Collecting data to see if cyclists break traffic laws more than drivers

Cyclists and drivers often do not get along but which group breaks the law more? Some researchers are hoping to find out:

These questions about sociology and infrastructure point to a more nuanced picture of what’s happening on city streets than most heated rhetoric — darn law-breaking bikers! — allows. Marshall, who co-directs the Active Communities Transportation Research Group with Kevin Krizek, wants to research this scofflaw behavior, why people say they do it (drivers and cyclists alike), and when they don’t.

As part of this research project, they and Ph.D. student Aaron Johnson and Savannah State’s Dan Piatkowski are running a survey that they hope will gather broad data on all of our behavior (go ahead and help science out here, even if you’re not a cyclist yourself).

Most of us, whatever mode we travel, break the law at some point, Marshall points out, whether we’re driving five miles over the speed limit, or crossing the street against the crosswalk. And yet, we tend not to treat lead-footed drivers with the same disapproval as cyclists who ride through stop signs, even though the former behavior is potentially more publicly harmful than the latter. Which raises another question: Are cyclists really more prolific scofflaws than drivers anyway?

More data on the scofflaws inside all of us could potentially help create safer streets, even, Marshall imagines, more productive public debate about how cars and cyclists coexist. There is some evidence, for instance, that cyclists may be less likely to ride the wrong way down one-way streets and more likely to wait at red lights when they’re given dedicated bike paths. This would make sense for a number of reasons.

I would like to think that having more data would solve the issues and help both sides look at the situation more rationally. However, I suspect both cyclists and drivers might prefer more anecdotal stories that privilege their own perspectives. People on the roads tend to get angry with the people right in front of them rather than with abstract groups. However, the data could be used to change the infrastructure – more bike lanes? more regulations for cyclists? Roads with no markings or separation from the sidewalks? – which then might have more direct effects.

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