Research project focuses on the interaction between cyclists and drivers

April 7, 2014
Cars, Cyclists & Communication: Traffic safety can be improved by communication. Credit: © Manuel Oberlader

As an important contribution to traffic safety, the communication between cyclists and motor vehicle drivers is currently being examined by a scientific project under way in Vienna. Both infrastructure and intersection design are being considered as factors contributing to communication. The project, which is funded by the FWF, uses video recordings and interviews to analyse real communication situations under real-life road-use conditions.

Cyclists are at greater risk of accidents than most other road users. According to the statistics compiled by Statistics Austria in 2011, there were a total of 5,760 accidents involving in Austria, 659 of which occurred in Vienna alone. Fatal accidents and accidents involving serious injuries mostly happen between cyclists and car drivers. As part of a doctoral research project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, scientific data on processes between these road users are being surveyed and analysed. The aim of the project is to understand how these processes unfold, which strategies underlie certain types of behaviour and what kinds of impact they have on road safety for cyclists.

Right of Way for Respect

In relation to communication as a safety factor, Project Supervisor Dr. Ralf Risser, a lecturer at the University of Vienna and Director of Factum – Traffic- and Social analysis, reveals that: "Despite the common clichés, the communication between cyclists and car drivers does not consist solely of emotional exchanges involving negative feedback like horn blowing, name-calling and hurling insults in the event of conflicts. In everyday contexts communication actually also serves the purpose of enabling road users to move forward smoothly, to inform others of one's intentions, to coordinate behaviour of different actors and to provide feedback to others." In addition to traffic regulations, communication between road users, respect for weaker and cooperation also have an impact on traffic safety. With a view to improving this safety, the project focuses on communication processes. This encompasses also (and mostly so) non-verbal communication between cyclists and car drivers. Critical communication situations can often be observed before conflicts arise and when danger looms.

Converging Approaches

Accordingly, as part of the project, concrete communication processes are observed on site in real-life situations and analysed. The infrastructure where communication takes place, e.g. the intersection design (road width, number of lanes, bicycle lanes or paths, approach to the intersection, etc.) also plays an important role there. The planned traffic observations will be carried out at four intersections in Vienna which have a high volume of traffic, and can thus be seen as points of frequent conflicts. Communication processes are studied, there, using systematic video recording and analysis. A total of 100 test cyclists are recruited and a further 100 cyclists act as a control group. Elisabeth Fuessl, MA, who is working on the project, explains the process: "The test cyclists are instructed to join the traffic flow 200 metres before the intersection, to cycle straight through it and to stop a few metres after it. This process is filmed using three cameras. In addition to the cyclists' immediate surround¬dings, the cameras record their facial expressions and gestures." With the help of a specific analysing software, the video recordings are then evaluated and analysed using traffic conflict techniques, the measurement of parameters such as speed, distance and direction, and the coding of behaviour sequences. Nondirective and guided interviews with cyclists and car drivers as well as a standardised questionnaire provide additional information. The data obtained are supplemented by two focus group interviews with eight participants in each group. This enables the identification of more variables that can influence the nature of the communication, for example age, gender, driving experience and the road user's view of her or his own role in the . Together, the data collected from the systematic behavioural observation and analysis and the interviews will enable the researchers to provide initial insights into the communication processes between cyclists and at intersections.

The findings of this FWF project can be used in the formulation of recommendations for the adaptation of infrastructure (planning), as well as for cyclist and driver education and training. In this way, basic research can provide a tangible means of improving and protecting lives.

Explore further: Why do cyclists run red lights?

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