One-third bicycle accidents due to failure to apply right of way rules correctly

According to a new study by Vias Institute, failure to correctly give the right of way is involved in one in three serious cycling accidents in Flanders.

Responsibility for the accident lies as often with the cyclist as with the other road user. And two-thirds of accidents are largely due to human error. Still, according to Vias, the number of positive drug checks in traffic has increased by a third over the past five years to over 13,000.

Priority rule

The Vias study, commissioned by the Flemish government’s Mobility and Public Works Department (MOW), shows that in a third of the accidents studied, the cyclist’s fault is the cause. In another third, the behavior of the other road user is the cause. In 15% of the accidents, there is shared responsibility; in 18%, neither party involved is responsible.

Strikingly, failure to yield the right of way played a role in just over one in three of the accidents studied. Both cyclists and motorists make this mistake. A major factor here is sight obstruction, e.g., due to infrastructure, planting, other vehicles, and weather conditions.

Two-thirds of accidents are due to human factors. The most frequently noted for cyclists is a misjudgment of potential danger. This involves, for example, overtaking another cyclist at (too) high speed on a narrow cycle path. In addition, the ‘illusion of visibility’ also often plays a role: cyclists then think they are seen by other road users, while this is not always the case.

Inattention is often reported as the cause of accidents among other road users. Examples include opening the door without looking or driving at an excessive and inappropriate speed.

Infrastructure is also often to blame

For the study, Vias examined 120 traffic accident reports in which cyclists were killed or seriously injured. These involved all kinds of accidents, including classic bikes, e-bikes, and speed pedelecs alike.

The researchers also visited 80 sites where serious or fatal cyclist accidents occurred. According to the inspectors, a major factor in this appeared to be “a lack of forgivingness” in the infrastructure for cyclists.

For example, because cyclists did not have enough space to swerve, the right of way was illogical, the two-way cycle path was too narrow, or there were bollards on the cycle path. The inspections also showed that road authorities should emphasize good visibility at bends and intersections.

‘Child standard should be the norm’

In a reaction, Flemish Minister for Mobility Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) says this is “valuable information, which the next policy team should use”. According to Peeters, the focus should be on the ‘child standard’.

“Traffic infrastructure that is clear for children and young people is positive for the road safety of all road users. Can my child cycle or cross here independently and safely is, therefore, the most important question when designing and evaluating our infrastructure.

There were 84 cycling fatalities in Flanders last year, the highest number in the last 20 years. Nearly one in two cyclists (44%) were killed in these on an e-bike.

More drug use in traffic

In an article in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Vias also states that the number of car drivers caught up in drug checks in traffic climbed to over 13,000 last year. This continues the upward trend of recent years because in 2019, for example, the number of drivers involved was still 9,750. Across Belgium, that equates to more than 33 drivers being fined daily for drug use in traffic.

In more than 59% of saliva tests, cannabis is found in the process. Especially in combination with alcohol, cannabis poses a high risk: studies show that a low dose of cannabis combined with a small amount of alcohol has a stronger effect than the two separately.

More than half a million drug checks in traffic are carried out in Belgium annually. Anyone caught using drugs in traffic risks a fine of 1,600 to 16,000 euros and must appear before the magistrate anyway.

Recently, sanctions against foreign motorists who drive under the influence of illicit substances on Belgian roads were strengthened. Any foreign driver who tests positive will, in the future, have to pay a deposit of 1,260 euros on-site, under penalty of the police seizing the vehicle.

In the process, the threshold for imposing a deposit on foreign drivers testing positive also increases to 1,2 g/l of alcohol, compared to 1,5 g/l currently. Implementation is planned for the end of the year.


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