Department of Psychology

Changing policy approaches to road safety of cyclists

Bicycles are the ideal low-tech solution to a host of today's pressing social problems. A large proportion of urban car journeys are made by people travelling short distances by themselves. Shifting some of these trips to foot, or to the bicycle, would address such issues as air pollution, climate change, lack of exercise, and road safety - as well as making many journeys faster and cheaper for the traveler. However, there are important barriers to getting more people walking and, especially, bicycling. These include how bicycling appears dangerous to people who don't do it, and the myriad of social, economic and practical 'nudges' that keep driving easier and cheaper than it perhaps should be.

Dr Ian Walker has, since 2004, been researching how people in cars interact with people on bicycles. He has carried out pioneering measurements of how people read bicyclists' body language at road junctions, and what affects the amount of space left when motor vehicles pass cyclists on the road. This work gathered international media attention (the New York Times chose it as one of the ideas that defined the year) and, since, a range of countries and states have introduced laws that regulate how close motorists can get when passing cyclists. A particular finding from Ian's work is that there is only so much a rider can do to make themselves safer, and that true safety requires action from motorists and, particularly, street designers. These insights fed into London's segregated cycle superhighways, for which Ian advised on the pre-installation trials.