Motorists are responsible for most cycle-car collisions in London – what can people on bikes do to protect themselves?

This article in the Times – –  quotes a study by Westminster Borough Council which shows that 68% of accidents involving bikes and cars are the fault of the driver rather than the biker.  As well as being an eternal geek, I’m also a qualified cycle instructor – so I thought I’d look at the most common types of accident and look at how these can be prevented.  Many of these will be obvious to experienced cyclists – but some types of accident may not.  This type of analysis should show up the type of accident that people are failing to predict (because they otherwise wouldn’t be getting hurt in them) and that you might think that you therefore might not spot.

First note: Cycling is pretty safe.  We’re talking 120 deaths across the whole country per year, and 10 across London  – as compared to 100,000+ from inactivity nationally.  You are much more at risk from sitting on your sofa than you are riding a bike!  However, knowledge is power and knowing more about keeping the type of accidents that cause harm to cyclists will help you protect yourself.

Second note: Reading a blog on the internet isn’t a replacement for cycle training, which will cover many the points discussed below and go into much more depth on a riding style for you.  I thoroughly recommend considering cycle training.

I started by looking out the most common causes of accidents involving bikes and cars, from this report by TfL from 2011:

Table showing conflicts causing deaths of bike users:


Table showing most common conflicts causing serious injury to bike users:


What conclusions can we draw from this information?

1. STAY OUT from the left hand side of HGV’s, skip lorries, cement mixers etc.  These have a habit of turning left over cyclists, and caused 3 deaths in 2011 and 2 serious injuries.  Stay behind these unless there is plenty of room to get past and out of the drivers ‘blind spot’ (basically to where you can see the driver’s eyes).  You might be better overtaking on the right where there is space to do so.  Never pass a lorry that is indicating left on the left hand side!  If you get caught out alongside a HGV then get the bike out of the road and onto the pavement.

2. Look behind you!  It’s critical that you don’t pull out in front of moving traffic – another 3 deaths and 25 serious injuries were caused by bike users either exiting the footway into the path of traffic, or changing lane into a moving stream of traffic. Check behind you before you set off, and before moving out to pass parked vehicles.

3. Avoid the door zone (the bit where car doors might open into).  Door zone accidents caused 1 death and 48 serious injuries in 2011.  Anticipate well ahead and  move out away from parked cars – leaving a car doors width.  Motorists might not expect this – so make sure you’re observing point 2.

4. Anticipate others’ mistakes.  A vast chunk of accidents causing injury and death to those on bikes are caused by drivers making ‘looked but failed to see’ errors.  Moving out before passing junctions (don’t forget point 2!) will allow you to see cars exiting junctions better (and allow them to see you better) as well as giving you more time to react in the case of them not spotting you – covering the brake levers also allows you to brake quicker in case of need.  Of course – covering the brakes is no good if they aren’t working effectively so make sure your bike is in good order!

But what about helmets?

If you think you might fall and hit your head and you don’t mind wearing one, wear one.  I don’t think they’re anywhere near as significant for safety as learning to avoid crashes in the first place.  You may wish to look at for more details.

How do I get cycle training?

Generally training is available through your local council – take a look at their website and find the cycling pages – or give them a call!

Cycle trainers may wish to comment below with how potential customers can get in touch, where you train, and whether you can get funding for training.



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5 responses to “Motorists are responsible for most cycle-car collisions in London – what can people on bikes do to protect themselves?

  1. MillDick

    Good, well-informed common-sense advice.
    Re “Looked but failed to see”: any evidence for high vis gear or use of lights protecting against these?

    • I have not done a full literature search, but it seems from the reading that I’ve done that hi-viz is easier to see in the dark, but doesn’t reduce collisions to an extent that is detectable by the studies done (statistically significant).

      Most accidents happen in daylight in the summer months (see Fig 7, here:, and in any case most of London is street lit. This makes me think that hi-viz and lights are not as significant as road position and riding style, however I’d need to do significantly more digging than I have time to do now to determine exactly how effective they are.

      Maybe the subject for a future blog post!

      • Livinginabox

        A word of caution here, actually quite a few words of caution. It all depends what one means by ‘hi-viz’. If one’s idea of ‘hi-viz’ is akin to the tabards handed-out to participants in Sky-rides, then fluorescent colours alone are very poor when UV light-levels are low i.e. after dark. Fluorescent colours alone are excellent during daylight, including in fog and snow.
        Fluorescent colours combined with retro-reflective bands as seen on emergency services’ uniforms etc. are far better.
        But the best reflective accessory is something low-down, e.g. ankle or pedal height (pedal reflectors for safety bicycles). These are located where they are likely to be illuminated by dipped headlights, and provide that important biomotion signature from pedalling that tells anyone in-front or behind with eyes and half a brain that there’s a cyclist ahead. Ankle bands would of course help side-visibility as well.

        Spoke and tyre reflectors are good too.

        Assumptions: that the driver has good vision, is awake and is looking where he is going and that the car has operating and functional headlights.

        It is important to remember that panniers (front & rear) (which are often black) may help to conceal ankle bands & pedal reflectors.

        Wood, Joanne M. and Tyrrell, Richard A. and Marszalek, Ralph P. and
        Lacherez, Philippe F. and Carberry, Trent P. and Chu, Byoung Sun and
        King, Mark J. (2010)
        Cyclist visibility at night : perceptions of visibility do not necessarily match reality. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 21(3). pp. 56‐60.
        (available free-online)

      • Thanks for the comment and paper suggestion – I’ll take a look this evening.

        A quick comment: Evidence that hi-viz helps people be seen when in the dark without bike lights is easy to find. Evidence that it prevents accidents non-existent from what I’ve seen – in fact the data I’ve seen seems to suggest that people wearing hi-viz are more likely to have accidents (not suggesting correlation=>causation in this case, as major confounder is that more experienced cyclists much less likely to wear hi-viz – but it does suggest no major protective effect).

    • This blog is of interest on the subject of cycle safety by using lights ….it shows that, according to police reporting, that of just over 100 crashes in the borough investigated, 1 was partly attributed to failure of the bike to have lights. Obviously this is only one sample, but it shows that there are likely to be much bigger factors at play in the causes of crashes between bikes and cars.

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