip 3) from conversationEDU on Vimeo.

Naturalised cycling study (clip 4) from conversationEDU on Vimeo.

During the study, a total of 54 “events” were captured on camera – two crashes, six “near-crashes” and 46 other “incidents” – the latter being described as “similar to a near-crash, where one road user needed to take some evasive action.”

In the incidents in which the driver was adjudged to have been at fault following a frame-by-frame analysis of the footage, issues included them not giving the cyclist sufficient room, not indicating correctly or not looking to check for the presence of the cyclist. Even once a cyclist had been cut up by a car, the motorist tended to focus on other vehicles.

As a result, Ms Johnson says, “The role of driver behaviour in cyclist safety was found to be more significant than previously thought” – perhaps not news to anyone riding in London, perhaps, but a sobering thought for those of us who do everything within our power to minimise the risks while out on our bikes.

Moreover, she points out that “Most cyclists ride defensively and assume drivers have not seen them. This behaviour was seen in the footage, and cyclists’ evasive behaviour was the main reason near-crashes did not become actual crashes.”

“Previously,” Ms Johnson says, “the emphasis was on how cyclists needed to improve their behaviour to improve their safety,” and she adds that the footage does provide examples of cyclists turning their heads while riding not only to check traffic to the right or parked cars to the left, but also as a result of distractions “such as signs, shopfronts and people they perved on…”

Ms Johnson outlines actions that cyclists, drivers and the relevant authorities can all take to help increase the safety of those on bicycles, the most important from the bike rider’s point of view to keep out of drivers’ blind spots, particularly around lorries and 4x4 vehicles, as well as maintaining eye contact with drivers.

Drivers, she says, should check with their head before turning left, indicate at least five seconds before doing so, provide a metre’s space to cyclists, and let them ride across a junction rather than seek to cut across their path.

Those responsible for the road network, meanwhile, should provide clear markings plus coherent infrastructure for cyclists – as she points out, “ a bucket of paint and a bike symbol stencil is not enough to create safe spaces for cyclists on the road: drivers need to know how to use the space.”

In conclusion, Ms Johnson says, “We’re on the road to safe cycling; we just need to make sure everyone gets there safely.”

The article on The Conversation forms part of a wider series of writings on the website on the theme of Cycling In Australia which you can access here.


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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