It’s a common sight in almost any major city: cyclists navigating the bike lane while ignoring honks and shouts from drivers. All too often, cyclists are at actual physical risk when they hit the road. Drivers often fail to yield to cyclists or exercise proper caution, but why? A recent study in Transportation Research looked for an answer to this question.
The Research is Discouraging
Researchers set out to understand dehumanizing attitudes toward cyclists. Shockingly, 31% of the respondents in the study rated cyclists as less than human. The number is even higher when you restrict the answer pool to non-cyclists. Among non-cyclists, 49% of respondents viewed cyclists as non-human.
The study asked respondents to indicate their agreement with various statements, such as “I feel like cyclists are mechanical and cold, like a robot.”
It’s no surprise that one’s attitude impacts one’s actions, and the study demonstrates how much an individual’s negative views of cyclists can influence their choices. Compared to those who rated cyclists as 90% human or more, respondents who rated cyclists as 87% or less showed 1.87 times more aggression toward cyclists. Aggressive behavior was defined as intentionally driving too close to a cyclist or taking other purposeful measures to intimidate or threaten.
While threats of harm aren’t acceptable in any situation, they’re particularly dangerous in this situation. A split-second decision to swerve too close to a cyclist or pick up speed as you pass them doesn’t just scare them; it can lead to serious or fatal injuries.
How Legislators Are Trying to Help Cyclists
Legislators and advocates across the country have been working on the issue of bicyclist injuries and fatalities for years. It’s a particularly serious issue in Florida, which is the most dangerous place in the country to ride a bike. Florida cities with high bicyclist death rates include Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami.
One idea introduced by legislators in 1984 is the Complete Streets policy. This policy has been quite successful, leading to the creation of dedicated and separate bike lanes, bike parking, paved shoulders, curb extensions, and other street features that make roads safer for cyclists. In the last five years, Florida has revisited the Complete Streets policy in an effort to curb its steadily increasing cyclist death rates. Changes include expanded bike lanes, more funding for street lighting in bicycle-accident prone areas, safety education programs, and higher standards for safe roads in Florida.
Several Florida cities have also proposed solutions. In late 2018, the city of Orlando received a $75,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to enhance traffic law enforcement in areas with lots of crashes caused by aggressive driving. The city also set aside an additional $55,000 for pedestrian safety traffic enforcement. Stricter law enforcement could dissuade aggressive drivers from targeting cyclists.
Legal Protection for Cyclists
At my law firm, we’re well aware of the danger that cyclists are in when they get on Florida roads every day. Beyond drivers that intentionally target and try to scare bicyclists, many drivers simply don’t care enough to look out for bicyclists. Bicycle accidents are all too common, and in nearly every case, bicyclists bear the brunt of the damage. Victims of cycling accidents must be willing to explore their legal options and protect their rights, particularly since the effects of an accident can follow victims for decades. A personal injury case could help accident victims recoup their financial losses.
Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While cyclists cannot make the drivers around them be more attentive or less aggressive, they can maintain a high level of awareness and take evasive action to protect themselves from potential threats.