10% Huh? Don’t Fall For It!

Cite a study saying cyclists are only responsible for 10% of crashes and you might as well light a match to a field of tinder. The bike-advocacy community wants nothing more than to prove motorists are the culprits most of the time. A recent article regarding a Toronto crash “study” has ignited a new wildfire of exuberant victim-hood. Despite a correction printed on the original article, the misinformation continues to be spread as validation of what most cyclists desperately want to believe.

Ed CycleDog Wagner has done some digging to find the source of the dubious information. Please read his article in the Examiner, and pass it on.

Komanoff’s study – if that’s the right word for it – is available on the Cars Suck website. A reasonable person would be hard pressed to expect unbiased, objective information from an organization with such a name, and in fact, Komanoff’s study is little more than an anti-motoring diatribe laced with emotionally loaded phrases. For that matter, the study itself is called Killed by Automobile. If you really want to read it, follow this link to Cars Suck, then click on Research/Killed by Automobile. Please wash your hands afterward. This is a raw exercise in fear mongering, as in riding-a-bike-is-a-horribly-dangerous-experience, and as any rational, experienced cyclist knows, it’s totally wrong.

What’s also interesting about the spread of this misinformation is that there was one piece of useful info in the original article. As far as I’ve seen, Andy at Carbon Trace is the only blogger to pick up on the tips offered for staying safe. Those tips are actually pretty good and worth repeating. But validation of victimhood is so much more compelling.

Yeah, I get it.

I understand the desire to believe that motorists are at fault most of the time. When I started on this advocacy journey, I wanted to believe that, too. I can tell you exactly why. It wasn’t because I hated cars. It was because the way I was riding made me invisible and unpredictable to motorists. As a result, I had frequent conflicts with them, which I naturally assumed were 100% their fault. Plus, it doesn’t take too much observation of mindless motoring behavior to see we have a problem.

We have lots of discussion about personal responsibility here — for both motorists and bicyclists. We write a lot about irresponsible, aggressive and distracted driving because our traffic culture IS in need of improvement. But no amount of finger-pointing and blame-shifting will change the facts on the ground. Consistently, half of crashes involving roadway cyclists are caused by illegal cycling behavior — wrong-way riding, ninja riding and right-of-way violations. Additionally, the majority of motorist-caused crashes are avoidable by smarter cycling practices. Many crashes involve sidewalk cyclists, and most roadway cyclists expose themselves to increased crash risk by hugging the edge of the road. A simple observation of cycling behavior in most U.S. cities will corroborate crash study findings. Mindless (or childish) cycling behavior is epidemic.

But it’s not effective.

It’s very convenient to blame the bullies in the big scary cars, but cyclists have way more control over their safety than most of them employ. Every time people grab onto something that allows them to think it’s someone else’s fault, they get distracted from fixing the things over which they DO have control. Doesn’t it make so much more sense to change the things we can, first? Then go after the external problems. As with any other aspect of life, once we solve our self-created problems, we have a much clearer view of the big picture. A clear view is essential to effective problem-solving!

So, as Ed says, don’t fall for it this.

[It’s] not advocating for better conditions for cyclists. It’s political gamesmanship and nakedly partisan. This does nothing to improve conditions on our roads. It merely serves to increase conflicts.

There are better ways to change the traffic culture.

Let’s remove the victim-advocates’ fuel by promoting empowerment-based advocacy and empowered cycling. Really, this should be easy. These are the two basic paradigms being offered:

  1. Cycling is safe. With a few simple skills, cyclists can be empowered to control their environment and operate efficiently and safely on any road to reach any destination. Most motorists and traffic movements are predictable, so operating according to the rules of that system allows for safe and efficient travel, regardless of speed. Most motorists are cooperative and courteous of a confident, predictable cyclist. What they need from others is equity, tolerance and the support of law enforcement and the justice system to curb aggressive behavior and keep reckless drivers out of the system. A little intelligent infrastructure here and there enhances our access and enjoyment.
  2. Cycling is dangerous. Cyclists are helpless, vulnerable and at the mercy of motorists who are mostly reckless, incompetent and unpredictable. Cyclists need expensive, special infrastructure to go anywhere safely. Most destinations are inaccessible by bike.

Why is #2 so much more appealing to bike advocates and so many cyclists?

17 replies
  1. Joe Mizereck
    Joe Mizereck says:

    Keri…I’ll say it again and again…I love the way you think and what you have to say. It’s been very interesting and sad to see so many cycling blogs pick up this study and run with it as if it were gospel. Not you. You knew immediately that it was crap. Good for you and for us.

    Always good to learn what’s going on in that great head of yours. We’re so lucky.

    Thank you,

  2. ha1ku
    ha1ku says:

    #2 is more appealing to some maybe because it’s an opportunity to be right about something. Human nature. We all love validation and this is another way to do it.

  3. Wayne Pein
    Wayne Pein says:

    I thought this 10% nonsense came from here:


    “In fact, cyclists are the cause of less than 10% of bike-car accidents in this study (1).”

    The physician Cavacuiti who wrote the above appears to have simply added the 3 different collision types in his Table 1 that he reasoned were caused by cyclists — Ride Out At Controlled Intersection,
    Wrong Way Bicyclist, and Ride Out At Mid-block — to come to his less than 10% conclusion. All the other collision types were caused by motorists in his thinking.

    This is stunningly simplistic and sloppy. Many collisions that were seemingly caused by motorists, such as Drive Out at Controlled Intersection, for example, involved a bicyclist who may have been wrong way, sidewalk riding, wrong way sidewalk riding, at night without lights, or a number of other stupid bicyclist behaviors. The motorist could have stopped at a traffic signal, looked, then made a right on red into an unlit drunk bicyclist riding wrong way on the sidewalk at night who blasted into the crosswalk.


  4. acline
    acline says:

    I think #2 appeals because it takes a long time for individuals to arrive at #1.

    My best friend — a 56-year-old man — is just now getting into bicycling. He has not been on a bicycle since he was a kid. I was thrilled to hear the news. I traveled to Kansas City, with my Brompton, to go riding with him. He’s a big, tough guy — frightened of no man. But he would not even ride on the residential street on which he lives. I rode beside him on the street trying to coax him off the damned sidewalk. He wouldn’t budge.

    But he will. He’s a #2 thinker now. I’m working on him. But it’s time and experience that makes the difference.

    I assume there are enough #2 thinkers among inexperienced riders to make the #2 argument intoxicating for certain bicycle advocates.

    As for the study, I avoided saying much about it because the anecdotal evidence from Springfield suggests the opposite. The last two people killed here were riding at night w/o lights and on the wrong side of the road. I do regret my headline, however.

  5. Keri
    Keri says:

    Great story Andy, thanks!

    I keep hoping if enough of us empowered cyclists can coax our friends to be the same, we’ll start to make progress.

  6. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    “Why is #2 so much more appealing to bike advocates and so many cyclists?”

    What ha1ku said. Then the advocates whose primary goal is “butts on bikes” hear inexperienced cyclists cite #2 as the reason they don’t bike more, and the advocates don’t think through the implications of running with that, or maybe they agree with it themselves, for said reason.

    It takes time and probably a certain amount of maturity to realize that you actually have power, instead of constantly ceding it to those around you. Denying that you have any is easier and less scary, because then you don’t have to do anything with it.

    I think that’s a general truth about life, not just cycling in traffic. And some people don’t seem to ever learn that.

  7. Rantwick
    Rantwick says:

    Ridiculous. I saw it on cycledog first. I agree with others who really appreciate people like you who are critical thinkers first, and raving cycling advocates second.

  8. J. Mork
    J. Mork says:

    Perhaps someone should go read the study!


    What it says is “Drivers were largely or strictly culpable in 74 percent of pedestrian fatalities and partly culpable in another 16 percent, meaning that drivers were at least partly culpable in 90 percent of fatalities”

    It doesn’t say that cyclists have no responsibility to keep themselves safe. What the study is really trying to address is the tendency of society to blame the cyclist in nearly every crash even though, arguably, as the more dangerous road participant, the motor vehicle driver ought to be held to a much greater standard than what they are currently.

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    JohnB, two really good points!

    Advocates respond to popular sentiment because it’s easier than trying to change the belief system, no matter how incorrect. Coddling is easy, empowerment takes hard work.

    The problem with that is it is short-sighted. Yes, they’ll get short-term gains, but at the expense of long-term problems (dependency and backlash) and tragic unintended consequences. Working for culture change takes longer and faces more short-term challenges, but the long-term rewards are sustainable.

    Fear of personal power is a good observation. And, yeah, it is true of many other aspects of life.

  10. Keri
    Keri says:

    J. Mork

    I did read it. I agree with Ed’s assessment of it.

    Traffic justice, the culture of speed, the lack of seriousness Americans place on operating a vehicle, the abandonment of pedestrian enforcement (here in Florida), etc. are all serious issues. We discuss them regularly. But we try to avoid an us-v-them format, because car-v-bike wars are counter-productive. The transference of safety from individual behavior to “other” — passive device or other people — is the primary culprit and no one is excused. Yes, those operating heavy equipment should be held to a higher standard than they are, but all members of the community should be held to a higher standard than they are.

    BTW, my observation in NYC is that right of way violations are an art form practiced by everyone. Motorists do more damage, but those are traffic culture issues that can’t be blamed strictly on motorists. I’d venture a bet that cars didn’t create the underlying culture, people took the behavior with them into cars. Cars might be incompatible with a selfish culture, but which of those things would we benefit most from changing?

  11. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    I have not read the study (better things to do in my life). But please bear in mind that a study in Toronto measuring “culpability” would be using the rules of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. Which has a “reverse onus” provision that states that motorists are legally liable for crashes unless they can prove that they are not negligent.

    Here is the wording:

    “When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle.”

    “Highway” includes all municipal roads. So any study of things going through the legal system will be filtered through this prism of motorists automatically having legal liability.

  12. Ed W
    Ed W says:

    I’ve been in contact with Dr. Cavacuiti over the last few days. He said he read several studies before making those statements to the university website. One of the studies was from Right of Way and I stand by my statement regarding that one. I’ll post the full list on CycleDog, my Examiner page, and to the Chainguard list later tonight.

  13. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    The 90% number was suspicious to me too, but not because I thought is was an exaggeration. If anything, I think cars are responsible for far more than that.

    If I rode the way car drivers do (not paying attention to anything), I would probably get hit every day. It’s only because I’m an extremely defensive cyclist who assumes that every car is going to hit me that I’ve been able to avoid ever getting hit in over 35 years of cycling.

    I’ve never seen a cyclist who behaves in the wreckless way car drivers claim that they “all” do, but I do see plenty of car drivers every day who appear determined to kill someone.

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