Cyclists are at fault in the majority of serious crashes involving a car

or are they?  Cyclists are at fault in the majority of serious crashes involving a car is the opening statement in an article written by Calla Wahlquist, Police reporter for Perth Now and published on May 30, 2014 on the Perth Now website.

Is this correct? Well my analysis of the source document suggests otherwise … In fact I argue that the fault attribution for crashes involving motorists and cyclists is closer to 56% the fault of motorists and 36% the fault of cyclists, not as reported by Ms Calla Wahlquist.

$315,000 Payout to Cyclist Hit by Ute Driver

Investigative Journalism or Simply Reporting by Press Release?

At the time this article was published I had my doubts about this claim as it simply did not stack up with the known research and reports from other sources, so I wrote to the Minister of Police, the Honourable Liza Harvey seeking a copy of the source document. Well on July 9, 2014 I eventually received a reply from Liza Harvey’s Chief of Staff, Gary Hamley with a copy of the “report” and surprise surprise Ms Wahlquist has not, it seems been very factual in her reporting.

In my view the significant error in Ms Wahlquist’s reporting is this statement ..

An analysis of fatal and serious crashes between bikes and cars in Perth over the past five years showed cyclists were at fault in 54 per cent of crashes.

Police found motorists were at fault in 39 per cent of the crashes. No one was at fault in seven per cent of crashes.

The percentages are correct, except Ms Wahlquist felt what the report stated needed a little “dressing up” shall we say and so she added the key words “between bikes and cars in Perth”. The problem is Ms Wahlquist made up that little bit. For the record what the report actually said was …

Cyclists were considered to be at fault for 54.7% of all crashes compared to motor vehicle drivers who were at fault for 39%.

That is the percentage referring to cyclists involved in all crashes, i.e., it includes all the crashes that do not include motorists and is not referring to motorists versus cyclists only crashes.  It does not stop there but, with further analysis of the report actually suggesting that the fault attribution for crashes involving motorists and cyclists is closer to 56% the fault of motorists and 36% the fault of cyclists.

Also Ms Wahlquist comments that “an analysis of those crashes revealed 32 were the fault of cyclists and 23 were the fault of motorists” which again is not correct. The report actually states 35 crashes in the database where attributed to the fault of cyclists and 25 to motor vehicle drivers and four unknown/no one at fault. Given that the source data is a four page summary document it shouldn’t be too hard to get the facts right, should it?

What is also disappointing about Ms Wahlquist’s reporting is that she chooses to seemingly ignore the report’s conclusion including this very telling statement:

The nature of crashes were likely to be by an indirect right angle or by a rear end, followed by a non-collision during this time period.

That should have been a red flag to Ms Wahlquist that her opening statement was possibly factually incorrect. The conclusion about rear-end crashes also ties in somewhat with the South Australian findings. Had Ms Wahlquist done some basic investigative journalism this should have been apparent to her.

Enough of Ms Wahlquist journalistic skills or lack there of and in my view as the analysis shows, they are seriously lacking in this article as any competent reading of the report should have raised a lot more questions than the answers Ms Wahlquist seems to believe it provides.

Critical (Serious) and Fatal Crash Advice Forms and Cyclists

The one positive to come of this is an awareness of the report, which is now available for download from my Dropbox.

To the report itself. According to Mr Hamley, the report’s data was taken from completed “Critical (Serious) and Fatal Crash Advice Forms (1-18) which are “compiled by Police at the roadside.”

Let me repeat that statement, “compiled by Police at the roadside.” I seriously hope that this statement is incorrect or at least that after a proper investigation of the crashes that these forms and hence the data is updated. Road safety data collection and hence policy decisions should not be based on questionable Police analysis of incidents at the roadside. How many cyclists have experienced Police bias? It is simply unprofessional if what Mr Hamley says is correct.

Putting that aside that for the moment lets look at the key data in the report which covers the period January 1, 2009 through to April 22, 2014 and was extracted from the WA Police Traffic Enforcement and Crash Executive Information System (TEACIS) on April 22, 2014.

Critical Injuries and Fatal Crashes Involving Cyclists

Critical injuries [1] incurred by cyclists declined over the five-year period, with 65 cyclists being injured, of which 47 where critically injured, however over the same period the number of cyclists killed has steadily increased, with 18 cyclists being killed. I am struggling to see anything positive in these numbers … less critically injured but more killed.

The worst years for cyclists in this time period where 2009, 2011 and 2013. As at April 22, 2014 things are not looking good for 2014 with four cyclists critically injured and two killed.

Cyclists being critical injured and killed account for 2.8% of all critical injuries and fatalities among all road users.

Causes of Crashes Critically Injuring or Killing Cyclists

This is where the report gets vague in my view as it simply reports, “causes” without showing who was at fault. For example fail to give way is the number two cause but there is no mention of this being because cyclists fail to give way or motorists fail to give way. The lack of detail in the report in my view really brings into question the value of it. What can we learn from this data? Not a lot.

That said, the two top causes of crashes are:

  • Inattention/careless – 36.9%
  • Fail to give way – 10.8

The report then lists the “top five nature of crashes resulting in critical injuries and fatalities among cyclists.” Once again I am struggling to understand the value of this information and what it is meant to reporting and how it adds value to our understanding of road safety involving cyclists.

The top five nature of crashes are …

  • Indirect right-angled – 20%
  • Rear end – 20%
  • Non-collision – 15.4%
  • Hit object – 13.8%
  • Right angled – 9.2%

The interesting aspects of the “nature of crashes” are the non-collision and hit object causes. Do these mean the 19 crashes didn’t involve motorists? If that is correct then suddenly Ms Wahlquist reporting is made worse as that would mean of the 64 reported incidents only at most 45 involved motorists and cyclists and hence 36% where the fault of cyclists and 56% the fault of motorists (four crashes had no fault attributed).

Where do Critical and Fatal Crashes Involving Cyclists Occur?

The report highlights the four top road topographic where crashes occur. They are:

  • Straight – 55.4%
  • T-Intersection – 13.8%
  • Curve – 15.4%
  • Four-way intersection – 6.1%

The two worse roads are Canning Highway (one crash in 2014 due to in attention, was of a rear-end nature and caused two critical injuries) and the other road of concern is Mandurah Road (a crash of unknown cause in 2009 and a crash in 2010 as the result of fatigue resulting in the rear ending of cyclist).

Apparently also there was one crash in 2011, which caused a critical injury. No fault was attributed “as it was difficult to see the cyclist at the time of the crash.” I am struggling with this, so struggling with it. A driver who jumped a stop sign hit my partner’s vehicle, yet the driver was not charged because the sun was in her eyes. Is this what is meant by “it was difficult to see the cyclists at the time of the crash.” Since when is it okay to drive a motor vehicle without due care and attention? This brings me back to my earlier point about Police bias. We have a long way to go in my view.

Helmet Use by Cyclists

Of course Ms Wahlquist mentioned this in her article and Ms Wahlquist, like the report fails to link the lack of a helmet to either the critical injuries sustained or the deaths and so the value or relevance of the reporting of the data is simply non-existence. For the record 27.7% of the all the crashes involved the lack of a helmet being worn; that is 18 crashes occurred where a helmet was not worn, not the 17 reported by Ms Wahlquist.

What I would like to know is how many of the serious injuries or fatalities would have actually being avoided if a helmet was worn and where a helmet was worn, why they did not protect the cyclist?

In Closing …

In summary can we learn anything of value from this report as published? Not in my view. All this report has done is allowed Ms Wahlquist and Perth Now to add fuel to the cyclist versus motorist debate.

What we need from our Minister of Road Safety, Ms Harvey is not this sort of poor quality reporting, but proper in-depth competent analysis which leads to a better understanding of what is actually happening on our roads and hence better policing, less critical injuries and most important of all less fatalities.


[1] Critical injuries are classified as such if the injuries match the definition of grievous bodily harm provided for in the Criminal Code 1913

7 Responses to Cyclists are at fault in the majority of serious crashes involving a car

  1. ian hanlon 24 July 2014 at 7:17 AM #

    I am a retired bus driver ,for the last few years I began riding a bicycle to work . I found this changed my attitude towards cyclists tremendously due to all the narrow escapes from serious injury caused by careless car drivers ( and bus drivers ).

    I think a radical change in car drivers attitude would be brought about by having them ride a bicycle to work through city traffic just one day every year.

    • Aushiker 24 July 2014 at 7:51 AM #

      Sounds reasonable to me 🙂 Another option is requiring a week or a month of cycling before getting a licence to drive and then maybe re-testing with some cycling thrown in every five years 🙂

  2. Steven Fitzgerald 24 July 2014 at 9:08 AM #

    I couldn’t agree more, people are trained and retrained on safely procedures at mine sites, first-aiders are retrained every two years to keep up to date with the latest procedures, why then, do we believe that one test taken for some of us decades ago, is enough? A month of cycling before getting a license would be essential in my view. I was lucky enough to go on a ‘cycling proficiency’ course when I was about 11, which helped me tremendously with my driving. If it started then, people may even want to keep up with it.

  3. Geraldine Box 24 July 2014 at 1:13 PM #

    Certainly agree with improved training of Drivers in relation to other road users and ensuring they undertake a compulsory month or more of cycling on our roads is one way to ensure they experience a cyclist’s viewpoint.
    I also believe that we should (as a country) be looking at the Dutch approach, ‘Sustainable Safety’ which was adopted in 1992 and revised in 2005. The main objective is to prevent severe crashes and eliminate severe injuries when crashes do occur. The goal was to fundamentally change an inherently unsafe road system by taking ‘the person’ as the yardstick. It involves understanding human capabilities and incorporates changes in road design and education of all road users. It has resulted in reduction on traffic fatalities and trauma to all including the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and cyclists. For an overview:

  4. David 25 July 2014 at 2:25 PM #

    Sadly this is very typical of such reports. Serious traffic accidents need to be investigated by engineers and that data collected to make the roads safer. How often have you heard that “speed was a factor” in an accident? Speed is always a factor as static objects can’t collide with each other. Again it’s based on the judgement of a police officer at the scene and not an engineer. They also don’t make a distinction between, legal speeds and excessive speeds. It a lot easier to justify fining someone for nudging about the speed limit if speed is seen as the most contributing factor to accidents. Why don’t reports include road condition, signage, lighting etc. if bike paths were used, nearby and if a path was nearby why wasn’t it being used? if the cyclist was using lights or bright clothing, statistics that could be used to encourage good bike skills and reinforce safety. Data that could be used to create much better cycleways and encourage people to use bikes to safely commute.

    • Aushiker 25 July 2014 at 2:47 PM #

      All excellent points David. Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion.


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