Research indicates drivers pass closer to helmet-wearers

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

An article by the Associated Press reports that a new study has found that drivers pass more closely when they overtake cyclists who wear helmets than those who don't.

Psychologist Dr. Ian Walker of the University of Bath performed a study using a bicycle with ultrasonic distance sensors and a video camera to measure and verify distances. The study collected data from around 2,500 vehicles in Salisbury and Bristol in the U.K. The results are being published in the Journal of Accident Analysis & Prevention.

The data reported that drivers will drive an average of 8cm farther away from cyclists without helmets because they are seen as less experienced. "This was something I had suspected, as many cyclists had told me of similar experiences," Dr. Walker told the Associated Press. "The perception is that those wearing helmets are experienced and more predictable. Drivers think, 'He knows what he's doing, he won't do anything surprising'. But that's really quite a dangerous thought, particularly as so many cycling novices are told to wear helmets."

Buses and trucks passes closer than cars, which on average gave cyclists 1.33m of room. Trucks passes 19cm closer and the average bus 23cm closer.

Dr. Walker also took a further step of wearing a wig to establish differences between male and female cyclists, finding that he was given more room by an average of 14 centimeters. Dr. Walker was also hit twice during the course of the experiment.

"I hope drivers will realise that they are making these assumptions about cyclists based on their appearance," he said. "If as a result of this study there were less injuries on the roads, then that would be a wonderful thing."

Dr. Walker, whose research is to be published in the Journal of Accident Analysis & Prevention, was struck twice during the course of the experiment. A brief of the research can be found at [].

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