Study claims cyclists at fault in only 10 percent of crashes

I was hoping to put this off until tomorrow, but it’s breaking news right now on the NYT, Freakonomics, and the LCI list.

A few days ago, the University of Toronto released an interview on it’s website with Dr. Chris Cavacuiti. Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. Chris Cavacuiti of the department of family and community medicine is a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and an experienced cyclist who commutes on his bicycle and races competitively. He was recovering from a serious cycling accident when he began his research on cycling health and safety.

…While there is a public perception that cyclists are usually the cause of accidents between cars and bikes, an analysis of Toronto police collision reports shows otherwise: The most common type of crash in this study involved a motorist entering an intersection and either failing to stop properly or proceeding before it was safe to do so. The second most common crash type involved a motorist overtaking unsafely. The third involved a motorist opening a door onto an oncoming cyclist. The study concluded that cyclists are the cause of less than 10 per cent of bike-car accidents in this study.

The available evidence suggests that collisions have far more to do with aggressive driving than aggressive cycling.

On Wednesday, the university added this correction:

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.

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.

• Right of Way systematically analyzed a full year’s fatalities (1997) for cause and culpability (neither city nor state authorities do so). Our criteria for culpability are largely based on New York State traffic law, and are detailed below, beginning on p. 17. Driver culpability could not be ascertained in 22 percent of cases; drivers were clearly not culpable in only 7 percent, they were strictly or largely culpable in 58 percent, and partly culpable in an additional 13 percent; combining the two latter categories, drivers were at least partly culpable in at least 71 percent of all New York City pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.

• If we exclude the 22 percent of cases in which culpability could not be determined (because police accident reports were missing, incomplete, illegible, or contradictory), the proportions are: driver strictly or largely culpable, 74 percent; driver partly culpable, 16 percent; driver not culpable, 10 percent.

Right Of Way frames crash culpability primarily in terms of driver action rather than that of the pedestrian or cyclist, though the pedestrian’s actions may be relevant to the collision and should be considered in any case.

Let’s reiterate that last – Right Of Way frames crash culpability primarily in terms of driver action – it’s telling us that Right of Way draws conclusions, then looks for data to support those conclusions. That’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.

Please don’t fall for this.

6 Comments

  • SiouxGeonz
    August 30, 2009 - 5:46 pm | Permalink

    It is an interesting inversion of the "blame the victim" trend — but two wrongs don't make a right. and ranting divisiveness creates hysteria and division and throws caltrops on the path of progress. Unfortunately, bicycles are more likely to be harmed by caltrops. Geez, are we going to have to rally forces to be reverse trolls to inject sanity into the flame wars this is going to cause?

  • SiouxGeonz
    August 30, 2009 - 10:46 am | Permalink

    It is an interesting inversion of the "blame the victim" trend — but two wrongs don't make a right. and ranting divisiveness creates hysteria and division and throws caltrops on the path of progress. Unfortunately, bicycles are more likely to be harmed by caltrops.
    Geez, are we going to have to rally forces to be reverse trolls to inject sanity into the flame wars this is going to cause?

  • Yokota Fritz
    August 30, 2009 - 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Sioux, I'm seeing links to this "10% study" mentioned on mailing lists everywhere. It's an attractive thesis on the surface, but you're right that it probably increases divisiveness.

  • Yokota Fritz
    August 30, 2009 - 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Sioux, I'm seeing links to this "10% study" mentioned on mailing lists everywhere. It's an attractive thesis on the surface, but you're right that it probably increases divisiveness.

  • SiouxGeonz
    September 1, 2009 - 3:00 am | Permalink

    In the Reading Wars, "Why Johnny Can't Read," had lots solid, correct information … but also couched in furious tones that basically labeled anybody who taught with a whole language philosophy as too lazy and ignorant to really learn how to teach reading. (James J. Kilpatrick's daughter explained to me in that Virginia library that whole language was a communist plot to spread illiteracy.) Welp, lots of those whole language teachers are really nice, well-meaning teachers… who might have been willing to learn a little about the benefits of teaching kiddos to sound out words had they not been called names – but some of 'em got together and branded phonics teachers as mindless automatons making students recite syllables… … and it's the students who suffer. Less ego and anger = more teaching, more cooperation, better karma. ANd, of course, open warfare against a foe with much, much more deadly weaponry is STUPID.

  • SiouxGeonz
    August 31, 2009 - 8:00 pm | Permalink

    In the Reading Wars, "Why Johnny Can't Read," had lots solid, correct information … but also couched in furious tones that basically labeled anybody who taught with a whole language philosophy as too lazy and ignorant to really learn how to teach reading. (James J. Kilpatrick's daughter explained to me in that Virginia library that whole language was a communist plot to spread illiteracy.)
    Welp, lots of those whole language teachers are really nice, well-meaning teachers… who might have been willing to learn a little about the benefits of teaching kiddos to sound out words had they not been called names – but some of 'em got together and branded phonics teachers as mindless automatons making students recite syllables…
    … and it's the students who suffer. Less ego and anger = more teaching, more cooperation, better karma.
    ANd, of course, open warfare against a foe with much, much more deadly weaponry is STUPID.

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