Cyclists were more aware of traffic conditions because they sat higher than car drivers and could see all around them, which lead them to taking actions that motorists considered to be risky and frightening, according to Victorian Department of Transport research.
Cyclists sat half a metre to one metre higher or more than car drivers, whose vision also was impeded the frame of their vehicle and bigger vehicles around them.
Drivers said they were afraid of injuring cyclists who appeared unexpectedly.
The study – Understanding Relationship between Drivers and Cyclists – analysed the sources of tensions between drivers and cyclists around Melbourne using focus groups and questionnaires.
It was done by consulting firm SKM for the department.
It said that the Victorian Government commissioned the study because it was committed to promoting and encouraging bicycles as a legitimate and safe form of transport.
Journeys to work by bicycle had risen by 42 per cent between 2001 and 2006 according to ABS census data.
VicRoads permanent cycle counters around the city had indicated a rise of about 33 per cent in cycling commuter trips from 2006 to 2009.
However, there was a perception of increasing tensions between cyclists and motorists, suggesting a souring of the relationship that may lead to unsafe behaviour on roads and, potentially, a reduction in the rate of growth of cycling.
The report said there was a lot of anecdotal evidence of increasing tensions between drivers and cyclists and of generally increasing tension between all road users – road rage incidents.
However, there was a lack of understanding of the causes of any tensions and how widespread they were in the community.
It identified specific behaviours that people used to describe the impatience of others – such as “drivers speeding and weaving”; “you can see their expression, they look anxious” or “cyclists cutting in and around slow-moving traffic.”
Cameras were fixed to cyclists’ helmets and to car windscreens and participants also commented on tape what they saw as they saw it.
Drivers reported that they felt less tension in places where they expected to see cyclists.