Cyclists’ appearance fails to influence drivers

12.00 | 30 September 2014 | | 4 comments

The way cyclists are dressed does little to improve their safety when it comes to being overtaken by cars, according to a study by researchers from the University of Bath.

The study looked at whether drivers left more or less space when overtaking a cyclist, depending on the level of experience and skill indicated by the cyclist’s appearance.

Five outfits were tested, ranging from a stereotypical sport rider’s outfit (portraying high experience and skill) to a vest with ‘novice cyclist’ printed on the back.

A high-visibility jacket was also used, as were two commercially available safety vests – one featuring a prominent mention of the word ‘police’ and a warning that the rider was video-recording their journey, and one modelled on a police jacket but with a letter changed so it read ‘POLITE’.

An ultrasonic distance sensor recorded the space left by vehicles passing the cyclist on a regular commuting route. The only outfit associated with a significant change in passing proximity was the police/video-recording jacket.

The researchers say, “contrary to predictions”, that drivers treated riders in the sports outfit and the ‘novice cyclist’ outfit no differently, which suggests “they do not adjust overtaking proximity as a function of a rider’s perceived experience”.

The study concluded: “There is little riders can do, by altering their appearance, to prevent the very closest overtakes”. It goes on to suggest “infrastructural, educational or legal measures are more promising for preventing drivers from passing extremely close to bicyclists”.


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    Has there been measurable distance checks between single or two abreast riding?

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    I would think the distance given by a cyclist whilst overtaking other vehicles is the same as a motorcycle would give….. too little. It is called filtering or lane splitting when a bike or other twv does it, but overtaking when anything else does it.

    bob craven Lancs
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    Did they measure what distances were involved when cyclists were overtaking cars or other cyclists?

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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    I would think what most determines the overtaking distance is the useable width of the road. In town traffic where there is already congestion and many structural obstructions, traffic islands etc. even with a yard of cycle lane I would not presume that any distance is given, or at the most a few inches. No matter what the cyclist is wearing.

    Perhaps try it with the 300 naked riders and see if there is any further safety margin given between men and women. That would be interesting, but dressed in licra or jeans from the rear who is to know the difference?

    On country roads or those out of town centres, even narrow ones, I have found that greater distance and safety margin is afforded by many motorists because they can, even if they have to wait some time before they can overtake.

    Bob Craven, Lancs
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