Injured cyclists not at fault in majority of crashes in Adelaide study

There is a popular perception that cyclists tend to have injurious crashes with motor vehicles because of the way they ride.

"I saw a cyclist doing something really stupid the other day," is a traditional anecdote whenever there is news of a bike rider involved in a collision, often followed by an assumption that cyclists bring it all on themselves. 

This week, a new report by the RAA – South Australia's peak motoring body – has once again challenged such contentions.

The report examined the suburbs and roads of greater Adelaide where, according to data from 2011 to 2015, there was a high incidence of cyclists being involved in casualty crashes.

And when it came to collisions with motor vehicles, motorists were predominantly at fault, said the RAA's Charles Mountain. 

"Most of the crashes occurred at intersections across popular cycling routes and were deemed not to be the fault of the cyclists," he said. "This points to the fact that people driving through are not as aware as they should be of cyclists."

The report had a specific focus on several roads where a high number of cycling casualty crashes took place, including sections of Military Road, The Parade, Unley Road, Rundle Street and Anzac Highway.

Crash characteristics 

These roads had different characteristics depending on where they are located and how they are used, Mountain said.

"On arterial roads and corridors you have the more typical crashes occurring where motorists might be turning and they cut a cyclist off, or they're turning right and they interact with a cyclist as well," he said.


Meanwhile, "Military Road is more a tourist and recreation area so the crash rates there are higher on the weekend," he said.

The study of these roads also identified the number of casualty crashes where the cyclist was not at fault, based on police data.

Taking an average across the five roads, the injured bike riders were reported as not being at fault in 191 out of 245 crashes, or 76 per cent.

However, the study focused on all crashes, not just collisions with other vehicles, meaning that many of the "cyclist at fault" incidents included "roll over" and "hit fixed object" – crashes that might not have involved other road users.

Another location – Jetty Road in Glenelg – had 32 casualty bike crashes, with 19 listed as "roll over".

The road is also a tram route, and the report notes: "It is not displayed in the crash statistics, but anecdotally cyclists were involved in roll over crashes as a result of getting their wheel/s stuck in the tram tracks."

A matter of fault

The RAA report is by no means the first study to look at the issue of fault in crashes involving cyclists. I've written on the subject before, and while methodologies and percentages vary, the studies I looked at found that motorists were predominantly to blame in car/bike collisions.

One report, which also focused on South Australia, found that drivers were deemed at fault for 79 per cent of collisions in a sample of incidents featuring 61 seriously injured cyclists.

This week, the author of that study, Tori Lindsay, told me that the results of the RAA summary are "consistent with a lot of the research recently being undertaken at the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide".

Lindsay is busy looking at 200 cases where a bicycle and a motor vehicle collided. "At least 91 per cent of those crashes were the driver's fault," she said.

Charles Mountain says the report "does highlight overall that there is a need for a high level of awareness amongst motorists".

recent Monash University report on cycling injuries in Melbourne also found that intersections are a particular danger spot for cyclists.

Ride and survive

"Motorists and cyclists need to watch out for each other, particularly at intersections and when turning. Motorists should also be checking for cyclists before opening their doors," Mountain said, while cyclists should "do things to make sure they are as visible as possible".

Lindsay said that education programs and awareness on the part of motorists and cyclists that the road is to be shared were important.

She also stressed the need for defensive riding, even when a cyclist has right of way.

"The ideal situation, of course, is to have complete separation between cyclists and vehicles – but it will take a great deal of infrastructure and money to do that," she said.

Infrastructure is "an ongoing issue", Mountain said, including ensuring that cycling corridors are completed and looking at the management of parked vehicles.

Of course, the RAA study had a specific focus on roads with a high rate of casualty crashes in conditions that may not be replicated elsewhere.

But such reports help to shine a light on the causes of cycle crashes – and hopefully, remind us to look out for each other.