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Cyclists make better drivers

SIMON MAUDE
Last updated 05:00 17/07/2014
Jan Martin

CODED RESPONSE: A study shows cyclists make better motorists, Jay Martin says.

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Keen cyclist Jay Martin has niggled away at a theory for years that has now been proved true.

A study commissioned by North Shore-based Harbour Sport shows young cyclists make better drivers.

"I'd heard the theory so much I actually thought it had been researched. But when I found out it hadn't, I asked, ‘how are we going to work that one out?'."

Martin, Harbour Sport's active communities manager, employed visiting sports science students from the University of Bath to conduct a nationwide survey of driving instructors.

Dozens of instructors and hundreds of their high school aged students were quizzed. The survey found 88 per cent of instructors felt their cyclist pupils had a "better understanding of the road environment".

Martin, whose husband and 14-year-old son race a tandem road bike together, says having an early, healthy exposure to cycling hones the senses.

Cyclists have to be "high-speed decision-makers" with good reflexes and situational awareness, she says.

Peter Shephard, national vice-president of the New Zealand Institute of Driver Educators, agrees and says cyclists get a head-start on other learner motorists.

"The young person riding has to make lots of decisions. As a road user this gives them an earlier opportunity to heighten the higher-order senses and it gives them a sense of responsibility."

The study found more than three-quarters of instructors thought young cyclists had a "heightened awareness of other road users." More than half of the surveyed young cyclists agreed.

New Zealand driver training is shifting from an "instructional to coaching focus" and learning to cycle helps with that shift, Shephard says.

The Bikes in Schools programme at Northcote's Onepoto Primary and an on-road clinic at Orewa College gives budding riders a chance to safely learn new skills, Martin says.

Harbour Sport, a regional sports trust, works collaboratively with organisations like ACC and Auckland Council to support and facilitate increased cycling in the community.

All children at decile one Onepoto Primary can now ride donated bikes thanks to the 500-metre Te Ara Tika, or the "right way" bike track, ringing its field, Martin says.

And more than 450 Orewa College students can now "claim the road", having learnt road-code skills, she says.

Go to harboursport.co.nz to read the report.

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