sitemap The Science and Politics of Bicycle Driving

The Science and Politics of Bicycle Driving


Bicycles are human-powered vehicles capable of significant speed. Bicycle driving is the operation of a bicycle according to the laws and scientific principles that apply to the operators of all vehicles on public roads. These "Rules of the Road" represent our society's best understanding of how to minimize collisions while maximizing mobility and access for all citizens. Bicyclists have the legal rights and duties of drivers of vehicles when operating on public roadways according to traffic laws in every US state. Bicycle drivers who operate according to traffic rules for vehicles enjoy travel that is much faster and much safer than those bicyclists who do not.

Despite the history, laws, and traffic science that support vehicular-style operation of bicycles, there is a common belief that bicyclists cannot travel safely with motor vehicles. People who believe bicyclists are inferior to other road users often want to prohibit bicyclists from using roadways, and force cyclists to operate at slow speeds among pedestrians on sidewalks and trails. The motives for this prohibition are to improve convenience for motorists traveling on inadequate roads and to reduce the level of traffic competence currently expected of lawful drivers of motor vehicles. Such changes would drastically increase the dangers and reduce the convenience of travel by bicycle, as has been demonstrated everywhere it has been tried.

Many well-meaning groups, who believe they are acting on behalf of cyclists' best interests, wish to add special markings to roads and change the Rules of the Road in order to channelize traffic by vehicle type. The motives for these changes are to increase the political visibility of bicycling and reduce the level of traffic competence currently expected of lawful bicycle drivers. But such markings and law changes have not been scientifically shown to improve conditions for cyclists, and can actually make cycling more dangerous by increasing the complexity of traffic movements and violating the scientific principles of crash prevention that led to the existing Rules of the Road. If anything is to be done to improve conditions for cyclists and the motorists who share the roads with them, such actions should be based on scientifically sound principles known to reduce collisions while preserving cyclists' right to travel efficiently. Treating cyclists as drivers of vehicles is the most successful and feasible approach known, yet much of the treatment of bicycling and bicycle operators in the United States has been based on the assumption that cyclists are inferior users of roadways. It is long past time to debunk this myth in favor of a scientifically and constitutionally sound approach that provides for the safety and convenience of both motorists and cyclists.


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