Survey: Cyclists no better — or worse — than drivers

The ongoing feud between drivers and bicyclists (which exists almost as if one is never the other) often ends up as little more than the ceremonial hurling of allegations that the “other” is pretty bad at their mode of transportation.

Are drivers worse than bicyclists or are bicyclists worse than drivers when it comes to obeying the laws of the road?


“We’re all criminals,” says Wesley Marshall, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado.

Marshall surveyed 18,000 people to find out why bicyclists violate traffic laws.

He found that the rates of infractions are about the same for both drivers and bicyclists and that they are motivated by the same thing.

“They’re not trying to be reckless or rude,” Marshall said. “Cyclists, they’re doing it for their own personal safety or perceived safety. They felt like they’re more visible.”

On a transportation grid designed with cars in mind, Marshall says cyclists are acting on what they perceive is better for their safety. It is a rational choice in a cyclist’s decision-making, he said. At a red light with no other cars crossing, a cyclist can get a head start on the next block.

“It’s interesting that you would break the law to feel safer,” Marshall says.

A city with a great deal of mass transit is expected to be a lot safer than a typical driving city, Marshall says. But cities with lots of bicyclists, which you might think would be more dangerous, are in reality much safer.

  • jon

    As the user of a bicycle, car and a motorcycle, I’m going to claim victory out of this tie.

    Those of us with insured motorcycles are 20% less likely to have a bodily injury claim against us while we are driving cars. (source:–general-news/motorcyclists-23-better-behind-the-wheel-of-a-car/23971.html )

    So if bicycles and bikes are about the same, and Motorcyclists are better than cars, than I think I can hold my head high on this one.

    That being said I’ve used the horn on both my bicycle and my motorcycle over the weekend to alert cars that that didn’t see me that I was there (one of them was understandable, her view was blocked by another car, and they stopped once they were aware of me, the other just decided not to look and stuck their arm out the window and shrugged when I honked and braked hard to avoid getting hit, then they went and cut some one else off in the same way within 30 seconds) I did not take the car out at all over the weekend.

    If we were to all drive like any crash is going to be fatal I think there’d be a lot fewer accidents on the road.

  • Paul

    “On a transportation grid designed with cars in mind, Marshall says cyclists are acting on what they perceive is better for their safety. It is a rational choice in a cyclist’s decision-making, he said. At a red light with no other cars crossing, a cyclist can get a head start on the next block.”

    The same’s true for my motorcycle but I can’t blow red lights without expecting blue ones to light up behind me.

    It’d also be much better for my mpg if I didn’t have to stop.

    I’d also get out of the elements that bicyclists always claim to be ill-prepared for quicker.

    But I don’t have the desire to be street pizza that the bicyclists do. Turns are signaled. Stops are stopped at. Crosswalks and sidewalks are for pedestrians.

    • jon

      I go through red lights on the motorcycle, same reason as I do it on the bicycle, cause the lights don’t trip for my bike, so I wait, and wait, and eventually and have to run the light when it’s safe to do so…

      Cause as the article pointed out the road is designed for cars, bicycles and motorcycles are allowed there, but it is a space built for cars.

      p.s. I get 60+ MPG on the motorcycle even with stop and go traffic 🙂

      • Paul

        Have you tried stopping at the light before you run it?

        Motorcycles don’t have the emergency vehicle trigger to flip lights before they get there.

        My CB350 had no problems with stop lights and there’s not a lot of metal on those compared to a car.

        • jon

          No I “wait, and wait” without ever stopping… 🙄

          My NC700 is not your CB350.
          My experience doesn’t reflect your experience.
          These statements aren’t normally a surprise to people in real life, though I’m surprised how often people assume that just because some one’s experience doesn’t mirror their own on the internet that they must be doing something ridiculous…

          • Paul

            You do actually have to stop and wait for some time at the light. Then you can go against it legally if you’re on a motorcycle or a bicycle. You can’t just roll right through it or roll up to it, stop briefly, then go against it.

          • jon

            I don’t know what point you are trying to make….

            4 posts ago “so I wait, and wait, and eventually”

            I’m not sure what part of the words “Wait and Wait” and “Eventually” you read as “I don’t stop I speed through red lights all the time with complete disregard for the laws!”

          • Paul

            Bicyclists’ definition of waiting seems to be .001 seconds.

            Bicycles and motorcycles are allowed to go against red light that does not change for them after waiting an appropriate amount of time. You’re not allowed to run them.

          • Brian Simon

            As a regular cyclist, I am quite familiar with the lights along my usual routes & know that almost none will change for me alone. The letter of the law may require that I am to wait each time to verify that the light still won’t change for me. I choose to instead obey the spirit of the law & the “Idaho stop” rules, proceeding when it’s safe.

    • Jerry

      I would just like to point out that the population of bicyclists is more varied than you’re implying. For instance, the study linked above indicates that the infraction rate for bicyclists is only about 7 to 8 percent. My point is that it is not useful or correct to make generalizations about a large and diverse group of people like “anyone who rides a bicycle any time”. However, if you were going to do this, it looks like the data would point you to the opposite conclusion, that most bicyclists follow the law most of the time. I’m guessing that you (like me) mostly notice people on bikes when they are doing something stupid, and this “sampling bias” gives the false impression that people riding bikes spend a lot of time breaking laws.

      • Paul

        It’s the supposed quantum nature of bicyclists that gets to me, they claim they are pedestrians when convenient and vehicles when convenient, with both claims being possible at the same time.

        Motorcyclists can only have one earphone. Bicyclists cruise around with two earbuds in all the time with seeming impunity.

        Bicyclists can ride down the sidewalk then turn into the crosswalk, without looking or signalling, then get all indignant that you almost hit them.

        I’ve never seen a bicyclist pulled over by a cop.

  • Dan

    Would be amusing to see pedestrians added to the comparison. Cross only at crosswalks? Always wait for walk sign?

  • Paul

    I commute to work by bike, and ride around 60-70 miles a week. I will stop at stop signs when necessary, otherwise I will match my speed with a car and flow through with them. If there are no cars approaching a 4 way stop I go right through.

    Stop lights I come to a stop and proceed when no cars are crossing. I live in the city so most of the time traffic is consistent until I get a green.

    Stop signs should be yielded to, traffic lights should be stops signs. I would be less inclined to bike to work if it meant stopping at every stop sign, and waiting for every green light.

    • Paul

      Oh the horrors have having to follow the law!

      Would you be fine with motorcycles joining you in being scofflaws or is flagrantly violating traffic laws in the name of convenience only something bicycles can enjoy?

      I’m pretty sure all the bicyclists that have turned off the sidewalk in front of me thought the intersection was clear too. That or they were planning suicide by vehicular homicide.

      Kinda like how drivers that t-bone someone after running a stop sign thought the intersection was clear.

      • Paul

        I know, right? The laws of man need oppression!

        I don’t care if motorcycles join me, so long it doesn’t affect me. If you’re smart about it, and it works, why not?

        The only people that I hear scoff about this are drivers that can’t handle and are afraid sharing the road with cyclists. Cyclists aren’t cars; cyclists are cyclists. To follow man made laws for cars is ridiculous.

        My commutes interrupt no one. When I do have to stop at a 4 way, some drivers have no clue how to handle me in the flow of traffic. I’ll ease the pain of everyone during rush hour and pace a car through.

        • Paul

          It sounds like bicyclists are the ones that don’t want to share the road and play nice.

          • I’m thinking some bicyclists, like some drivers, are jerks and behave poorly. And some are just fine.

          • Paul

            You can’t paint every bicyclist with the same brush.

            I understand what you’ve read here is I don’t ever stop for anyone and am a renegade on the road, which isn’t the case.

            I ride my bike to my destination as I deem safest for me and my surroundings. Not stopping at a 4 way stop sign when there are no cars around does happen. I also stop at them when it needs to happen.

            Safe idling.

          • Paul

            Thinking you’ve got superhuman abilities that will keep you safe will get you killed (unless the driver swerves to avoids you and plows into something/someone else).

            People run into trains. I’m not talking about getting hit by the train, I’m talking about hitting the middle of a mile long train. If someone can miss seeing a mile long train, a bicyclist can miss seeing a car. Of course, you probably don’t care, because you’ll count as a pedestrian and his insurance and criminal record will bear the consequences of your choice.

          • Paul

            That’s not the case at all; your perceptional lens is quite extreme, my friend. I’m curious to see the numbers for the train crashing incidents. Commuting by bike is not for everyone, those who choose to do so are typically more than capable.

            I’m also curious how much time you’ve spent on a bicycle. One is more attuned to their surroundings on a bicycle rather than in a car allowing for situational awareness. While accidents do happen, If you can’t see or hear a car coming while traveling 12 MPH one should not consider cycling with traffic – enter stage left the bike lane debate.

          • Paul

            I ride motorcycles. Those things no one sees on the road. The things that still have to follow the rules of the road.

            I’ve got as much visibility as a bicycle in towns, I don’t get to blow through stop signs, nor do I want to.

          • Paul

            You have less visibility, and impaired hearing if you wear a helmet, add the sound of the running engine, and greater speeds generating more wind noise.

            You also travel at speeds 2x greater in city streets.
            You also have less braking power.
            You also have less maneuverability.
            You also weigh more.

            i, too own a motorcycle, and a car. I also fly planes, and jump out of them.

            Assumed risk is everywhere in life, more in others’ than some.

            What I’m starting to understand from you, Paul, is you are bitter you can’t run lights on your motorcycle.

          • Paul

            Someone is sounding like a squid.

            Why don’t you want to follow the same rules as everyone else on the road? With privileges come responsibilities. You want a place on the road, you follow the rules of the road.

          • tboom

            I believe Paul made up his mind about bikes long before this post, probably years ago. People like him dislike bike riders because their commute is healthy, enjoyable, doesn’t use gas, is nearly as fast as driving, and they really hate the thought of those tight little bike shorts. In other words they’re jealous. Bike riders look at a transportation system built for automobiles (and sometimes pedestrians) and figure out how to make it work for them, bike haters look as the same system and conclude the only answer is to eliminate bikes. Things aren’t likely to change anytime soon.

          • Paul

            Or there’s the chance the louts of the bicycle world appear as smug self centered jerks who skirt the law and flaunt it while doing so.

            That they make the road less safe for everyone else while they believe they are making it safer for them and them alone.

            That they can be a pedestrian and a vehicle at the same time, having the best of both and the responsibilities of neither.

            And FYI , Lycra only only looks good on about 1% of those who try to wear it, ridiculous on 49%, and horrendous on 50%.

          • I used to think this too. Then I bought some cycling clothes. First of all, it sure beats sweating in a pair of jeans. Second of all, the padding on the tush is awesome.

          • You mean those Lycra shorts are actually FUNCTIONAL?

            Color me shocked.