Cyclist safety laws increasing aggression in drivers: research


Researchers say drivers are aggressive to cyclists despite giving them more room. Picture credit: Martin Magnemyr on Unsplash

Aggression towards cyclists by motorists has increased because of nationwide minimum passing laws, according to new research from the University of Western Australia. 

While the laws have been effective – with research showing drivers give more room to cyclists now – drivers self-reported more aggressive behaviour towards cyclists, such as honking, swearing and yelling.

University of Western Australia psychologist Dr Laura Fruhen, believes that officials haven’t the “captured the hearts and minds” of Australian drivers despite most drivers agreeing that the laws are necessary.

“Overtaking distance is getting bigger, this is good news for cyclist safety, however, we need to consider that aggressive behaviour could be an unintended side effect of the law,” Dr Fruhen says.

The findings she says illustrate a form of “cognitive dissonance” in Australian motorists, who at the same time want cyclists to be safe, but can’t help being irritated about sharing the road with them.

The study indicates that this might come from Australia’s car-centric culture that perpetuates the idea that cyclists and other “slow road users” don’t belong on our roads.

Last month, Victoria became the final state or territory to enforce minimum car passing laws in Australia.

Despite these legal protections for cyclists, the number of people using bikes on our roads hasn’t increased since the laws were introduced, which reseachers say shows that other measures are needed to encourage active living.

People On Bicycles founder Christina Neubauer educates people on bike safety and believes it’s the “fear of aggressive motorists that stops many of her students from riding bikes on roads.

She wants to see cyclist protections “built into legislation” to encourage daily bike use.

The rate of fatalities of cyclists on Australian roads rose by 40 per cnet from 34 deaths in 2019 to 48 in 2020, according to the Australian Automobile Associations 2020 Benchmarking Road Safety report.

Some experts believe a change in Australian road infrastructure might be the key to making our roads safer.

The University of NSW lawyer Amelia Thorpe says a “Complete Streets” movement, which is growing in the USA, designs and operates streets to prioritise safety.

According to ProfThorpe, Australian street design “prioritises car efficiency over any other form of transport or factors like residential neighbourhoods” contributing to danger for everyone on Australian roads.