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Drivers at fault in almost three-quarters of all collisions between cyclists and motorists, new data shows

The figures, collated by Cycling Scotland, also show that cyclists “wearing dark clothing at night” were at fault for only 19 collisions between 2015 and 2021

Motorists are at fault in nearly three-quarters of all collisions between cyclists and drivers, according to new analysis of road safety figures in Scotland – analysis which has also suggested that common tropes about ‘dangerous’ cyclists, such as riders “wearing dark clothing”, are responsible for comparatively few crashes.

The data, collated by Cycling Scotland, shows that 54 cyclists were killed and a further 1,836 seriously injured in road collisions throughout Scotland between 2015 and 2021, the Herald reports.

Analysing the “contributory factors” assigned by Police Scotland to all collisions, Cycling Scotland found that over 70 percent of crashes involving motorists and cyclists were the fault of the driver. For both drivers and cyclists, the most common cause of a collision is a failure to look – though of the 512 “failure to look” incidents, 374 were assigned to the motorist.

> Highway Code updates, low traffic neighbourhoods, and 20mph zones behind cyclist fatalities falling to lowest number in 30 years, says Cycling UK

“Aggressive driving” and “vehicle door opened or closed negligently” were also in the top 10 reasons for collisions, Cycling Scotland found.

However, in the incidents where the cyclist was deemed to be at fault, “wearing dark clothing at night” was assigned to only 19 collisions between 2015 and 2021, the ninth most common cause of crashes where the cyclist was at fault.

The relative paucity of incidents related to dark cycling clothing stands in stark contrast to Police Scotland’s stance on the issue. In February, we reported that a Scottish chief inspector found herself at the centre of a “victim blaming” row when she urged pedestrians to wear “reflective or fluorescent” clothing, after six people walking were killed after being hit by other road users in just 13 days.

“Pedestrians are considered vulnerable road users and, in winter, particularly when it is dark, pedestrians should wear reflective or fluorescent clothing,” Ch Insp Lorraine Napier said at the time.

“I would also urge pedestrians to be mindful of their surroundings and to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk.”

> Police ask pedestrians to wear hi-vis following spate of road deaths in Scotland

This mindset – that vulnerable road users are putting themselves at risk in certain situations, and are therefore responsible for collisions – was criticised by Simon Bradshaw, the Cycling Road Safety Manager at Cycling Scotland, who collated this recent data.

“There is sometimes animosity between a minority of people who drive cars and other vehicles and people on pedal cycles, which can sometimes result in conflict,” Bradshaw said.

“This clearly is unsafe, but it also perpetuates some of the myths that surround people on bikes as well: that people on cycles are unsafe, and they are the cause of collisions by going through a red light, or through junctions and not obeying the rules of the road. And obviously, there is a small minority of cyclists who do that, just as there is of people who drive vehicles.”

> Not giving up — why a camera cyclist driven off social media by abuse won’t stop reporting dangerous motorists

He continued: “But what the data tells us is that cyclist behaviour isn’t a major factor which is causing people on bikes to be seriously injured or even killed. The biggest risk is from the presence of vehicles.

“What we’re trying to demonstrate by highlighting this data is that on most occasions, where you have a collision between a person on a bike and a vehicle, it tends to be the fault of the person driving the vehicle.”

> Academic behind ‘cyclists seen as less human’ study: “If you have a safe and normal cycling culture, how could you see people as anything but human?”

Bradshaw believes that cyclists have been dehumanised by some motorists, creating a narrative in which they are blamed for causing collisions and increasing the danger on the roads.

“A minority of people get behind the wheel of a vehicle but then tend to see people on bikes as sort of not human,” he said.

“Language is very important in these in these discussions, because there’s a lot of emotive language being used in certain quarters.

“We’re trying to make the point that it’s generally not people on bikes who are causing the problem or the greatest risk. It’s people in vehicles and that’s where we’re wanting to focus our efforts, on preventing collisions in the first place.”

> Delays to introduction of online road safety portal putting cyclists “at risk”, says Cycling UK

The Cycling Scotland representative also called on Police Scotland to introduce a dedicated reporting mechanism for close passes – with the force coming in for criticism in recent months due to the continued absence of an online portal, causing near misses for cyclists to be underreported – and argued that it was difficult to make progress concerning road safety in Scotland due to the a lack of a “consistent overall approach” from the various groups involved, such as the police and local and national authorities.

He added: “We’re trying very hard to do that and Transport Scotland’s road safety framework provides a good structure for everybody to try and work together but it takes actually drawing out the data.

“Because it’s all about being evidence-led. There is no point investing money on road safety interventions that aren’t supported by the evidence and are therefore likely to be ineffective.

“So somebody highlighting the fact that wearing dark clothing at night is not supported in the data as being the cause of people on bikes being killed or seriously injured. And that’s really important, because you would hope then that puts it to bed.

“And you can focus on the real issue, which is actually the people in vehicles posing the biggest risks. But it’s likely to be an issue which never goes away. It’ll consistently pop up and raise its head. And we just have to keep addressing it, I think.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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33 comments

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Jimmy Ray Will | 9 months ago
0 likes

Playing devil's advocate here, but could the differences be at least partially down to competent drivers being better abled to avoid collisions than cyclists?

Better brakes, greater awareness, better training? Also cyclists are smaller, traveling slower, so there is more opportunities to make collision avoiding adjustments.

Where as cyclists are often pawns on the road... the epitomy of vulnerable. Motor vehicles are moving faster, are larger, far more likely to do damage in a collision. 

I guess what I'm saying is this might not simply be about motorists being incompetent and cyclists good, it might be far more situational. 

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Hirsute replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 9 months ago
4 likes

Not very convinced competent drivers make up much of the population of drivers.

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BalladOfStruth replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 9 months ago
3 likes

I’ve always argued that it’s “easier” to emergency brake or swerve in a car than a bike because four wheels are more stable so you can turn the wheel really hard or stamp the brake and leave things up to the computer instead of needing to worry about counterbalancing, shifting weight, feathering brakes, etc. So if a pedestrian steps into your path at a reasonably low speed, a driver can probably avoid them easier than a cyclist.

That being said, I doubt that this is evidence of drivers being better at avoiding incidents than cyclists. I’d say its more likely that, despite the media constantly telling us that cyclists are all lunatics, most people who only have a t-shirt and a Styrofoam hat to protect themselves, will be a LOT more cautious, risk-adverse and observant. Whereas a two-tonne mobile fortress loaded to the brim with personal safety features and a plethora of distractions will breed a certain degree of complacency.

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Carior replied to BalladOfStruth | 9 months ago
1 like

Of course the flip side to this is that if I am on a collision course to bullseye a pedestrian, I only to alter my course by about the width of a human body to ensure we miss each other completely, so maybe a foot, foot and a half (I'm pretty small) whilst a car needs to alter its path by somewhere between 1 and 1.5m.

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BalladOfStruth replied to Carior | 9 months ago
0 likes

Depends how far into your path the ped has gotten, but fair point. 

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chrisonabike replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 9 months ago
3 likes

Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

Playing devil's advocate here, but could the differences be at least partially down to competent drivers being better abled to avoid collisions than cyclists?

Another "yes and no" one.

Yes - drivers are a sub-set of the population (e.g. no children, some medical conditions disallowed etc).  Also a fraction of them have undergone training and passed a test within a decade.  (Many of them - it was multiple decades, and we know that some out there have never trained or passed a test...)

OR

Yes - because "better abled" - we have spent a LOT of money and political energy on making driving "safe enough" for drivers while still allowing the majority of the population to carry out this activity ad-lib.  Our one exception - you shouldn't be intoxicated.  There is reasonable social acceptance of this  rule although it's not complete and much less so for some drugs.

So the car "user interface" has seen a ton of work, our car designs, street designs and culture ("don't walk in the road!  Always wait for the green man") all work to facilitate mass motoring by indifferent human drivers.

OR

No - because as above we've enabled fairly incompetent driving by ensuring there are few consequences.  Some of this is of course to be commended (rumble strips, curves in motorways, traffic lights, speed limits, cats' eyes, energy absorbing crash barriers, air bags etc.)  After all humans are fallible, more or less.  However we are still overly reliant on drivers doing the right things - and there is very little feedback for those not doing so.  (e.g. police.)

So distracted, long-untrained, tired driving is pretty much considered "standard" along with a bit of phone / device use and speeding.   We've almost completely trivialised the safety critical tasks of "paying attention" and "driving to conditions" - never mind "driving according to the law".

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Fignon's ghost | 9 months ago
4 likes

In other bleeding obvious news. Tartan paint does not exist.

If a cyclist is going to go to the length required to SNAP a motorist. It's bloody well about time police Scotland took the complaint seriously and showed some teeth.

Cycling in Scotland seems to me at the mercy of a mad max system of survival. The motorist is king.

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OldRidgeback replied to Fignon's ghost | 9 months ago
2 likes

And it's not helped by the 'cannae be arsed' approach by Police Scotland to dealing with traffic offences where cyclists are victims.

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wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
7 likes

 “wearing dark clothing at night” was assigned to only 19 collisions between 2015 and 2021"

no surprise really, because every driver I know is quick to regale me with tales of all the cyclists they have seen wearing dark clothes at night.

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HoldingOn replied to wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
2 likes
wycombewheeler wrote:

no surprise really, because every driver I know is quick to regale me with tales of all the cyclists they have seen wearing dark clothes at night.

I assume you mean haven't seen....

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IanMSpencer replied to HoldingOn | 9 months ago
4 likes

I don't think he does - from the same experience myself. As in "Look at that cyclist, you can't see him dressed all in black!"

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HoldingOn replied to IanMSpencer | 9 months ago
2 likes

It was my clumsy attempt at humour.

A "winking face" probably would have made that more obvious.

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wycombewheeler replied to HoldingOn | 9 months ago
2 likes

HoldingOn wrote:
wycombewheeler wrote:

no surprise really, because every driver I know is quick to regale me with tales of all the cyclists they have seen wearing dark clothes at night.

I assume you mean haven't seen....

if they hadn't seen them, they wouldn't be commenting about it.

Like I've never seen a UFO, but I don't know if that's because they don't exist, or just because they are all painted black.

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belugabob replied to wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
1 like
wycombewheeler wrote:

HoldingOn wrote:
wycombewheeler wrote:

no surprise really, because every driver I know is quick to regale me with tales of all the cyclists they have seen wearing dark clothes at night.

I assume you mean haven't seen....

if they hadn't seen them, they wouldn't be commenting about it.

Like I've never seen a UFO, but I don't know if that's because they don't exist, or just because they are all painted black.

UFO, or flying saucer?

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HoldingOn replied to wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
0 likes

wycombewheeler wrote:

if they hadn't seen them, they wouldn't be commenting about it.

Which is where the humorous (although apparently not) element comes in.

I'll get my (dark) coat.....

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sheridan replied to wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
0 likes

wycombewheeler wrote:

 “wearing dark clothing at night” was assigned to only 19 collisions between 2015 and 2021"

no surprise really, because every driver I know is quick to regale me with tales of all the cyclists they have seen wearing dark clothes at night.

Funny thing about this 'dark clothing at night' thing - keep an eye open for how many black, grey and silver cars there are out there.  If you wanted to design vehicles which were relatively inconsopicuous against the asphalt, you could do worse than pick those three colours - yet we never see reports of cars being hit due to the colour of their paint.

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BalladOfStruth | 9 months ago
8 likes

Seems to tally with the ONS/DfT stats from a few years ago that showed that drivers were to blame 2-3 times more often than cyclists in car vs bike KSIs for every age group except children. The DfT report also pointed out that the "partial blame" stats were somewhat dubious, as they contained a lot of Police anti-cyclist bias - cyclists being attributed partial blame for not wearing light/hi-vis on bright, clear days with good visibility, for example.

Of course, the press took this story and spun it in the the most anti-cyclist way they could, combining "partial" fault and "full" fault to get "cyclists to blame in 55% of crashes", but not doing the same for drivers (to blame in ~87% of crashes or whatever it would have been).

Funnily enough, Ashley Neal did a video on this, but because he didn't bother to read any more than the editorialised headline, he marked the release of a report that essentially showed that cyclists aren't to blame in most KSIs with a video shitting all over cyclists, telling us to be better (and he wonders why he isn't particularly popular on here) - let's see if he does anything with this data...

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SecretSam | 9 months ago
3 likes

In other news, Pope found to be Catholic and you're never going to guess what bears do in the woods...

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NOtotheEU | 9 months ago
15 likes

Given that this was taken from police reports of who was at fault and police Scotland don't have a great reputation (not as bad as Lancashire obviously!) this is pretty damning and probably underestimates slightly, after all no accidents are attributed to 'driving a black car at night'.

In other news the Pope is Catholic and bears s**t in the woods.

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IanGlasgow replied to NOtotheEU | 9 months ago
1 like

The only reason Police Scotland has a marginally better reputation that Lancs Police is that here in Scotland we don't report incidents to them so they get less opportunity to be useless.
I reported an incident once -  iw as deliberately and aggressively close-passed by an uninsured driver. It involved a 3 hour wait in my local police station to make a statement (it can't be done online), which they passed on to another police station (the one covering the location where the incident happened, even though my local station was nearer to it) who ignored it and referred me back to my local station.
The PC I gave my statement to said the vehicle was registered in the name of the partner of a driver who was banned for similar incidents so it was probably him who was driving. No insurance, driving while banned, aggressive close-pass and yet still they did nothing.

And TBH, I was lucky. Ask Dave Brennan (Magantom on Youtube) about the time he was attacked by a driver and Police Scotland charged him.
Ask Allan Myles about the time he was knocked off his bike by a hit and run driver (who he's seen driving many times since) and Police Scotland did absolutely nothing (that incident is the pics illustrating the article).
Both incidents were on video.
There is no police force in the UK worse than Police Scotland. Lancashire may be useless, but Police Scotland are actively harmful.

EDIT: I forgot the time I was close passed by a Police vehicle during Operation Close Pass!

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wtjs replied to NOtotheEU | 9 months ago
1 like

Given that this was taken from police reports of who was at fault and police Scotland don't have a great reputation (not as bad as Lancashire obviously!) this is pretty damning

Just as well you put in that caveat, or I'd have had my lawyers onto you! As a Lancashire Loyalist, I will not have it that any other force approaches the level of indolence, hopeless ineptitude and hostility towards cyclists- oh, I forgot lying and corruption:

10.3.22

The DVLA website is not updated as regularly as the Police National Computer. I can confirm that the vehicle had a valid MOT test certificate at the time of the offence.

Regards

Sergeant 2459 Dave Lavin, Safer Roads Unit, HQ Operations.

The offence concerned  was initially the close pass, but I noticed the following day (there are so many MOT, insurance and VED evaders in Lancashire that I later began checking suspicious vehicles routinely) that YA67 HMU had no MOT on the day of the offence. Sgt. Lavin claimed it did, but an MOT test was later obtained (24.3.22) after I started making a fuss about it. They never replied to my email with screenshots of all the MOT and VED data, and when I sent it in again, OpSnap Lancs blocked my email address. See for yourself 

https://upride.cc/incident/ya67hmu_fortonglass_closepass/

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Safety | 9 months ago
11 likes

This sounds like a valuable piece of research. Also kudos to Cycling Scotland for continuing to highlight the lack of reporting platform in Scotland. Which in turn highlights the ineptitude of Polis Scotlands leadership. During a period of tight budgets this relatively small investment, if used properly, could bring on board countless additional traffic patrols.

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giff77 replied to Safety | 9 months ago
6 likes

Apparently according to a FOI request I dug up, Polis Scotland have put the portal on hold (kicked into the long grass) due to lack of cash. Even with the grant from the govt there is insufficient funds to make it happen.

Even without the portal there seems to be a general reticence amongst a lot of constables to deal with complaints as a 'victim' of road crime and it feels that they're thinking "here we go again, another whinging cyclist". So unless you wind up with a motivated constable you're pretty much stuffed.

On one occasion when chatting with TB about the lack of close pass operations in the area they seemed more concerned about the lack of helmet. I witheringly replied that if I'm hit at 50mph plus by a vehicle they're dealing with a KSI regardless to receive a grudging suppose so. 

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mattw replied to giff77 | 9 months ago
3 likes

AIUI the premise of the portal is that reporters are a "witness" to road crime, not a victim - as that considerably reduces the amount of work (and time) to be spent by the police.

Scotland has the problem (as documented by Alan Myles, Twitter @AlanMyles8) that everything has to go via the Procurator Fiscal in some measure, so the system itself is wading through mud.

A measure of institutional reform is required.

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giff77 replied to mattw | 9 months ago
2 likes

That was my understanding too. If the portal went ahead all I was doing was showing here's what some loon has just done. Currently it's managing to have the polis show up at your home to interview you which can sometimes take over a week. Then be informed that the Fiscal won't progress it as you weren't injured or took evasive action. The current government seem to be reticent on the issue of a FPN based on footage without it having to go through the Fiscal. So it's all one vicious circle and unless you have Traffic Branch  following when it happened you're pretty much stuffed. Sometimes you will get a constable who will go round and give the driver a bollicking and remind them of their responsibilities. 

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wtjs replied to giff77 | 9 months ago
0 likes

Sometimes you will get a constable who will go round and give the driver a bollicking and remind them of their responsibilities

Or send a warning letter for them to hang on a nail in the toilet, along with all the others

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Sriracha | 9 months ago
20 likes

I'm intrigued by the 19 cases where the cyclists was deemed to be at fault due to their clothes being dark.

If these cyclists had no lights or reflectors after sunset then I would have thought that would be the cited cause.

But if they were in compliance with lights and reflectors regs, then what they were wearing should be irrelevant.

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perce replied to Sriracha | 9 months ago
15 likes

He'll be along in a minute.

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RDaneel replied to perce | 9 months ago
5 likes

Regular as clockwork. 

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Steve K replied to RDaneel | 9 months ago
4 likes

To be fair, that one was quite a funny response.

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