Busting the Myth of the “Scofflaw Cyclist”

People who bike are no more likely to disregard traffic laws than people who drive, according to a new survey published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use. Photo: Photo: Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons
People who bike are no more likely to disregard traffic laws than people who drive, according to a new survey published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use. Photo: Photo: Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons

According to a certain perspective that seems to hold sway among local newspaper columnists, bicyclists are reckless daredevils who flout the road rules that everyone else faithfully upholds. But the results of a massive survey published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use point to a different conclusion — everyone breaks traffic laws, and there’s nothing extraordinary about how people behave on bikes.

Researcher Wesley Marshall and his team surveyed 18,000 people online about their compliance with traffic laws when they are driving, biking, or walking. Most respondents — 14,000 — were based in the United States, with the remainder concentrated in Australia, Canada, and Europe.

They found that people admit to breaking the rules of the road at roughly the same (very high) rate, regardless of how they’re getting around.

“Bicyclists, perhaps despite popular conception, really don’t break the rules at any greater rate than any other modes: pedestrians or drivers,” said Aaron Johnson, one of the authors. “When there’s a disregard for the rules it tends to come from efforts to negotiate infrastructure that really wasn’t built for them.”

Only participants who said they bike were surveyed about cycling behavior and only those who said they drive were questioned about motorist behavior. Most participants identified as all of the above — drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians — said Johnson.

The study was conducted by “snowball sampling,” where surveys are passed along among social networks by word of mouth or through media. Though the survey was not random, the sample was big enough that researchers think the findings are reliable.

Among people who drive, nearly 100 percent said they exceed the speed limit, text behind the wheel, or break other laws; 98 percent of people who walk admitted to disregarding pedestrian signals; 96 percent of people who bike said they disregard stop signs and traffic lights.

But reasons for breaking the rules differed. People were most likely to say they broke a rule while driving or walking to save time, while people who bike were most likely to cite personal safety (by riding on the sidewalk rather than a busy street, for example) or saving energy.

The survey also examined geographical differences among American respondents. Cyclists in cities with higher rates of cycling, for instance, were more likely to say they follow rules. Interestingly, the survey did not find the presence of bike lanes to be a significant factor in cyclists’ reported observance of traffic laws. And intersection density — often considered a proxy for walkability — was associated with higher rates of rule breaking. The authors say these factors deserve additional study.

  • Joe R.

    Well, your comments here towards cyclists are nothing but insulting and derogatory, so don’t be surprised when you get the same in return. It’s a pity the mods haven’t banned you yet. All you do is hurl insults while adding absolutely nothing constructive to the conversation.

    PLEASE GO SEEK HELP!

  • NunyaBusiness

    It is a safety issue, which is why there’s a bike lane which is why parking in the bike lane is not legal.

    Obviously one does not want to pull into the road if there is traffic, but depending on where you have pulled over, it may not be that simple. If it’s a multi-lane road, someone might change lanes and make an open lane a not open lane. If you’re close to an intersection someone might make a turn into the road, maybe they even make a rolling stop.

    I’ve been hit while actually in the bike lane by someone making a right turn. You can imagine how easy it would be to be hit if you were on a road where there is a bike lane, but you’re not in it because some blowhard has decided to make it a loading/unloading zone.

    If cyclists are hostile to motorists, people like you are exactly the reason why.

  • NunyaBusiness

    My point was that skill is a factor regardless of your mode of transportation.

  • NunyaBusiness

    You are truly stupid.

  • NunyaBusiness

    Because that’s all you wanted to learn.

  • NunyaBusiness

    What you meant to say is no, not all taxes are subject to a vote of the people.

    I’m sure you did vote for Trump, but I don’t believe your reason for a second. You voted for him because you’re an asshole.

  • NunyaBusiness

    Well, like most things, you figure wrong.

    There are lots of other reasons. One of them is because the insult is true, and another is because you’ve proven yourself unworthy of respect.

  • Cynara2

    A peloton of cyclists has a lower collective IQ than a potato,
    Here is a genius cyclist swerving around pedestrians legally in a crosswalk.

  • Cynara2

    Then why did you make a point of singling out middle America.
    I should have known you were a New YACK YACK YACKEr .

  • Cynara2

    Why would I care about cyclists at all, except that they threaten my life on a regular basis? No one is jealous of you or in awe of you. Most people wish you would go away.

  • Joe R.

    Really? So cyclists regularly point guns at you and stuff like that? Not sure how else they could threaten your life on a regular basis.

    And we’re talking about you here, not me. Please stop trying to deflect the conversation.

    BTW, I’m done responding to you. I needed a little entertainment tonight but it’s already getting kind of old. I guess you’ll have to find another punching bag.

  • Cynara2

    Winner winner chicken dinner. You and every cyclist who upvoted you lived up to and completely fulfilled the pedestrian’s expectation of cyclists: Negate, dismiss and invalidate.

  • Cynara2

    Nope. We are talking you and your culture of dismissing pedestrians. Thanks for fulfilling our expectations.

  • Cynara2

    Right. Meaningless anecdotes. Exactly what pedestrians expect in response to our experiences with cyclists. Dismiss, invalidate, etc.

  • Cynara2

    dismiss, invalidate, lather, rinse, repeat. Samo samo.

  • Joe R.

    I hope you know that this election energized the secession movements in places like California and on the east coast. My hope is they succeed, the country splits into two or three parts, and the coasts get to keep all the money they generate instead of sending a good part of it to subsidize the middle of the country and the bloated military. You’ll be singing a different tune when the taxes the midwest economy generates can only support dirt roads.

    As for the election, we had two awful choices, neither of whom I would vote for in good conscience. Sanders should have been President, or perhaps Kasich. Those were about the only sane choices.

  • Cynara2

    Wrong. IT is not proper, it is completely selfish and utterly stupid. You have never asked a pedestrian what is proper and ignore everything we say.

  • Cynara2

    The only reason for that behavior is selfishness, nothing else.

  • Cynara2

    Cyclists force pedestrians out of the cross walk and into vehicular traffic regularly.

  • Joe R.

    I just blocked you so don’t bother responding to any more of my posts. You’re an ignoramus who isn’t worth wasting my time with.

  • Cynara2

    Please note that the first reaction of the brilliant cyclist is to yank the arm of a woman who almost surely has broken ribs, putting her into excruciating pain.

  • Miles Bader

    There’s simply no contest… A bicycle is not only much slower and far less likely to harm you seriously, but also has vastly better situational awareness than a car.

    The real solution is to ban cars from most streets and use some of the freed up space for better bike infrastructure.

  • Cynara2

    Dismissal of pedestrians, expected.

  • Cynara2

    That is the difference. The driver hit the brakes and stopped so he would not hit you. Cyclists will use you as a fleshy air bag and landing pad so as not to scratch their bikes or dirty their tights.

  • Cynara2
  • NunyaBusiness

    That seems frankly impossible.

  • Cynara2

    From what I have seen, cyclists are hostile to everyone, with few exceptions. You resent the very existence of pedestrians.

  • Cynara2

    Dismiss, invalidate, engate. Lather, rinse, repeat. You really cannot imagine that they fly into crosswalks as if they are pedestrians and refuse to stop or move aside. Of course they do that. Everyone is expected to bow down to the convenience of cyclists.

  • NunyaBusiness

    You’re even dumber than the other guy. At least he’s able to carry off the impression that he has a real point and isn’t trolling.

  • NunyaBusiness

    That would require hating myself, since I am also a pedestrian.

    Of course, this is complete insanity coming from a 3/10 troll.

  • Cynara2

    Those Snobbiest Small Cities in America are:

    1. Palo Alto, CA

    2. Bethesda, MD

    3. Brookline, MA

    4. San Rafael, CA

    5. Walnut Creek, CA

    6. Hoboken, NJ

    7. Oak Park, IL

    8. Encinitas, CA (tie)

    http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/snobbiest-small-cities-in-america/

    8. Rockville, MD (tie)

    10. Laguna Niguel, CA

  • Cynara2

    COMPLETE INSANITY: Invalidate, negate, dismiss. Next, you will have to go to redirecting attention to motorists.

  • Cynara2

    He has a real point unlike pedestrians
    : negate, invalidate, dismiss. Do you have to be so boringly predictable:?

  • NunyaBusiness

    Pot, kettle, moron.

  • NunyaBusiness

    Boooorrrrring.

  • bobfuss

    Secession is a non-starter because it would require the approval of the 38 smaller, poorer States and they have no incentive to do that. Unless you want another civil war of course . .

  • bobfuss

    Asserting that’s the case is one thing, but you haven’t demonstrated any reason to believe you.

  • bobfuss

    Taxes are a big part of how we vote. That’s what I’m saying.

  • bobfuss

    No, that really was the sum total of knowledge in your comment

  • bobfuss

    Prove it.

  • bobfuss

    Depends. Flying in a plane or sailing on a ship doesn’t take any skill.

    Riding a bike is at the other extreme. You can be as skillful as you like, but it only takes an idiot in a car to kill you in a second.

  • bobfuss

    The manoveur that you make to pass an obstruction is 100% under your control. Therefore it is perfectly safe for you to be obstructed because an easily-visible object that isn’t moving cannot harm you.

    If it is too risky to pass then you stop and wait. again, zero danger.

    Safely passing an obstruction is a basic skill of any cyclist or driver. If you lack that basic skill then maybe you should not be on the roads at all?

    A vehicle in the bike lane may be an inconvenience but it’s not a risk. And in fact vehicles are allowed to use a bike lane is various situations, including turning right. At least in SF, cabs can enter a bike lane to pick up or drop off.

  • Cynara2

    Remind me again…Dead pedestrians are insignificant statistics.

  • Cynara2

    No, he was typically arrogant and responded with the abuse that many cyclists treat pedestrians with. I have been called worse for being legally in the crosswalk or even on the sidewalk.

  • Cynara2

    Here are the cyclists yielding to pedestrians trying to cross the bike path. Note that all the infrastructure the cyclists wanted is in place, including the crosswalk enhanced by overhead flashing amber lights.

  • Cynara2

    Samo samo. Cyclists attitude toward pedestrians is not expected to change.

  • Cynara2

    Cyclists treating pedestrians with utter contempt.

  • Cynara2

    What excuse do cyclists have for their hostility to pedestrians?

  • Cynara2

    Well, maybe we can take the attitude toward dead cyclists that cyclists take toward pedestrians killed by cyclists….the deceased are just insignificant statistics.

  • NunyaBusiness

    A vehicle in the bike lane is illegal and a safety hazard. Maybe cyclists should just start running into the back of them and suing.

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