Vulnerable Road Users: Bicyclists

In a previous post, I discussed some traffic psychology-related issues that may contribute to the risk pedestrians face while interacting with motor vehicles (read more here). Although similar in terms of vulnerability in the traffic environment, bicyclists and pedestrians are two very distinct groups and should be treated as such in terms of educational outreach, policy and planning, and the traffic safety needs of each population.

The separation between bicyclists and motorists has been acknowledged by both groups, with research presenting drivers openly indicating their annoyance with cyclists on the road and cyclist’s perception of aggression they receive from drivers. Basford (et al. 2002) reasons that drivers regard cyclists as being in their way. Cyclists, of course, are unable to pedal at the same speed as a moving car and this can be frustrating for some drivers as they may be forced to slow down. Arguments have been made by some drivers that cyclists behave as though they do not have to obey the same rules as motorists on the road (Evans-Cowley, 2015). As British psychologist Tom Stafford (2013) explains in his article titled “The psychology of why cyclists enrage car drivers”, this can breed resentment among the two populations. Stafford provides the theory that motorists feel an “offense of moral order” has been committed by cyclists. He reabicyclistsons that people generally rely on one another to follow societal norms and “do the right thing” to maintain peace and order and the same can be said about the driving environment. Stafford calls driving “a game of coordination” and says that “like all games, there’s an incentive to cheat”. So when someone is perceived as cheating the system, i.e. a cyclist basket weaving through traffic, resentment can ensue.

Professor Daniel Piatkowski found similar results from a survey he conducted regarding road behavior (Evans-Cowley, 2015). Survey respondents were scored on Piatkowski’s Scofflaw Score, which ranged from complete law abidance to reckless endangerment. The cyclists who said that they stop at all stop signs reported being the most angered by seeing other cyclists who didn’t stop. Ironically, Piatkowski reported that all participants did not always obey traffic laws, regardless of whether they were biking, driving or walking, with less than 20 percent falling into the law abidance range. Personal safety was given as a reason for breaking the rules of the road for 60 percent of respondents who were cyclists while pedestrians reported saving energy as their reason. In relation, a 2012 NHTSA survey of non-motorists attitudes and behaviors, one in eight bicyclists reported feeling threatened for their personal safety during their most recent riding trip (Schroeder & Wilbur, 2013).

Fruhen and Flin (2015) conducted an online survey of 289 residents of Australia, to determine whether drivers’ negative attitudes towards cyclists resulted in more aggressive driving behavior towards cyclists. Participants were split evenly for gender and their ages ranged from 18-65 years old. Results of the survey confirmed their hypothesis with participants who displayed a more negative attitude to cyclists also self-reporting more aggressive behavior towards this group. While often associated with the same negative connotations as pedestrians by motorists, bicyclists sometimes receive further resentment from pedestrians themselves. Walker explains that, “the bicycle does not always sit easily among pedestrian space, often stirring fear and resentment from people on foot.” Results from a recent study of pedestrians’ attitudes and behaviors revealed that the following groups of pedestrians were more likely to have either a neutral, acceptable or extremely acceptable attitude towards cyclists: Males, non-married, under the age of 25 and from large families (Kang & Fricker, 2016). Kang and Fricker provided a number of possible explanations for these results: males generally tend to be larger and therefore may feel a greater sense of safety than females; people who are married may be more hyper vigilant in situations where danger is present because of their familial obligations; younger individuals and people from large families tend to be more open to social acceptance in general.

Connecticut General Statutes provide the most current legislation regarding bicyclists and motorists:


  • When passing another vehicle, the driver shall pass to the left of that vehicle at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.
  • The driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle and shall not increase the speed of his/her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.
    • For the purposes of this subsection, “safe distance” means not less than three feet when the driver of a vehicle overtakes and passes a person riding a bicycle. (Sec. 14-232)


  • Each person operating a bicycle shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal within a reasonable distance before overtaking and passing a pedestrian. (Sec. 14-286)
  • Every person riding a bicycle, as defined by section 14-286, upon the traveled portion of a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any vehicle subject to the requirements of the statutes relating to motor vehicles.
  • Every person operating a bicycle solely by hand or foot power upon and along any sidewalk or across any roadway upon and along any crosswalk shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to pedestrians walking in such areas as provided by the general statutes.” (Sec.14-286a)

1. Evans-Cowley, J. (2015). Why Do People Hate Cyclists? Blog post. Accessed Aug 8, 2016.

2. Fruhen, L. & Flin, R. (2015). Car driver attitudes, perceptions of social norms and aggressive driving behaviour towards cyclists. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 83, 162-170.

3. General Statutes of Connecticut. (2015). Accessed Aug 8, 2016.

4. Kang, L. & Fricker, J.D. (2016). Sharing urban sidewalks with bicyclists? An exploratory analysis of pedestrian perceptions and attitudes. Transport Policy 49, p.216-225.

5. Schroeder, P. & Wilbur, M. (2013). 2012 National survey of bicyclist and pedestrian attitudes and behavior, volume 1: Summary report. (Report No. DOT HS 811 841 A). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

6. Stafford, T. (2013). The psychology of why cyclists enrage car drivers. BBC Future. . Accessed Aug 5, 2016.

7. Walker, I. (2011). Bicyclists. In B.E. Porter (Eds.) Handbook of Traffic Psychology. (p 367-374). London, UK: Elsevier, Inc.

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