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Changes to road design could improve the safety of cyclists

Aussie researcher wins award for research into road design

A researcher from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Australia has won an award for a research paper concluding that changes to road design could dramatically increase the safety of cyclists.

With his study: 'Investigating The Factors Influencing Cyclist Behaviour And Awareness: An On-Road Study Of Cyclist Situation Awareness’, Professor Paul Salmon won a $1,000 award at the Australasian Road Safety Conference.

Dr Salmon and his team from USC were investigating how road system design can support safe interactions between drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians

Through their research, the team noted that while cyclists were acutely aware of the threat other vehicles posed to their own safety, they weren’t always aware of where the danger might come from. The heightened awareness that cyclists must show to be aware of hazards on the road can lead to highly unpredictable behaviour.

It was this unpredictability that the research team identified as the key danger to cyclists. To address the issue, the team suggested taking decision making opportunities out of the hands of the cyclists.

The team also observed that poorly designed junctions as well as poor driver appreciation of cyclist behaviour contributed to the dangers that cyclists face.

The research is based on the behaviour of a sample group of 20 cyclists as their decisions and reasonings were monitored over a 15 km route.

Participants were equipped with a front and rear camera, which allowed the researches to assess the cyclists’ awareness of the cars around them. They were also fitted with a microphone so that their vocalised decisions could be recorded.

It was not the team from USC’s remit to instigate any actual changes to the law, or to road design. They did however, have a sequence of recommendations as well as further research that they think should be undertaken.

The team believe that road design should be amended to remove the threats of parked cars and other hazardous road furniture. They also believe that constraining cyclist behaviour through the use of cycle lanes is the safest option for road sharing.

Intersections and junctions should be redesigned to trigger cyclist behaviours, rather than leaving decision making up to the individual judgement of the cyclist. They recommended removing the decision making process entirely, or at least moving it to an earlier point in the approach.

Finally, the team believe that drivers need a better education on what kind of behaviour to expect from cyclists.

In regards to the next step in road system design research, the team advised a couple of areas for further study. A deeper analysis of near miss events between cars and cyclists was their first recommendation, followed by a study on specific interactions between drivers and cyclists.

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