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There’s a war taking place on our roads – between cyclists and car drivers.

At its core, this battle is led by a misunderstanding, from the perspectives of all road users, about equal rights on the road. Each party is frustrated with the other – car drivers are angry with the way cyclists ride, and cyclists are concerned about being injured by oblivious drivers.

All these concerns are warranted, but what can we do to bring peace between the parties?

Eighty-five per cent of cyclist collisions involve another vehicle. Common accidents include

  • cyclist being side swiped by an approaching vehicle
  • dooring - when the cyclist collides with a vehicle door suddenly opened in front of them
  • when the cyclist is hit from behind.

For their part, drivers need to understand how vulnerable cyclists are on the road. The latest figures report 45 cyclist deaths on Australian roads in 2014, while 5500 cyclists were hospitalised in 2012 due to road accidents.

Even a small knock can lead to devastating permanent injuries.

When cyclists are injured

If a cyclist is injured in a road accident, the legal support varies depending on the type of accident:

  • if a cyclist and a vehicle collide, the cyclist is covered under their state’s road compensation scheme
  • if they collide with another cyclist or a pedestrian, there is no cover unless the cyclist has taken out their own cycling insurance
  • if the cyclist suffers long-term injuries in an accident that doesn’t involve a vehicle and it isn’t their fault (hitting a pothole, for example), they may be able to claim against their superannuation’s income protection or total and permanent disability insurance. They may also be able to make a public liability claim.

Paul* sustained a broken wrist when a car suddenly pulled out in front of him while he was cycling down the road. Because Paul’s case was against a car driver, we acted for him in a common law damages claim with the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). He received payment of medical expenses, lost wages and a lump sum payment for future economic loss and pain and suffering.

Paul’s wrist is still painful, and ongoing psychological injuries mean he's unable to cope with his demanding job.

This is an example of how important it is for drivers and cyclists to share the roads safely. It’s not about who's to blame; it’s about taking care and looking out for each other on the roads.

Making the roads safer for everyone

I hope we can one day reach acceptance and greater safety between car drivers and cyclists. Research has shown that the following changes could help this to become a reality:

  • Creating cyclist-friendly roads:Better cycling infrastructure is needed to keep our roads safe for everyone. For example, in one part of Melbourne (Wellington St, Collingwood) there is a barrier between cyclists and the traffic; this barrier helps remind car drivers that there are cyclists around, resulting in them taking more care when changing lanes.

  • Automatic liability:Drivers are responsible for up to 87 per cent of incidents involving cyclists. In the Netherlands, Germany, France and Denmark, car drivers are automatically responsible for collisions with cyclists. They hold the burden of proof – liable unless able to show otherwise – and, in France, this was a key factor in the 60 per cent reduction in cyclist fatalities over a 20-year period. Placing more responsibility on the less vulnerable road users could be an important step in creating safer roads in Australia.

  • Cyclists need to follow the laws, too:An independent 2015 report on Victoria’s road rules recommended that police should have the power to issue on-the-spot fines to cyclists who don’t follow the road rules. Whether they’re talking on mobile phones while riding, or riding through red lights at pedestrian crossings, there is certainly room for cyclists to improve their road behaviour.

  • Knowledge is important:Perhaps the most important element in working towards safer roads is improved education and awareness. This would help cyclists to understand their responsibilities and drivers to look out for cyclists in all aspects of their driving, from changing lanes to opening car doors. 

As a passionate cyclist myself, I’d like to see fewer injuries occurring on our roads and a decrease in the intensity of this war between road users.

Real name has been changed.

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