Studies of driver attitudes toward bicyclists disturbing

Two Australian studies reveal that we have a long way to go in shaping driver attitudes toward safely sharing the roads with bicycles.

In California, when the driver of a motor vehicle causes a collision with a bicycle because of negligent, reckless, aggressive or illegal driving behavior, that driver is legally liable for resulting cyclist injury or death. The findings of two Australian studies of motorist attitudes toward bicyclists highlight the need for ongoing pressure on drivers to recognize their legal duty to obey traffic laws and to comply with the duty of care to drive reasonably around bicycles.

An article in summarized the results of these two studies. Basically, they found that many drivers do not believe that bicycles should share the roads with cars and express dislike toward cyclists. This lack of respect for cyclists leads to disregard of the traffic laws that protect bicycles on the road.

Attitudes toward passing law

One study surveyed drivers about compliance with a year-old local law that required motorists to give bicycles 1.5 meters (almost five feet) berth when passing. Results included:

  • Almost 50% said they have broken this law.
  • About one-third admitted to ignoring this law "most of the time" or "almost always."
  • The chances of breaking this law were slightly higher in slower speed zones.

These attitudes were associated with lower compliance with the bicycle-passing law:

  • Seeing the requirement as "annoying"
  • Estimating the correct distance was difficult
  • Failing to see other drivers comply

Motorist feelings toward vehicles and bicycles

The second study tried to understand why drivers have "animosity toward cyclists, which also has been linked to aggressive driving behavior." One major finding was that many motorists are "simply car-centric, and don't think anything but cars belong on the roads." Another conclusion was that driver attitudes were negative equally toward bikers dressed in exercise clothing or in casual clothing suggesting they were commuting. In other words, it did not matter why the cyclist was using the roadway.

Those who conducted both studies believe that "driver education and initiatives" to increase bicycle safety are needed.

Hopefully, initiatives in our area like the LADOT Bike Program of the City of Los Angeles and the City of San Diego Bicycle Master Plan will help to raise awareness and begin to soften driver attitudes toward sharing the roads safely. But the bottom line is that area motorists will be liable for harm to cyclists from negligent or aggressive driving.

Any Southern Californian injured in a collision with a vehicle should speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible about potential legal remedies, including holding involved insurance companies to their contractual responsibilities.