The Roots of Driver Behaviour Towards Cyclists

The Roots of Driver Behaviour Towards Cyclists


S Reid and L Basford, TRL Ltd., UK



h4. Introduction

This paper will describe the results of a project commissioned by the UK Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions to investigate the basis of drivers? behaviour towards cyclists. The purpose of this project was to assist in targeting initiatives to improve driver behaviour. The major analytical framework that was used was the Theory of Planned Behaviour which posits that an individual?s intentions arise from the interaction of three elements:i. Attitudeii. Subjective Normiii. Perceived Behavioural ControlExperimental MethodsThe study was conducted in three phases:1. Qualitative Research2. Quantitative Research.3. Virtual Reality TestingFindings There was little evidence of drivers having unduly negative attitudes towards cyclists. The main cause for drivers? concern was the unpredictability of cyclists. This led to a reduction in drivers? perceived behavioural control. In explaining this, drivers were far more likely to blame cyclists than themselves. The tendency for drivers to criticise cyclists and to exonerate errors made by drivers can be explained by reference to Social Identity Theory.

The other important factor identified by the project is social pressure faced by drivers. This relates to the social norm of the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Drivers regard themselves as intending to behave cautiously around cyclists and yet feel pressurised by other drivers to behave incautiously. The virtual reality tests indicated that drivers generally consider their own behaviour to be extremely considerate towards cyclists. Drivers rated certain cyclist behaviours as particularly inconsiderate, notably where cyclists appeared to be deliberately obstructive.

The virtual reality tests also investigated the influence of infrastructure on drivers? subjective responses to cyclists. It was significant that cycle lanes increased drivers? sense of confidence around cyclists, regardless of whether cyclists were actually in the lane or not. It was also notable that drivers rated cyclists as less considerate, even though the cyclist?s behaviour was identical, when encountering them at road narrowings. These results from the Virtual Reality tests suggest that highway infrastructure can affect road users? interpretations of cyclists behaviour regardless of how cyclists are actually behaving.

ConclusionsDrivers do not hold unduly negative attitudes towards cyclists, but if prompted will express annoyance or concern. Their overriding impression is of cyclists? vulnerability. Cyclists are an ?out? group and their behaviour is considered to be inexplicable other than by reference to their status as cyclists. This perceived unpredictability reduces drivers? estimation of their ability to influence the outcomes of encounters with cyclists and hence validates their current behaviours.

Significantly, drivers generally seem to understand how in principle they should behave towards cyclists but the Social Norm, ie how they believe most other drivers behave is different. Additionally there is tension between how they know they should behave towards cyclists and what they perceive to be their obligations to other drivers not to delay them.

The detailed results of this study can inform the development of campaigns to improve driver behaviour as well as identifying certain types of highway infrastructure as requiring particular care in application.


Association for European Transport