Cyclists, drivers can't point fingers Collision data show both parties need to take better care on road
By: Bruce Owen
It's time to call a truce in Winnipeg's war between cyclists and drivers.
It turns out both are at fault for crashes, injuries and even cyclist fatalities during the past decade, according to data released by Manitoba Public Insurance.
The continuing rate of collisions between bikes and vehicles is one reason Manitoba's Public Utilities Board told MPI late last year to put together a more comprehensive public education campaign on road safety and messaging to motorists regarding cyclists, such as giving cyclists one metre of space when passing them.
"We're both to blame," said Dave Elmore, director of safety and education for the cyclist lobby group Bike to the Future. "There's equal fault on both sides. The numbers that we've had in the past from MPI really show that at least 50 per cent of cyclists are at fault for most of their own collisions."
MPI's numbers from 2001-10 appear to back that up. MPI spokesman Brian Smiley said 13 cyclists were killed and 68 seriously injured in that period, and there were 2,144 less-serious injuries to cyclists.
Almost 68 per cent of reported collisions happened at intersections, as did 61 per cent of the 13 fatalities. In 63 per cent of those collisions, the cyclist was pedalling straight ahead and 20 per cent of the vehicles involved were turning right, meaning the driver likely turned into the cyclist without shoulder-checking.
Of the cyclists in a collision with a motor vehicle:
-- 10 per cent reported they were distracted or confused;
-- 4.3 per cent failed to yield the right-of-way;
-- three per cent disobeyed a traffic-control device.
Of the motor vehicle drivers in a collision with a cyclist:
-- 4.1 per cent said they were distracted;
-- 4.8 per cent failed to yield the right-of-way;
-- 1.1 per cent were speeding.
"Everyone is expected to share the road," Smiley said. "Cyclists are entitled to be on the road. They are also expected to observe the rules of road, meaning stopping at stop signs, observing traffic lights and yielding when appropriate. Vehicles are also expected to share the road with cyclists."
The numbers were compiled from claims filed with MPI. City police do not record these statistics.
Elmore said the numbers he has show there is an overall downward trend in the number of car-cyclist collisions in the past decade, but that the numbers have edged up in the past two years.
"I think that's really a result of the fact that we have more and more cyclists on the road these days, and fewer of them actually understand how they should be behaving on the road," he said. "In some cases, they don't possess the skills, and in some cases, they don't have the knowledge and understanding.
"It's easy for drivers to point to cyclists who shoot through red lights and at stop signs, but they're by far the minority of cyclists. And the same holds true for cyclists, who say that drivers speed and also roll through stop signs."
What's needed is a more rigorous public education campaign on cyclist safety, run by MPI and the province, as dedicated bike lanes on streets are slow in coming and costly.
"People believe that there's this war between cyclists and drivers, but ultimately, I don't believe it's a war," Elmore said. "I think that really it's just a misunderstanding and it's created because of the knowledge gap. There's a huge gap in knowledge on both sides of the coin. Education is unfortunately overlooked as a solution."
Smiley said MPI has met with cyclist groups to rework the information MPI gives to the public in brochures and on the Crown corporation's website.
He said the worst months for cyclist fatalities are June and July, with 23 per cent of such deaths happening in those two months. June and July were also the worst months for injuries. No cyclist deaths were recorded in December, January and February.
The worst day of the week for cyclist-car collisions is Wednesday, with 18 per cent recorded, and the worst time of day is the 3 p.m.-to-6 p.m. rush hour, during which 30 per cent of such crashes occurred.
Smiley said 90 per cent of all bicycle-vehicle mishaps were reported, and 10 per cent were classified as hit-and-runs.
*To avoid it, you have to see it*
EVER wonder why motor-vehicle drivers don't see the person on the bicycle until the last second, if at all?
It's not so much because they're not paying attention, it's because the human brain can only process the images the eyes see directly in front of them, not what's around them.
It's another way of saying your eyes weren't designed for driving.
Your peripheral vision is only as good as the size of the object approaching you from the side, such as a truck. Your peripheral vision would not necessarily pick up a cyclist, especially when lost momentarily in the blind spot of a car-door pillar.
The lesson here is drivers should always look right and left at least twice before going into an intersection. It also means fully turning your head so your brain processes what your eyes see.
For cyclists, it means wearing high-contrast clothing so they can be seen. Flashing lights front and back are a must at dusk and during the night.
It also means not only looking at vehicles around you, but at the drivers.
If a driver doesn't appear to notice you, or worse, is on a cellphone, play it safe and assume you have not been seen. Also be predictable in your riding.
"A lot of people look at it like it's that old expression, 'it's just like riding a bike.' That's not true," said Dave Elmore, director of safety and education for Bike to the Future. "That's balancing a bike. Riding a bike in traffic is a totally different world."
*For more information, go to www.londoncyclist.co.uk/raf-pilot-teach-cyclists*
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 A4