According to a study, fitting a child seat on a bicycle increases the overtaking distances for motorists (no children are required)

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A new study has found that cyclists who ride with child seats attached to the back of their bikes have more room for motorists. Ditto for towing children’s trailers.

The Belgian study was published in the latest issue of Transportation research. The researchers – using mannequins rather than real children – examined whether motorists identified and categorized cyclists they saw in front of them.

In many crashes, motorists say they were unaware of the cyclists they hit. Two-wheelers have an acronym for this supposed carelessness: SMIDSY, “sorry, buddy, I didn’t see you.”

This new study, like a number of similar ones, seems to show that motorists often see cyclists perfectly well, but that some cyclists are overtaken more closely than others, suggesting that some motorists – consciously or unconsciously – are tuning more space to these. cyclists whom they consider more worthy of protection.

“Drivers of motor vehicles adapt their passing maneuver when they pass cyclists carrying a child, by keeping greater lateral clearance distances and therefore safer”, concludes the latest study, conducted among others by Toon Ampe of the Vrije University in Brussels.

One of the co-authors of the study is British psychologist Ian Walker, who has studied cyclists’ “close-pass” overtaking for many years. His much-cited 2007 study found that bare-headed cyclists were allowed greater passage distances by motorists than male cyclists wearing helmets. This study, like the new one, used bicycles equipped with cameras to measure overtaking distances.

In his 2007 study, Dr Walker recorded data from 2,500 drivers who passed him on roads near his place of work, the University of Bath. Half the time he wore a bicycle helmet and half the time he did not. The results showed that motorists tended to overtake him more closely when riding with a helmet.

Additionally, he found that the greatest passing distance was given when he wore a long brown wig to trick motorists into believing he was a bare-headed cyclist.

“Wearing a bicycle helmet led to [motor] the traffic gets very close when passing, ”concluded Dr. Walker at the time. Together with an Australian statistician, he replicated the study in 2018 with similar results.

The new study adds that motorists appear to be able to identify the carrying devices of children on bicycles, and they modify their behavior when approaching cyclists so equipped.

(No child is required to be seated in the child seat or trailer for the safety benefit application – many riders have anecdotally reported that they receive larger overtakes even after dropping off. their children at daycare or similar.)

“[The study] feeds the evidence that goes beyond [of cyclists by motorists] must be, to some extent, the product of reflection, ”Dr. Walker told me by email.

“It may or may not be unconscious, but predictably in several studies, changing the appearance of the driver changes the behavior of motorists.”

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