Tuesday 25 October 2016

Revealed: How cyclists, drivers fare on helmets and fog-lights

This week our Road Safety Authority expert outlines the details of a number of major studies

Published 25/05/2016 | 02:30

New studies have been released on the behaviour of cyclists and motorists.
New studies have been released on the behaviour of cyclists and motorists.

When we want to measure improvements in people's attitudes and behaviour to road safety we use a combination of methods.

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Two are particularly important. Firstly, through surveys we track self-reported attitudes and behaviour to specific issues. For example whether a person has ever fallen asleep while driving. The second is by conducting observational studies.

The results of a number of the latter landed on the desk this week and make for interesting reading.

They observed the behaviour of motor and pedal cyclists on wearing hi-visibility clothing and helmets. We also looked at cyclists' use of phone and headphones and behaviour at traffic lights.

Two further studies observed the number of vehicles with defective lighting and the misuse of fog-lights. For these, a total of 36,016 vehicles were observed; 35,912 for the fog-lights.

The observations took place at a total of 95 sites: 36 in urban areas and 59 on rural roads. Cars, rigid goods vehicles, semi-articulated vehicles and buses were checked.

The results show that fewer than 1-in-10 (8pc) vehicles had at least one defective light, a slight increase on the 2014 (7pc) study. Defective front lights (5pc) were more common than rear ones (3pc). Vehicles on rural roads had slightly more defective lights than on urban routes (+1pc). Buses had the least number of defective lights (3pc).

Misuse of fog lights generates a fair share of complaints to the office. I'm afraid the report card is not encouraging. There were 1-in-7 (14pc) vehicles found to be misusing fog lights - a 4pc increase on 2014. The worst offenders were semi-articulated vehicles, just over 1-in-4 were recorded with fog lights on with 1-in-8 (13pc) car drivers doing so.

Urban roads had a higher incidence of incorrect use of fog lights (16pc) compared to rural roads (13pc).

A total of 3,990 motorcyclists and 17,637 cyclists were checked for high-visibility jacket wearing rates and helmets etc. The results here are encouraging. Motorcyclists' high-visibility wearing rates have increase from 37pc in 2014 to 58pc in 2015. Likewise for cyclists rates have increased from 30pc to 50pc.

The percentage of motorcyclists wearing helmets dropped slightly from 99pc in 2014 to 97pc in 2015. Meanwhile, helmet wearing rates among private cyclists (as opposed to those using the public bike scheme) increased from 46pc to 57pc. There was a massive jump in the number of cyclists wearing a helmet while using public bikes, from 9pc to 27pc in the space of a year. But that's where the good news ends because this group of cyclists were most likely to be seen using a phone (4pc) or wearing headphones (21pc) while cycling. Almost double the rates compared to those who were cycling on private bikes.

The final study looked at the behaviour of cyclists at traffic lights. It too was an extensive study that examined 25,126 cyclists at 60 sites in 9 cities/towns across the country.

The report says that 1-in-8 cyclists were observed passing through a red light. This was highest in Limerick (44pc) and lowest in Cork (5pc). Male cyclists were more likely to break a red light (14pc vs 8pc) and cyclists using public bikes were more likely to break a red light (16pc vs 11pc).

Of the cyclists that broke a red light, 52pc went straight through the junction and the presence of a cycle lane did not appear to affect the incidence of red light breakage.

It's worth pointing out that these observations were recorded in June 2015 so pre-date the introduction of the new fixed charges for cyclists. They were introduced in July of last year. We will be conducting a follow-up round of studies again soon.

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