Want to be a good driver? Spend a lot of time driving. Want to be an even better driver? Spend a lot of time cycling, too. At least, that’s what a new study from researchers in Australia suggests.

The study involved 42 people between the ages of 30 and 50, all of whom had extensive driving experience. Twenty-two of the participants were also regular cyclists.

In the study, researchers decided to focus on participants’ ability to detect subtle changes in road situations. The hypothesis was that some of the bikers’ skills might transfer over into generally being more aware when they take to the roads, whether on a bike or in a car.

To explore this idea, participants were shown pairs of road scenes. For each pair of images, people had to say whether the two images were the same or different. When images differed, the difference was down to a single detail: either an additional pedestrian, car, bicycle or road sign in one of the images.

It turned out that cyclists and non-cyclists were equally accurate when it came to picking out which images were different. But, here’s the thing – cyclists did it significantly faster. This was especially true when the change was a bicyclist or a road sign.

The researchers also found that both bikers and non-bikers detected the change more quickly when it was a pedestrian, car or bicycle than when it was a road sign. And we can all probably agree that prioritizing these objects makes sense – bikers, pedestrians and other drivers all tend to be a lot less predictable in their actions than road signs!

Overall, the findings suggest that bicyclists have an edge when it comes to road awareness. The study didn’t look at cause-and-effect, so it’s possible than people with better road awareness are just more likely to take up biking. Perhaps a more likely explanation, though, is that riding a bike hones certain visual skills that come in handy no matter what kind of vehicle you find yourself using.

Image: Flickr/mitchell haindfield