When Cyclists Break Traffic Laws for Their Own Safety

A study examines whether and why bicyclists break traffic laws to shed light on how rational those laws really are.

1 minute read

September 12, 2017, 2:00 PM PDT

By Elana Eden


Bike Commuting

Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious / flickr

In the Washington Post's "Tripping" blog, Fredrick Kunkle analyzes a study on the behavioral psychology of cycling. That is, the mental calculus cyclists perform to respond to variables like infrastructure, law enforcement, and other users of the road.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kunkle writes, "the upshot is that bicyclists are often trying to do the best they can when faced with moving dangers all around and a very small proportion of infrastructure restricted for their use." 

The reason most bicyclists (71 percent) violate traffic rules is a bid for self-preservation. Other reasons include saving energy (56 percent) or saving time (50 percent) or attempting to increase one's visibility (47 percent). In other words, the study found that a large number of bicyclists tend to break the law because they think it will keep them safer.

If the way people ride bikes is a reflection of their needs on the road—along the lines of a desire paththen codifying the most common practices into law could better protect cyclists who find them necessary, the report suggests.

Kunkle's analysis comes ahead of the launch of dockless bikeshare in D.C., which is expected to expand ridership in underserved areas. Kunkle also examines other trends in the report, including how other road users navigate traffic laws and how cycling norms evolve in different places.

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