'The culture war is making it more dangerous': Four in five cyclists report aggression from drivers

Bristol survey shows that driver aggression is putting off people from cycling

A cyclist confronts a car
(Image credit: Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

The "culture war narrative" is making cycling more dangerous, the chair of Bristol Cycling has said, as a survey showed that four in five cyclists had experienced driver aggression in the city.

The Bristol Cycling survey, which got over 1,000 responses within the UK city, showed that 81 per cent of cyclists have experienced issues ranging from inattentive drivers passing too close, to 'extreme verbal and physical aggression'. Meanwhile, 45 per cent said they were very concerned about road safety and collisions.

One cyclist wrote: “I had a driver jump red lights trying to hit me with his car. I tried to get away from him by cycling on the pavement, which I would not normally do. He drove several metres down the pavement after me and only stopped because there was a bus stop.”

Another said: “I often have cars pass me way too close. I have had cars cut me off and come out of a T-junction, even while making eye contact. I have been shouted at to get off the street.”

Ian Pond, the chair of Bristol Cycling, said that there are lots of explanations, but "when it’s an unprotected cyclist exposed to a big metal box, it’s clear who’s going to come off worse".

"I don’t think there is a simple answer," he told Cycling Weekly. "Because the underlying reasons for incidents reported appear to fall into different categories that could be attributed to; lack of attention, poor judgement, distraction, moving through to impatience and speeding and the terrifying deliberate acts of aggression. 

"But whatever the cause, when it’s an unprotected cyclist exposed to a big metal box, it’s clear who’s going to come off worse.   

"I’d suggest that the current sheer volume of traffic, level of congestion and consequent traffic delays are big factors. The culture war narrative just makes it more dangerous."

As the cycling and walking commissioner for the West Midlands, Adam Tranter, similarly explained to CW earlier this year, better cycling infrastructure is needed if safe cycling is not possible on shared roads, Pond said.

"If drivers of motor vehicles and cyclists cannot safely occupy the same space as our survey results indicate, then separated, protected lanes are the only solution on major routes," he said. "Especially, if we want to encourage more people to cycle."

However, he added: "Infrastructure can only help in the places where it is in place, so therefore ultimately it has to be a road user mindset (not cultural) shift everywhere else. We need all road users to share the available space with consideration for everybody’s safety. That could take a while! "

More than 80 per cent of non-cyclists who responded said fears about road safety kept them from cycling, with bike theft the second-highest reason for not getting around on two wheels.

Despite the negative survey results, Pond said that he does have hope for change.

"I do believe we have reached 'peak car'," he explained, "and that trends to less commuting and reduced car ownership, vehicle automation - like speed limiter controls, plus improvements in public transport will lead to a less congested and frenetic road space."

Earlier this year, polling for the road safety charity IAM RoadSmart showed that 65 per cent of drivers thought that aggressive cyclists are a threat to their safety, while 60 per cent said the problem is worse than it was three years ago.

At the time, Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at charity Cycling UK, said: “There’s no excuse for aggressive behaviour - people can behave badly no matter what mode of transport they’re using. The consequences are however disproportionate, with statistics showing poor driving far more likely to lead to a fatality or serious injury."

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