But cyclists all run stop signs and red lights! Don't they?
Read any post on TreeHugger about cycling and there will be comments about how cyclists blow through stop signs and ignore the law, like "Very rarely do I see a cyclist in the wild without seeing them do something brazenly idiotic and get away with it for no other reason than someone in a car was paying enough attention to avoid killing them."
Writing in Outside Magazine, Peter Flax points to a study prepared for the Florida Department of Transportation which concludes that, in fact, cyclists are actually law-abiding folk 87 percent of the time, and drivers? Only 85 percent of the time. Flax writes:
In a conversation with three of the researchers who conducted the study, I asked if they had any insight into why the findings vary so significantly from public perceptions about scofflaw cyclist behavior. “Many drivers simply don’t know the rules that concern people on bikes,” says Cong Chen. “About how much space to give cyclists, for instance, or when riders should get the right of way.”
The question of giving cyclists space, and not knowing about the rules, is universal; I can't think of any rule that is ignored as much. But I honestly don't think many drivers have any idea how far they are away from cyclists, and don't want to take the time to switch lanes, or take that law seriously at all. Which is why I have always thought that pool noodles are probably better safety equipment than helmets.
There are some questions and qualifications that could be raised; the study was done by equipping bikes with cameras and sensors, and I would suspect that if I was riding a bike like that I would tend to be more law-abiding, knowing I am being filmed. Perhaps balancing this out is the fact that the drivers could be doing a lot of things that are not caught by the cameras, including speeding and looking at their phones.
But still, it is important information. As Peter Flax notes,
Everyone seems to break the rules, whether they’re on two wheels or four. The big difference is that some do it on an 18-pound bicycle and some do it in a 4,000-pound SUV that can cause exponentially greater harm.
A great feature in the report is the analysis and recommendations, which combine education (of drivers as well as cyclists), engineering (more and better bike lanes!) and enforcement (more of drivers than of cyclists). There seems to be a real balance here, instead of the usual bike-blaming. Read Peter Flax in Outside or download the study here.