New driving course to improve safety with cyclists

Bicycle

Researchers at the University of Southampton have launched a new online training course, aimed at increasing drivers’ understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist on the road and reducing the number of collisions.

Any driver who never, or rarely, cycles can sign up for the course which has been designed to help drivers see the road through the eyes of cyclists and become familiar with how the Highway Code applies to them. It is hoped that this will provide them with a better understanding of why cyclists undertake certain manoeuvres and anticipate how they will position themselves in various situations.

The decline in public transport use as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will see more people travelling by car and bicycle in the coming months and cyclists are disproportionately represented in accident statistics. In 2016 over 18,000 cyclists were injured in road accidents in the UK, 3499 of whom were killed or seriously injured. On average in Southampton 124 cyclists are involved in collisions on the city’s roads each year, making up 16% of all accidents despite representing only 1.4% of daily traffic.

The University’s Transport Research Group developed the course in partnership with Cycling UK and with funding from the Road Safety Trust. The team want this to complement the advanced driving tests which many drivers take to improve their driving skills, with a particular focus on how to interact with cyclists.

Users will have access to interactive exercises and videos that explain how cyclists should behave in various scenarios such as at crossroads and on roundabouts, and how cars can move safely passed them. It is the final product of studies carried out by the researchers over the past year, which has included gathering information from volunteer drivers and cyclists on their day to day journeys and from focus group discussions.

A practical course, similar to the cycling proficiency test, will also be available to everyone who registers once the Government’s advice on social distancing means it is safe to carry out.

Dr Katie Plant, Lecturer in Human Factors in Engineering at the University of Southampton, who is leading the study said: “Most drivers do not get any specific training on how to interact with cyclists, unless they encounter bicycles during their driving lessons. Despite it being such a high risk scenario, it does not feature as part of the standard driving test and many of us will never revisit the Highway Code once we have passed. So as a result, a lot of people don’t understand how to interact with cyclists on the roads.”

Participants will take a questionnaire before and immediately after taking the course, and again several months later so Dr Plant’s team can continually monitor its effectiveness.

Senior Research Assistant Matthew Webster who has developed the course with Dr Plant added: “The course has been carefully designed based on feedback we have received from cyclists and drivers and this is not about apportioning blame to either party for the amount of collisions that occur. Our approach has been to give all road users a better understanding of each other’s behaviours and why accidents happen. Even the most careful drivers and cyclists can overlook the rules that everyone needs to follow.”

A similar course to help cyclists understand car users better will follow later this year, including a practical session in the University’s driving simulator, subject to COVID-19 safety precautions.

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