It’s a common refrain heard from drivers everywhere, “Those dang cyclists don’t respect the rules of the road!”. But how do bike riders and car drivers actually compare when it comes to obeying traffic laws? That’s exactly what one scientific study set about to discover.
The study isn’t exactly new, coming to us from the before times of 2019 when the Danish government contracted consulting firm Rambøll to study the issue with video cameras set up at intersections around the country. In the study, researchers were able to use the cameras to observe over 28,000 cyclists.
Compared to studies by the Danish Road Directorate that found 66% of drivers broke traffic laws, the camera-based bike study found that just 4.9% of cyclists broke laws when riding on bike paths. When bike paths were not present, that figure increased to 14%.
The results of the study underscore the major impact that accessible bike paths can have on reducing traffic violations by cyclists, with cyclists riding outside of bike paths being three times more likely to break traffic laws. The researchers found that in smaller cities without well-developed bike paths, the incidents of traffic infringements committed by cyclists were noticeably higher than in cities with developed cycling infrastructure.
As Forbes pointed out, the results of the study match nearly identically with a previous study that included video analysis of over 80,000 cyclists in Denmark, also finding a 5% instance of traffic law infringements.
Other studies from around the world have found similar results, such as a UK study that found 16% of cyclists rode through red lights. That study concluded that most cyclists followed traffic laws and that “violation is not endemic.”
Such studies would be interesting to reproduce in the United States, where most cities have largely ignored the pleas of cyclists to impliment safer biking paths. Counterintuitively, many drivers in the US tend to oppose the development of cycling infrastructure despite the abundance of research demonstrating that such infrastructure significantly reduces traffic violations.
While many opponents of cycling point to bike riders flouting traffic laws as some kind of widespread menace, the truth appears to be that there lacks statistical support for this idea.
Instead, such misconceptions may be fueled by the higher visibility of cycling road infractions. While it is easy to spot a cyclist riding in the wrong direction of traffic or pedaling through a stop sign, many people have become largely desensitized to the daily traffic infringements committed by car drivers such as speeding violations, reckless driving, or parking in bike lanes. When viewed in total, the rate of such traffic violations committed by car drivers appear to vastly outnumber the traffic violations committed by cyclists.
In other words, the statistics are clear: We should be more worried about car drivers, not cyclists.
Author: Micah Toll