Do Drivers or Cyclists Cause More Crashes?

Do Drivers or Cyclists Cause More Crashes? Photo by Shutterstock

"Get out of the road!"
"Single file!"
"Stay on the sidewalk!"

These are just a few of the most common hostilities—aside from honking and four-letter words—we, as cyclists, hear shouted from car windows as drivers speed by. To an avid cyclist, the argument about who's usually to blame in bike vs car collisions is pretty simple: the driver. After all, in addition to the road rage that cyclists encounter on a regular basis, the number of close calls we have with distracted or aggressive drivers is simply too many to keep track of. As a cyclist, if you don't keep your head on a swivel, you're bound to be hit. Unfortunately, even if you do keep your head on a swivel, chances are that if you spend enough time on a bike, you will eventually be struck by a car or run off the road while avoiding one.

But to non-cyclists, the question of who's usually to blame in bike vs car crashes is not so straightforward. In fact, drivers and society at large tend to blame cyclists for causing crashes or violating traffic rules more often than drivers. For example, a Canadian study by the Angus Reid Institute found that, among respondents who believed there was "quite a bit of conflict" on the roads between cyclists and drivers, 60 percent said that cyclists are more responsible for that conflict.

What the Somewhat Limited Research Reveals

Unfortunately, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration doesn't keep track of fault in bike vs car crashes, and studies are limited in the United States. An old 1998 study by Right of Way found that in 71 fatal New York bike crashes, the driver was the primary culprit in 57 percent of cases, while the cyclist was the main culprit in 23 percent of cases. Fault was split between the cyclist and driver in 11 percent of the crashes.

Another old study conducted in Hawaii found that drivers were at fault in 83.5 percent of bike vs car collisions, whereas cyclists were at fault just 16.5 percent of the time.

A number of more recent studies have been conducted in Australia and the UK—two countries that have similar driving cultures, and lack of bike infrastructure, as the US. According to the Adelaide University's Centre for Automotive Safety Research, four out of five crashes between cyclists and drivers are the fault of the driver.

A study conducted by the UK Department for Transport found that, among bike vs car crashes involving adult cyclists (excluding children), the driver was solely responsible in 60 to 75 percent of all cases, while cyclists were solely at fault in just 17 to 25 percent of cases.

The city of Westminster in the UK conducted its own study of bike vs car crashes in 2013 and found that drivers were to blame in 68 percent of cases, while cyclists were at fault 20 percent of the time. There was "no identifiable cause" in the remaining 12 percent of cases.

In another Australian study, researchers gave 13 adult bike commuters in Melbourne helmet mounted cameras and had them each record 12 hours of commuting over the period of a month. During that time, 54 events (including two collisions, six near-collisions, and 46 close calls) were captured on film. Of those events, researchers found that driverers were responsible 87 percent of the time.

Why Cyclists Get the Blame

General road rage, as well as a dislike of those we cannot identify with, are two major factors in why our society often blames cyclists for causing crashes. An Australian study published in Science Direct found that drivers actually dehumanize people on bikes. One of the authors of the study said to Vice News, "The idea is that if you don't see a group of people as fully human, then you're more likely to be aggressive toward them." But another part of the problem—why cyclists get blamed—is simply ignorance of the law and right of way. For example:

  • Drivers often don't know when a cyclist has right of way in an intersection between a main road and a side street, and decide to pull out from the side street in front of the cyclist when it was not safe or legal to do so;
  • Some drivers assume that if no bike lane exists, the cyclist shouldn't be on that road, and decide to buzz or honk at the cyclist to teach them a lesson; and
  • A driver may pass a cyclist who is in the bike lane and make a sudden right turn, assuming the cyclist has to yield, and cause a right hook crash.

In all three of these scenarios, the driver was in the wrong, but may actually assume the cyclist was at fault. Another problem is when the police also think along these lines.

One Major Factor that Skews the Data

Some US studies report that cyclists are more often to blame than drivers, or that blame is roughly 50/50. The issue with some of these studies is that they are based on faulty police crash data. Police, unfortunately, are sometimes unaware of cyclists' rights to the road, right of way in certain traffic scenarios, or even their misunderstanding of two abreast and three-feet-to-pass laws. This not only skews the limited data that we have regarding fault in bike vs car crashes, but police misunderstanding of the law can have a devastating impact on an injured plaintiff's personal injury claim. If you were involved in a collision with a car, one of the key elements in a bike crash lawsuit is the official accident report, which is conducted by law enforcement. If it paints the cyclist in a bad light, this report will likely be used by the driver's insurance company to deny or devalue the cyclist's claim. However, there are other methods of proving fault if the police report is inaccurate, including using additional eye witness statements, your own statement of the events, video footage, crash scene forensic analysis, expert witnesses, and more. Faulty reports not based on credible evidence or reliable expert opinion can be dealt with from an evidentiary standpoint, but they all too often get in the way of reasonably prompt justice for bike crash victims.

Call Colorado Bike Law Today if You Were Injured in a Bike Crash

If you were hit by a driver, and whether you know for certain that the driver was at fault or your memory of the event is hazy, it is vital that you talk to an attorney. You may be owed considerable damages for your injuries and other losses. We urge you to call ColoBikeLaw to discuss your case today.