Road to Cyclist Safety: How Far Have We Come?


Cyclist protection does not start and end with wearing the right cycling gear. More than anything, it is about creating an environment where a cyclist can feel comfortable and safe to get on the bike whether it be as a profession or to get from one place to another. From 2018 to 2021, an average of 217 people died each year in cycling accidents in Italy, more than one every two days, according to data collected by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). In fact, Italy is one of the countries in Europe with the highest mortality rate per km cycled.

Paola Gianotti is no stranger to the danger most cyclists fear or experience on the road. Her campaign to promote cyclist safety comes from her road accident back in 2014 when a motorist ran her over in Arizona during her bike world tour. Aside from a broken fifth cervical vertebra, she also met Marco Cavorso whose 13-year-old son Tommaso was killed by a motorist who illegally overtook 4 cars on a continuous line. Together with Marco and Maurizio Fondriest, they started to campaign for the protection of cyclists on the road by founding the “I Respect the Cyclist” Association.

Since then, over 400 municipalities in Italy have joined with placing more than 4,500 signs. Organizations such as the Italian Federation of Friends of the Bicycle (FIAB) and the Michele Scarponi Foundation have been instrumental in carrying out the campaign in different locations. In particular with the Italian Professional Racing Cyclists Association (ACCPI), the association focuses on carrying forward the campaign on the introduction of a 1.5-meter distance when motorists overtake cyclists.

To date, the highway code says that a motorist must pass a cyclist at a “safe distance” which can mean everything and nothing. Thus, it is necessary to introduce the number 1.5. While it may not completely change the situation, it is certainly an important first step.

We asked Paola what the vision for the compliance bill with the 1.5-meter distance is. “What is fundamental is a change of culture. Whoever drives a car – affirms Paola – must realize and understand that he has a very dangerous weapon in his hand and that the roads have not been designed solely for cars but for all users who must use them, and the greatest attention must be paid precisely to the weaker road users.”

Just recently, the untimely death of Davide Rebellin was confirmed to be caused by the impact of the truck that hit him in a roundabout near Lonigo. This unfortunate incident was cited by Honorable Mauro Berruto in his recent address to the Parliament as a call to the Italian government to intervene in the Highway Code and promote the distance of 1.5 meters.

Think of it this way, if a cyclist commits an infringement of the highway code, he hardly kills a motorist, while the motorist who commits an infringement of the highway code can do the worse harm to a cyclist or even lead to death. We look at the 1.5-meter safe distance as a reminder that at the end of the day, whether you are driving a car or riding a bike, all use the road.

We are far from achieving complete safety for cyclists, but we should all start from a simple number: 1.5 meters.