Car vs. bike: New study says it’s probably not your fault

There’s been an epidemic of serious — and tragic — SoCal hit-and-run collisions lately.

Along with a rush to blame dangerous, law-breaking cyclists for nearly every impact and close call.

Talk about blaming the victim.

That’s why I was fascinated by a recent government sponsored study from Britain, which reached the surprising conclusion that drivers are responsible for the overwhelming majority of serious bicycle collisions. And that only a tiny percentage result from cyclists running red lights or stop signs — despite what you may have read.

Or at least, surprising to many who spend more time behind the wheel than on them.

Conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory for the UK’s Department of Transport, the study found that only 2% of collisions resulting in serious injury were caused, at least in part, by cyclists running red lights and stop signs.

Two percent.

Another 2% resulted from failing to use lights after dark; wearing dark clothing at night was cited as a potential cause in just 2.5% of crashes. In fact, a full 78% of all serious cycling accidents — those resulting in serious injury or death — occurred during daylight hours; 80% were on dry roads in good weather conditions.

So while ninja cyclists may be twice as dangerous as red light runners, even they pale in significance compared to those motoring down the street in their hulking, smoke-belching mechanical behemoths.

According to an article in the Guardian’s bike blog, the study found drivers solely responsible in 60% to 75% of all crashes involving adult riders, and cyclists at fault in just 17% to 25%.

In other words, a driver is three times as likely to be at fault in a cycling collision. And bear in mind that those figures are based on an analysis of official police reports — which are highly unlikely to be biased in favor of cyclists.

While the recent study of cycling collisions from Fort Collins, Colorado, found that broadside collisions were the most common form of cycling accidents, this study concluded that many riders’ greatest fear is justified.

Over 25% percent of urban riders were struck from behind, while 40% of collisions that didn’t occur at an intersection were strike-from-behind collisions. Not surprisingly, in most accidents the cyclist was struck by the front of the vehicle.

And just 3% of serious collisions happened in bike lanes.

Read into that whatever you will.

A few other key points:

  • 83% of serious cycling injuries involved a collision with another vehicle.
  • In cases when drivers were at least partially at fault, 56% failed to “look properly” — in other words, failed to see a cyclist who should have been visible — while 17% turned in a poor manner and another 17% were cited as careless, reckless or in a hurry.
  • When cyclists were found at least partially at fault, 43% failed to look properly, while 20% were entering the street from the sidewalk.
  • Cyclists were more likely to be injured on week days than weekends, and during both morning and evening commute times (6 am – 9 am; 3 pm – 6 pm).
  • Almost two-thirds of serious injuries occurred at or near intersections
  • The severity of injuries increased with the posted speed limit.

That last point brings up the findings of another recent study published in the medical journal BMJ.

Researchers found that reducing the speed limit to 20 mph in certain sections of London resulted in a 41.9% drop in serious injuries and fatalities, including a 17% drop for accidents involving cyclists. And interestingly, the rate of injury did not go up for neighboring streets where the speed limit was not reduced; in fact, it dropped 8% — suggesting that lowering the speed limit may cause people to drive more safely throughout the surrounding area.

Just more proof that passing the Safe Streets Bill, which would have ended California’s absurdist practice of automatically raising speed limits on streets where most drivers speed, isn’t just a good idea.

It’s absolutely necessary.

Of course, some might argue that the UK isn’t the US, and London isn’t L.A. — although the large number of Brit expats in this city offers a reasonable argument to the contrary. And Britain’s largest cycling organization has objected to the TRL’s conclusion that universal helmet use would save 10 to 15 lives in the UK each year.

But conflicts between drivers and cyclists seem to be a worldwide phenomenon, and aside from driving on the wrong side of the road, British drivers — and cyclists — don’t seem to be much different from those in America.

And that’s not always a good thing.

You can download a free PDF of the TRL study by clicking here; registration is required.


Police release photos of a ballsy bike riding bandit who struck across the street from the new LAPD headquarters; maybe he didn’t know what that shiny new building was. Advice on defusing road rage through non-violence. Santa rides a bike throughout Los Angeles this year. LACBC celebrates a successful year of Car-Free Fridays with a Holiday Breakfast Ride this Friday. A Streetsblog reader offers a great suggestion to address cycling safety. A driver who killed an Anchorage, AK cyclist over a year ago while high on drugs is finally charged; evidently, justice delayed ≠ justice denied. Why not turn highways into bikeways? Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get your bike. MIT cyclists get separated bike lanes. Evidently, the Safe Routes to School program really is working to keep children safer. Common causes of bike crashes and how to avoid them. Lance’s new carbon belt-drive single-speed bike. Finally, why is it socially acceptable to threaten cyclists? Why, indeed.


  1. Damian says:

    Thanks for the 411. My personal favorite is “just 3% of serious collisions happened in bike lanes”.

  2. peter rosenfeld says:

    While the bicyclist is seldom at fault for the collisions, that doesn’t mean proactive riding behavior can’t help prevent some of these.

    As noted, about 2/3rds of the serious collisions happened at intersections. A lot of “bicycle facilities” focus on the hit from behind type collisions, which while very serious are less common. The road changes these facilities cause make the intersection collision probability higher – think of a bike lane that puts you to the right of right turning cars.

    Proper lane positioning near the intersection by the bicyclist can make the bike more noticeable and reduce right and left hooks.

  3. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Pity I can’t find it, but we’ve had a study here of reported accidents by our Land Transit Safety Authority and 65% are caused by motorvehicles. There is a slight rise in cyclist mistakes in fatal accidents but all in all its a pretty bad look for the motoring public.

  4. Doug says:

    I’m all for cycling, and I rarely drive my car, but I’m wondering how this info from Britain correlates to Los Angeles? I’m not sure about the bike culture there, but I know that, here in Hollywood, I’ve nearly hit cyclists numerous times who were not following traffic rules like: coming to a complete stop at stop signs and stop lights, passing on the right, etc. It is tragic when any person is injured or looses a life as a result of cycling, but it is starting to become more and more difficult to sympathize with people flying through stop signs on fixies who end up getting in trouble. If you’re using reflectors/lights, following all traffic signals, and using hand signals to turn, then I’d imagine you decrease your chances of incident dramatically.

    • bikinginla says:

      Doug, I can’t say for certain that the findings of this study correlate to L.A., but I can tell you that drivers in London complain about exactly the same things you just did.

      While I can’t condone blowing through red lights and stop signs without slowing down, most cyclists are well aware that intersections are dangerous places — in fact, the overwhelming majority of bike wrecks occur there. So it’s often safer to come to a brief or near stop, then go through a stop sign or make a right on the red, as long as there’s no conflicting traffic.

      As for passing on the right, splitting lanes is perfectly legal in California. If there’s a line of cars at a red light, I always pass if there’s room in order to get to the front of the intersection, where I can be seen by everyone. Stopping and waiting at the end of a line like that is dangerous, because you’re hidden from view from every car waiting at the intersection, and drivers coming up from behind may not be looking for you there.

      We all have to ride safely and courteously, but often, things that may look dangerous or illegal are done for the sake of safety.

    • TheTricksterNZ says:

      Question; why do comments such as these which start with “I’m all for cycling but…” or “My uncle is a cyclist but…” all remind me a bit like “I really like black people but….”


      • bikinginla says:

        No, really, some of my best friends are (insert minority of your choice)…

      • Pants Yabbies says:

        You know, I just had the same thought the other day. I don’t remember why it popped into my head, though. Maybe because I’ve been in the car for the last 7 weeks with a broken clavicle, and I don’t want to come off as one of “those” motorists. 😉

  5. Doug says:

    What, you don’t think I own and ride bicycles? From what I understand, it’s a relatively common mode of transportation. Comparing bike lovers to the plight of minorities is both ridiculous and offensive.

    Splitting lines, by both motorcycles and bicycles, is legal in California. However, passing on the right is not, and that is very different. Certainly, a responsible cyclists knows that passing on the right is dangerous and should be avoided.

    I’m certainly for more bike friendly roads, and agree with most, if not all, of your new bike law ideas, but I’m simply saying that, because of being in a hurry, there is certainly a large number of poor bicyclists to go along with the large number of poor automobile drivers. Maybe since I’ve been mostly walking lately, I’ll start a blog about bad bicyclists and how they terrorize walkers? 🙂

    • bikinginla says:

      No disrespect intended, Doug. Okay, maybe a little. But you wouldn’t believe how many people start out by saying the ride or support cycling, then go on to trash cyclists. And I certainly have nothing against drivers, being one myself.

      You’re right, there are a lot of dangerous bad cyclists, just like there are bad drivers. I certainly don’t intend to defend the jerks on four wheels or two.

      As for passing on the right, there are circumstances when it’s entirely appropriate. Think about driver your car on a road with two lanes of traffic going in your direction. You’re driving in the right lane, when traffic in the left lane comes to a halt because the driver in front is waiting to make a left turn. Does that mean the cars in the right lane have to stop as well?

      Of course not.

      The same is true for bikes. A cyclist in a bike lane is a separate lane, and therefore under no more obligation to stop than the cars in the previous example. I would contend that holds for most situations where there isn’t a bike lane, since CVC 21202 requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as practicable, which means we often ride outside of the traffic lane.

      On the other hand, you should never pass to the right of any cars waiting to make a right turn.

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