Bicycle accident datapoint of the day

By Felix Salmon
October 9, 2009
there's a twist when it comes to truck-cyclist collisions in particular:

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In the UK, men account for 72% of bike journeys, 84% of fatalities, and 81% of recorded injuries. That makes a certain amount of sense: men tend to be more aggressive cyclists, and that means their chances of having an accident rise.

But there’s a twist when it comes to truck-cyclist collisions in particular:

This year, seven of the eight people killed by lorries in London have been women…

There are no national figures but there’s little reason to think it is any different.

In this particular case, it seems, aggression helps, and timidity can be fatal:

In 2007, an internal report for Transport for London concluded women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by lorries because, unlike men, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver’s blind spot.

This means that if the lorry turns left, the driver cannot see the cyclist as the vehicle cuts across the bike’s path.

The report said that male cyclists are generally quicker getting away from a red light – or, indeed, jump red lights – and so get out of the danger area…

Marian Louise Noonan, 32, from south London, is a confessed kerb-hugger, and that leaves her feeling quite vulnerable on the roads, unlike her husband.

“He cycles much more aggressively and is aware of all the traffic around him. He cycles as if someone is going to hit him and makes sure he is in a safe position,” she says.

“I’m much more nervous of my cycling ability, I’m frightened people might hit me, which means I don’t cycle in a positive manner.”

The main problem is the attitude of other drivers, she says, as they make her feel like she does not belong on the road.

She also feels reluctant to put herself at the front of the traffic at red lights, which is the safest place for cyclists to be.

My experience from cycling in New York is that men are more likely than women to run red lights, much more likely to run red lights by weaving through flowing traffic, and much more likely to “bike salmon” up the street against traffic. All of these things are, needless to say, dangerous. On the other hand, women are less likely than men to wear helmets, and they’re also more likely than men to be riding significantly slower than traffic. Those traits I think make them more likely to get hit by a truck, and more likely to be killed if that happens.

The optimal combination for bikers — which I see in the UK much more than in NYC — is to be both law-abiding and aggressive. Don’t be shy about riding in the middle of the road if it’s not safe to ride on the edges, and certainly don’t be shy about driving faster than traffic, because that’s safer than having traffic drive faster than you. But obey red lights, stop behind the line and not halfway into the street, and be conscious about not getting in the way of pedestrians. Maybe, in some utopian future, they might eventually start being conscious of not getting in the way of cyclists, especially in dedicated bike lanes.

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