According to the US Department of Transportation, 677 cyclists were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2011, while 48,000 were injured. Cyclists have long been told to wear high-visibility clothing on the road so that passing vehicles can see them. But a new study suggests that regardless of clothing, drivers continue to pass dangerously close when overtaking cyclists.

Researchers from the University of Bath and Brunel University in the UK say their research suggests there is very little a cyclist can do to prevent vehicles from dangerously overtaking, and that drivers therefore need to change their behavior.

To reach their findings, published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, study author Dr. Ian Gerrard of Brunel University decided to attach an ultrasonic distance sensor to his bike over several months during his daily commute to work.

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A study suggests that 1-2% of drivers overtake cyclists with only a 50 cm distance as they pass, regardless of whether the cyclist is wearing reflective clothing.

Each day, Dr. Gerrard wore a different outfit. One outfit consisted of tight-fitting racing cyclist clothing, which the researchers say indicated “high cycling experience,” while another was a high-visibility vest with “novice cyclist” printed on the back, suggesting he had low cycling experience.

One outfit also had a message stating that he was video-recording the journey, and another was similar to a police jacket, but it had “polite” printed on the back.

Dr. Gerrard used the same bike for every journey, and the distance sensor was able to detect how close each vehicle was to him as they passed.

The aim of the experiment was to see whether drivers would give more space to an inexperienced cyclist, or whether they would be closer to a cyclist they believed to be highly skilled.

Over the study period, the sensor recorded data from 5,690 passing vehicles.

Results of the study revealed that the vest indicating video-recording led drivers to give the cyclists slightly more space.

However, there were no differences in space found between any other outfits worn, even in the most dangerous overtakes where drivers were as close as 50 cm to the cyclist. Around 1-2% of drivers overtook Dr. Gerrard with a 50 cm distance.

Commenting on the findings, study leader Dr. Ian Walker, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, says:

Many people have theories to say that cyclists can make themselves safer if they wear this or that. Our study suggests that, no matter what you wear, it will do nothing to prevent a small minority of people from getting dangerously close when they overtake you.”

Dr. Walker says their findings mean the solution to stopping cyclists being injured by overtaking vehicles must come from outside interventions.

“We can’t make cycling safer by telling cyclists what they should wear,” he adds.

“Rather, we should be creating safer spaces for cycling – perhaps by building high-quality separate cycle paths, by encouraging gentler roads with less stop-start traffic, or by making drivers more aware of how it feels to cycle on our roads and the consequences of impatient overtaking.”

The investigators note, however, that the high-visibility clothing was not tested on drivers at night, therefore it is unknown as to whether cyclists would be more visible to drivers at this time, and if they would leave riders more space.

Dr. Walker’s previous studies using a similar method suggested that drivers treat men and women cyclists differently when passing them on the road, and that longer vehicles, such as trucks and buses, get closer to cyclists when overtaking, compared with cars.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study revealing that older motorcyclists are more likely to be severely injured in crashes than younger bikers.