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Forget "attractive people" - other road users and obstacles in the road are by far the biggest distractions for cyclists

Gawping at people grabbed the mainstream headlines - but ranked only six out of eight factors in study it was taken from

“FATAL ATTRACTION Half of all cyclists are endangering their own lives by taking their eyes off the road to gawp at a good-looking person” – that’s the headline of an article in The Sun today. But the crucial point in the study that finding came from is that by far the biggest distractions for cyclists – and the biggest sources of danger – are the behaviour of other road users and obstacles in the road, each cited by more than four in five who participated.

The Sun’s story is based on a press release that did the rounds yesterday, and the PR firm that put it out can congratulate themselves on a job well done by getting their client’s name into one of the country’s most-read media outlets by using a hook that was bound to get attention.

But the study itself, conducted by researchers at the University of Valencia and which highlights more serious though less sensationalist issues, with “People that I find attractive” ranking only sixth.

Here’s the full list, ranked by the percentage of respondents who cited each one as a distraction.

The behaviour of other road users – 83.6 per cent
Obstacles in the way – 83.5 per cent
Weather conditions – 68.5 per cent
Phone calls – 64.9 per cent
My own thoughts or concerns – 55.1 per cent
People that I find attractive – 47.5 per cent
Text messages or chats – 46.4 per cent
Billboards – 34.7 per cent

Plenty of research has been carried out on the issue of distracted drivers – something that the US government's Centers for Disease Control says is a factor in nine deaths and more than 1,000 people being injured every day.

But recent years have seen several studies published that analyse potential distractions while cycling, but they have tended to focus on the use of mobile phones or headphones, such as this one from 2016 based on observation of cyclists in Boston.

The latest study from the University of Valencia – which it is worth noting does not list using headphones or listening to music as a potential distraction – is based on responses to an online questionnaire, in Spanish, by 1,064 regular cyclists, of whom around 61 per cent were men and 39 per cent women.

The vast majority of participants, 78.1 per cent, were from Latin America, with 15.15 per cent from Europe, and 6.75 per cent from North America.

By country, the only ones providing 5 per cent or more of the sample were Spain itself, or Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America including Argentina, Colombia and Mexico – unsurprisingly, given the language it was conducted in.

Countries including the UK, the US and Germany provided between 1 per cent and 5 per cent of participants, while less than 1 per cent came from countries such as Canada and France.

The study includes a review of previous research on the subject of distraction among road users generally in cyclists in particular, noting that with “the high physical vulnerability of cyclists during traffic crashes, distraction substantially increases the odds of suffering severe injuries or even death.”

Participants in the survey rode their bikes for a mean of 6.71 hours per week, with the mean duration of each journey coming out at 47.5 minutes. Four in 10 had experienced a crash, of any severity, during the past five years while cycling.

Six in 10 respondents said that they commonly experienced between four and six of the distractions asked about, while just 1.4 per cent of participants claimed that they were not affected by any of the eight categories.

By age, the highest mean occurrence of distractions was found in the 46-55 age group, and the least among those aged below 26, with the figure increasing in line with age.

“In this regard,” the authors said, “our results showed that older individuals were the ones presenting a higher rate of distractors affecting their riding.

“Another age-related issue that is worth discussing is the fact that, although cycling distractions increase with age, traffic crash rates maintained a negative association with the age of cyclists.

“This phenomenon could be interpreted in the light of the results provided by some empirical studies, which reported that younger cyclists tend to present more risk-taking behaviours, and to have a higher risk of being involved in a traffic crash than older users.”

In conclusion, the authors said that distractions while riding are “relatively common among cyclists,” and are more likely to be experienced by older people.

“Cycling distraction rates are also associated with personal variables such as psychological distress and the intensity of cycling, and with both risky and protective behaviours on the road,” they continued.

“Also, cycling distractions play a significant role in the prediction of risky behaviours preceding traffic crashes involving bike users. In other words, distractions predicted the traffic crash rates of cyclists, but through the mediation of risky behaviours.

“Finally," they added," this study suggests the need of examining the role of road distractions and other complementary factors both for what concerns cyclists and other road users, as a way to enhance the predictive ability and the global understanding of traffic crashes involving them.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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growingvegtables | 5 years ago

I call b*llsh!t.

The nastiest bit of victim-blaming mendacity I've seen in a long time.

alansmurphy | 5 years ago
1 like

I get the point you're making Von but some of them certainly could be in a way.


So an idiot revving their engine becomes more than a usual business as usual type occurence and distracts you somewhat, you may pay more attention to it than you should.


The stupidest thing about the way in which the media have spun this is they've ignored the fact that nearly 2 in 3 are distracted by their phones, something we hate when car users do it. Now I know the likely outcome is harm to self rather than others but it's still much more newsworthy! 

Awavey replied to alansmurphy | 5 years ago
alansmurphy wrote:

So an idiot revving their engine becomes more than a usual business as usual type occurence and distracts you somewhat, you may pay more attention to it than you should

Agreed,an example of that imo would be by being tailgated, your focus switches to whats happening behind you as the most immediate safety threat,especially with a truck following, & what are they going to do next,how might they force a pass and you could miss a detail in the road ahead you needed to account for like poor road surface or a pothole, or have less time to react to situations suddenly developing ahead,just because you are distracted by this other road users behaviour

vonhelmet | 5 years ago

Those top 3 aren’t distractions... paying attention to those things is what you’re supposed to do...

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