Motorists give cyclists less room when they're in a painted bike lane - study

Motorists give cyclists less room when passing if they're riding in a painted bike lane, a new study has revealed.

The study, from Melbourne's Monash University, found drivers tend to perform an overtaking manoeuvre when the rider is on the road, but drive straight on if they're in a cycle lane.

Researches recorded more than 18,500 passes over 422 trips using specialist to that measure the distance between a vehicle and a bike.

One in every 17 passes came within one metre of the cyclist, while 124 passes were within less than 60cm. The results were worse on high-speed roads, where one in every three passes was closer than 1.5m.

The New Zealand Transport Agency advises motorists allow at least 1.5m of space when passing a cyclist due to possible hazards that can cause problems for cyclists like potholes, glass or opening car doors.

Study author Ben Beck said close passes were a big barrier to increasing participation in cycling.

"Vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation."

He added the current system of painted bike lanes is not helping the situation.

"Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes."

Dr Beck said separated cycle infrastructure needs to be built to ensure safety for cyclists. The study was published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

A previous study found cyclists were given more space when not wearing helmets, or wearing large wigs to appear female.

"Test cyclists were given 8.5cm (3.3 inches) more clearance by cars if they were not wearing helmets. When the researchers donned female wigs they got more clearance, 14cm (5.5 inches) more than apparent males in helmets," Ian Walker wrote in his 2007 study, also published in Accident Analysis and Prevention.

"They did not report on what a skirt and helmet combination would do. The author was hit by a bus and a truck during the experiment, and was wearing a helmet both times."

Flanders - the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium - voted "moordstrookje", a nickname for painted bike lanes, as its word of the year in 2018. It translates to "murder lane".