When it comes to cycling, it appears that chivalry is very much alive. That’s according to a new study commissioned by the Florida Department of Transportation that found drivers, on average, pass more closely to male cyclists than females.
The study, which was published in September, examined trends in the ways that motorists interact with cyclists while passing by using a video camera to track how much space motorists gave cyclists, and at what speed they passed.
The data also revealed that drivers were less likely to give the proper amount of space to bikers dressed in “bicycle-specific attire.” Does this means that wearing a helmet and reflective gear, the most important items in a cyclist’s wardrobe, actually makes riding a bike more dangerous?
It’s hard to imagine that protecting one’s skull has a negative effect on road safety, so don’t ditch the helmet. But it’s an interesting bit of psychology to find that drivers offer less space to those they feel are better prepared to be on the road. That statement assumes that drivers passed men more closely than women not because they wanted a closer look at male cyclists, but out of some protective instinct that was not activated by seeing a male cyclist in the road.
Obviously in a bike-car relationship, the car has the mass, speed advantage and thus the power (some might say responsibility) to protect vulnerable non-motorists. As the study put it “it is possible that motorists perceived less risk passing riders who were in [a] bicycle outfit.”
It’s reasonable to extend that logic to the differing treatment on the basis of gender.
This disturbing data is echoed in the negligence revealed by a study out of Seattle that examined city accident data from 2010. The study concluded that “Three-quarters of vehicle collisions with pedestrians and cyclists in 2009 and 2010 involved the actions of the driver as a contributing factor. In two-thirds of those cases (about half of the total) the problem was the most basic of driver derelictions: failure to yield the right of way to the pedestrian or cyclist.”
The implication in this instance is that drivers are simply not taking pedestrians and cyclists into account when making right hand turns.
In each case, we see drivers failing to acknowledge that as the wielder of 1,500 a piece of metal moving at high speed, caution is the most important attribute. Yielding a few seconds or a few feet to vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians is a meager price to pay in return for making the roads dramatically safer.
Photo Credit: alantankenghoe