“Car driver killed in crash with a cyclist.” Have you ever seen this headline? It’s unlikely. Whereas you have probably seen plenty of headlines where cyclists died in crashes with drivers. As a driver in charge of a ton or more of moving steel, you need to take extra care around cyclists.

Scientists in Sweden decided to look at how cars pass cyclists on out-of-town roads. They found three primary forms of overtaking:

  • Flying: A vehicle passes at a constant speed without slowing down.
  • Accelerating: The driver slows down and sits behind the cyclist before accelerating past them at an opportune moment.
  • Piggybacking: Other drivers follow the first overtaking car, overtaking the bicycle when it does.

The study found drivers took longer to pass and left less distance between them and the cyclist when using the flying method, rather than the accelerating strategy. If a car was coming the other way, the drivers left less distance between them and the cyclists, less than one meter at times.

The researchers found 28% of drivers used piggybacking, but did not look at how close these cars passed or how quickly they passed. The average speed at which the cars overtook the cyclist was 45 miles per hour. On average, drivers had 1.6 seconds to take evasive action to avoid a crash, if a cyclist wobbled or steered around a pothole.

Think about that for a second. Think about it for 1.6 seconds. Could you react that fast? It takes five seconds to check a text while driving. What about if you have a drink in your hand, how many seconds would it take to wrench the steering wheel left with only one hand?

Cyclists need room to steer around potholes, drain covers or simply wobble without being struck by a passing car. The more space you give them, the more time you have to avoid causing a bicycle accident.