Too much of the car-vs-bicycle debate is overrun by myths and rank misinformation.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published October 01, 2009
The perpetual argument about whether cyclists or motorists violate traffic laws most frequently is not helpful - especially as it is usually backed up only by anecdotal evidence. This article debunks some of the common myths about cycling and safety.
Myth: Most car-bicycle collisions are the fault of cyclists.
Reality: At least in Toronto, in about 90 percent of cases the motorist causes the collision, according to to an analysis of Toronto police reports by University of Toronto professor Dr. Chris Cavacuiti:
While there is a public perception that cyclists are usually the cause of accidents between cars and bikes, an analysis of Toronto police collision reports shows otherwise: The most common type of crash in this study involved a motorist entering an intersection and either failing to stop properly or proceeding before it was safe to do so.
The second most common crash type involved a motorist overtaking unsafely. The third involved a motorist opening a door onto an oncoming cyclist. The study concluded that cyclists are the cause of less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents in this study.
The available evidence suggests that collisions have far more to do with aggressive driving than aggressive cycling.
Clearly, trying to get cyclists to obey the laws is not going to have much effect if the vast majority of cycle/car collisions are the fault of motorists!
Myth: Cyclists aren't law-abiding road users like motorists. The police should crack down on them to prevent accidents and teach them a lesson.
Reality: Everyone should be able to agree that cyclists, pedestrians and motorists will flout laws or good practice when it feels safe and convenient, although which laws are flouted differs (e.g. motorists tend to exceed the posted speed limit, especially on freeways, and cyclists tend to disobey stop signs).
Instead, we should focus on reducing the violations likely to cause the most harm.
It should be obvious that when a motorist flouts the law - especially by speeding, which drastically increases the risk of death and injury - this is far more likely to cause death or injury than when a cyclist doesn't stop at a stop sign.
According to Statistics Canada, "From 2000 through 2004, 14,082 people died in a motor vehicle accident in Canada."
The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators reports that in 2003 there were 2,778 deaths (including 378 pedestrians and 45 cyclists) and 222,260 injuries due to motor vehicle collisions. About 35 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking.
So clearly, we should be concentrating on serious violations like speeding and drunk driving which have been shown to actually cause death and injury.
While we can argue about which road users are most law abiding, we already know that motorists do in fact cause thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries in Canada each year. This is where we should be focusing our efforts in enforcement and improved road design (to encourage lower speeds).
At the same time, we should also encourage cyclists to ride safely and improve infrastructure (e.g. by building cycling lanes) to reduce conflicts between motorists and cyclists. However, ticketing or licensing cyclists would not be a good use of limited resources if the goal is to reduce death and injury on the roads.
Myth: Cyclists don't pay for the roads and therefore have no right to use them.
Reality: Municipal roads are paid for out of property taxes, which are paid by all residents. Fuel taxes pay for freeways and highways that cyclists cannot use. As the Ministry of Transport's, Guide to Safe Cycling reminds us, "Bicycles are prohibited on expressway / freeway highways such as the 400 series, the QEW."
Myth: Bicycles are not vehicles.
Reality: The Guide states, "A bicycle is a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA). This means that, as a bicyclist, you have the same rights and responsibilities to obey all traffic laws as other road users."
Myth: Cyclists must always stay as close to the curb as possible so motorists are not slowed down.
Reality: Cyclists should generally ride 1m from the curb "unless they are turning left, going faster than other vehicles or if the lane is too narrow to share", according to the Guide.
In particular, "In urban areas where a curb lane is too narrow to share safely with a motorist, it is legal to take the whole lane by riding in the centre of it," and "You may occupy any part of a lane when your safety warrants it. Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist behind you."
Myth: Cyclists should ride on the sidewalk.
Reality: Riding on the sidewalk is illegal.
Myth: Cyclists can't be charged for disobeying traffic law.
Reality: The Guide reminds us, "Cyclists charged for disobeying traffic laws will be subject to a minimum set fine and a Victim Surcharge fine of $20.00 for most offences."