Thursday Cycling Soapbox: Is Cycling Suffering From Faulty Accident Reporting?

As many of you know, I recently finished the League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor Certification seminar and am now an "LCI In Training" (# 2571, to be exact!). During the seminar, we did presentations of information that was contained within the League's Traffic Skills 101 course. A primary part of that course was accident avoidance and proper riding techniques. And one of the statistics we learn in that course is that the ratio of driver-caused- to cyclist-caused-accidents is 1:1. That is, it's about a 50-50 split. This is based on a study of police reports and what the police reported as the cause of the accident.
I've taken this ratio with a grain of salt since I learned of it. The primary reason for that is that I don't believe that most police, with minimal cycling background, truly understand the causes of accidents. And the other reason is that the law, for some reason, seems to too-frequently accept the driver excuse of "I didn't see them" as a defense rather than what it should be: an admission that the driver wasn't watching the road properly.
Now along comes Dr. Chris Cavacuiti of the University of Toronto. Dr. Cavacuiti is a phyisician and experienced racing cyclist who, after being sidelined for a time after a an accident which gave him multiple bone fractured and other injuries, did a study of the reasons for cycling accidents and came to the conclusion that the cyclist is responsible for bike/car accidents a whopping 10% of the time... much less than the 50% that the League puts out.
The primary reason for these accidents? Simple aggressive driving, lack of bike infrastructure, and a lack of proper education for motorists. These problems don't exist in places like northern Europe as they do here because of rigorous motorist education and legal ramifications which put the weight of responsibility more on drivers (the EU's Fifth Motorist Directive that I've mentioned before) as the operators of more dangerous vehicles.
More studies like this are necessary to overcome the unintended prejudice of police who don't understand the needs of cyclists when making decisions about who's at fault in accidents. It's refreshing to see a major university publishing such research and I look forward to more of it.
People, not speed.


  1. I'm skeptical of that 90/10 figure, Jamie. Dr. C. hasn't published a paper that I've been able to determine. What IS available is a bicycle/motor vehicle crash study done in Toronto in 2003. It doesn't place responsibility. Instead, it merely documents motorist or cyclist position and movement immediately prior to a collision.

    For instance, the study says 30% of bicyclists were on a sidewalk or crosswalk when the crash occurred. Did a motorist suddenly turn in front of the cyclist? Did the cyclist run into a car that stopped in a crosswalk? This isn't addressed.

    Still, even if we ascribe 100% of the responsibility for a crash to, say, motorist pulling out from side street, the statistics still break down to about 65% motorists, 20% cyclists, and 15% unknown. That's a far cry from Dr. C's 90/10 split.

    I tried to get an email to him via his hospital, but there's been no response. I may look for a telephone number next.

  2. This update is on the website, but it really doesn't help much:

    CORRECTION–August 26, 2009:

    Dr. Chris Cavacuiti has informed us that his interview contains a factual error.

    In the interview, Dr. Cavacuiti is quoted as saying “The [Toronto Collision] study concluded that cyclists are the cause of less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents”. Dr. Cavacuiti has asked us to make readers aware that the Toronto Collision study was actually designed to look at the cause of bicycle/motorist collisions but not culpability.

    It is actually several studies conducted by the Charles Komanoff and member of the Right of Way organization in New York that concluded that concluded that cyclists were strictly culpable for less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents.

    Dr. Cavacuiti would like to apologize for any confusion this error may have caused.


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