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Press Release - 05 July 2006

White Van Man is a danger on roads, research finds

New research has proved what many of us have long suspected: white van man is a danger on the roads.

Drivers of white vans overtake cyclists an average 10 centimetres (4 inches) closer than car drivers, according to new research.

Using a special bike fitted with a video camera and an ultrasonic distance sensor, Dr Ian Walker from the University of Bath has cycled over 300 km (186 miles) in Bristol and Salisbury over the last two months.

During this time he has been overtaken by around 2,500 vehicles, and each time the sensors recorded the type of vehicle and the distance at which it passed the bike.

In total about 200 of these vehicles were white light goods vehicles, which gave an average passing distance of 1.26 metres (just over 4 feet 1 inch).

However, the drivers of the 200 black cars which overtook Dr Walker – chosen for comparison because there was a comparable number with white vans – allowed cyclists an extra 10 centimetres at 1.36 metres (4 feet 5 1/2 inches).

“At the kinds of speeds and distances that cyclists are overtaken on our city streets, reducing the gap between cyclist and vehicle can have life-threatening safety implications,” said Dr Walker, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath.

“Why white van drivers overtake closer is not clear; it could be a range of things, from social or personality factors, to the length and width of the vans, or even the stereotypical machismo of white van man.

“Being able to measure the passing distances that different vehicle drivers give to cyclists and other vulnerable road users is the first step in identifying some of the issues that put them most at risk.

“More than 2,000 cyclists are seriously injured in road accidents each year, and 100 die. By looking scientifically at the issues that compromise their safety we can try and find ways of tackling the root causes of some of these accidents.

“Being hit by an overtaking vehicle is extremely dangerous for a cyclist. If we understood what determines how close drivers get to cyclists as they overtake, we could do something to make collisions less likely, either in the way we construct our roads or, more likely, with advice to drivers about how they should drive and to cyclists about how they should ride.”

Dr Walker will be talking about some of his early research findings at a meeting of the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath, on Tuesday 11 July 2006 (7.30 – 9pm).

The Highway Code advises drivers to give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as they would a car when overtaking. It also advises drivers to give these vulnerable road users ‘plenty of room’.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, every year in this country over 15,000 cyclists are killed or injured in reported road accidents, including more than 2,100 who are killed or seriously injured.

Dr Walker is a keen cyclist and recently completed the journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

The research is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of its Transportation Operations and Management research programme.

The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. In 16 subject areas the University of Bath is rated in the top ten in the country. View a full list of the University's press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/releases

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