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Posted by on Jan 29, 2009 in Uncategorized | 12 comments

Are Cyclist “better” Drivers?

Do you think cyclists are, in general, “better” drivers of vehicles?  (I guess it depends on your definition of “better”, but hear me out) …

Today I had to take my car in to work (errands that I could not perform by bike).   After turning off of S.R 436 (Semoran) onto Highway 50, I moved into the leftmost lane (three lanes heading West).  A SUV driver passes me in the farthest right lane at a much faster rate of speed (1).  He then swerved around traffic into the center lane (2), and then into the left lane (ahead of me) (3) before we are caught at a light.  At the light he swerves into the center lane (4), around a car, and then back into the left lane (5).   As we are approaching the next red light, the driver actually changes lanes at the stop light so that he is partially blocking both the left lane he was exiting and the center lane he was trying to get into (6).  He takes off … and goes around another vehicle and gets back into the left lane (7).  As we start to approach the Mall (we’ve now traveled about 2 miles total) the driver has gone back to the center lane (8), over to the left lane again (9), and then finally into the left-turn lanes at Maguire (next to the Mall), swerving into the farthest most left-turn lane (10).

I counted 10 lane changes in this two mile stretch.  What was laughable was that this driver was only 5 cars ahead of me when he reached the left-turn lanes at Maguire!

The timing of the lights on Highway 50 (along with the usual morning traffic) really prevents anyone from gaining any kind of drastic advantage in getting anywhere any sooner than if you simply planted yourself in one lane and kept up with the traffic in front of you.   I think cyclists recognize these things.  I also think that cyclist are more aware of safety issues involving lane changes (e.g. from bike path to lane).

Finally and most importantly, I think cyclists are more patient drivers.  We are willing to put up with small delays without resorting to driving around everything in front of us.

Maybe that’s what I meant by “better” — more civil.

Has riding a bike on the road influenced the way you think behind the wheel? Has it changed the way you drive?

12 Comments

  1. I’ve had this thought before… many times while observing the same traffic behavior you describe. And isn’t it funny how all that swerving around doesn’t get them anywhere. I guess it makes them feel like they’re doing something.

    I have definitely become a more “zen” auto driver because of my cycling. Some of it has to do with experience as a cyclist and the recognition of how little you gain by zooming from stoplight to stoplight in traffic. I can ride at 12-20mph and see the same cars again and again for miles.

    Also, as a part of my research into traffic issues, traffic calming, etc., I decided to adopt the “pace car” strategy in my own driving. I realized that by not trying to be the fastest car on the road, driving was less stressful (as long as I don’t look in my rear-view mirror at the bully SUV tailgating me).

    Another factor which may or may not have anything to do with cycling: I’m a lot more mellow than I used to be. When I was in my 20s I rode my bike like I drove my car—weaving in and out of traffic and getting mad at anyone who dared be in my way. I’ve become a wiser driver all around, but I suspect I became a wiser cyclist first ;-)

  2. - “Finally and most importantly, I think cyclists are more patient drivers. We are willing to put up with small delays without resorting to driving around everything in front of us.”

    I agree with the above. Since beginning cycling, my motoring skills have greatly improved. Still have my flaws now and then, but overall I am more aware of my surroundings and drive more defensively.

    Once had an idiot who insisted on revving his engine to intimidate me who then passed me. I don’t remember the intersection but he was caught in the cue at the light for a time. The 5 seconds I was afforded where used to tell him “I have never seen anyone in such a hurry to sit still”!

    It’s the “get-there-itis” mentality I suppose. Gotta keep moving or I’m wasting time, etc.

    Was he reading the paper, drinking coffee, eating, putting on his make-up? Too much traffic and too many distracted drivers on the road.

    I would dare to say that the properly trained cyclists do yield better motorists.

  3. This may be true in some respects, but I definitely know some drivers who are more aggressive when they’re behind the wheel (because they’re more protected in a car, perhaps?). This may be a little too broad of a generalization. Perhaps the correct question is: is there a correlation between civil cyclists and civil drivers? (to which the answer may seem a little obvious)

    Also, does this only apply to cyclists who are patient/civil to begin with? I ride with some dudes who can get pretty crazy. I’m not sure I’d want to be a passenger in their vehicle.

  4. I forgot another thing…

    Since I don’t drive all the time, I probably don’t have the level of frustration/impatience/boredom that I might if I was stuck in traffic every day. I think that has a cumulative effect.

    Rodney, interesting point about the need to keep moving… One stress-reduction benefit of riding is that I’m typically not delayed by anything (I do try to avoid narrow roads with heavy traffic so I’m not delayed by motorists).

    Julius makes a very good point!

  5. On the theory that cyclists make more conscientious and conscious drivers, I’m requiring my teenagers to take a driver’s ed class AND Road 1 before I’ll allow them to get their driver’s license. I want them to learn first hand what it’s like to “drive” a 20-lb. piece of metal and share the road with a 3,000 machine, so that when they get behind the wheel they’ll be respectful of cyclists’ rights.

  6. I think Julius put it well. Regardless of cyclists in general, I definitely think *I’m* a better motorist due to also being a cyclist, and my wife agrees! (She knew me before I become a bicycle commuter!)

    In fact, I’m even a better pedestrian. Walking between the cubicles in my office building, I find myself sticking to the middle for better visibility at intersections, and moving to the right when someone approaches from the opposite direction! ;-)

  7. I would not make a blanket statement that all cyclists are more patient drivers, but I’d agree that many cyclists would be better, polite, considerate drivers. One of the local riders has the weave-in, weave-out mentality, passing stopped motorists at stop signs in order to zip through the stop, even though he gets stuck at the same light as the vehicle he passed.

    For my wife and I, my bicycling habits probably carry over to my driving habits, plus they are reinforced by the motor vehicles we drive, as they are electric. I believe that I accelerate more gently in the EV than I do in the HPV, because the batteries are more expensive to replace!

    My wife drives in the infernal combustion vehicle more gently, but that’s because of her EV habits, not her rarely-biking habits.

    I think less-skilled people on bikes are just as likely to be less-skilled as motor vehicle operators.

    Kudos to LisaB for her approach to teaching today’s youth to be better drivers for their understanding of cycling skills!!!

  8. “I think less-skilled people on bikes are just as likely to be less-skilled as motor vehicle operators.”

    I think it has more to do with awareness (mindfulness) than skill.

    Which brings me to another thought. I think my auto driving improved significantly when I started riding a motorcycle. Before I started riding my own motorcycle, I took an MSF safety course. I think the combo of what I learned about awareness and crash avoidance, and the need for heightened awareness on the motorcycle improved my driving skills.

    It was motorcycling that taught me to be aware and relaxed at the same time (vs hyper-vigilant), too. Hyper-vigilance actually causes a reduction of awareness because it diverts energy to every little thing, instead of focusing it on what’s appropriate. That zen state translates even better to the bicycle because bicycle speeds are so much lower.

  9. Since I started reading this site and thinking more about how speed affects safety, I have slowed to follow the speed limit (a rare occurrence these days). I still have the occasional lapse in discipline, but I have found that by following the speed limit, I end up waiting at lights less often (or at least for less time). Meanwhile, the ten people that have passed me are all waiting at the red light when (if) I arrive at it.

  10. Bruce Mol from CanBike (Canada) has an interesting matrix for describing “types” of cyclists, and it probably has relevence to this. He says you chart cyclists on two axis; vehicular cycling skills/confidence and consideration of social responsibility.

    A cyclist with high confidence of his skills but low social responsibility will still be a lousy cyclist, being rude to other road users. I imagine he would also be a lousy motorist.

    A cyclist with low confidence and skills and high social responsibility will keep to the sidewalk on his bike, but still be a good motorist. But as a motorist he might not understand certain aspects of cycling that could cause conflicts.

    I really like Mols model. He has neat names for the four basic “types:”

    Volatile — high skills; low social responsibility
    Vagabond — low skills; low social responsibility
    Vigilant — low skills; high responsibility
    Veloquent — high skills; high responsibility

    Vagabond — low skills; low social responsibility

  11. I ran this by my wife, who pointed out a younger friend who both cycles and likes to drive fast/aggressively. She was right … but I then realized he was a roadie!! ;)

    Not degenerating roadies, but I’m feel certain that age (meaning more exerience understanding risk) certainly plays a factor.

  12. Here’s a link to the Bruce Mol piece Mighk is referring to. It’s an excellent read!