Friday, January 8, 2016

Do Cyclists Make Better Drivers?

In the 1954 safety education film, Drive Your Bike, a group of adolescent boys learn from their coach about how thinking like a driver would help them be better, safer bicyclists -- and how being better bicyclists would help them become better drivers when the time came. The movie's car-centric message was fairly typical of bike safety films from the era -- implying that bicycles are for kids, while adults drive cars (at least the "normal" ones did).

"Always use your head and think about safety," says the coach. "By starting now and learning to drive your bikes, you'll be able to drive an automobile when you're old enough. And you'll be able to do a good safe job of it."
I've poked fun at the stiff monotone delivery of that movie's lessons, and while it's doubtful that the filmmakers in the '50s ever expected that anyone would continue to ride a bike after they'd get their drivers' license, there's definitely something to the idea that being a good bicyclist makes someone a better driver. I'll bet most people reading this would agree. And now an insurance company has come around to the same conclusion.

On the website for, which appears to be U.K.-based, the insurance firm cites a number of reasons why bicyclists earn lower rates. "Your on-road cycling experience has made you more alert and road aware than the average car driver and that deserves special attention," says the company.

from carinsurance4cyclists.
"Improved Spatial Awareness. In town or in the countryside you'll be more aware of how you fit into your surroundings and ride or drive accordingly."

"Road Alert. Your experience on your bike means you're more alert to the dangers of road use and better able to anticipate hazards."

"Healthy Lifestyle. Physical fitness means you value your body. It also suggests improved mental agility and that makes you a more responsive driver."

As a lifetime bicyclist, as well as an occasional motorcyclist, I absolutely agree with that. I really believe that either type of cyclist learns to be more observant of their surroundings -- looking farther ahead, being more aware of blind spots, and spotting (and reacting to) dangers earlier. A cyclist develops senses that car-centric drivers never know about.

Here's an example. I was in my car, driving on a wide highway towards one of the major shopping-and-dining areas in our locale. There were two traffic lanes in both directions, separated by a turn lane in the middle. I was in the left lane, with another car just to my right-side rear quarter, and we were approaching an intersection with a traffic light which was green. Approaching the intersection from the opposite direction was a car with a young woman driving, and she had just moved into the turn lane to make a left turn.

It sounds weird to say it, because cars don't have "body language" exactly, but something about the approaching car told me that the driver was going to make the left turn despite the fact that two cars were coming right for her going about 45 mph. I was close enough to the oncoming left-turning car that I could literally see the driver through her windshield. I could see her face, and I could see her eyes looking ahead -- but something told me that even though she appeared to be looking right at us, it was as if she didn't see us coming.

All of this was happening in a fraction of a second, yet it was almost like time and everything slowed down around me. I instinctively started moving my foot from the accelerator to the brake, and sure enough, at that moment, she started turning just as I'd predicted. I was already reacting, slowing hard enough to feel my anti-lock brakes pulse, while I was making a quick evasive "S-maneuver" around her car and then back into my lane. The driver to my right, caught completely off-guard, slammed into her with full force, sending her car into a 360-degree spin that I could see happening in my peripheral vision. A third car was also involved in the pileup. After I pulled off the road in a safe spot, I found myself running back to the scene to check on everyone involved while phoning 911. Paramedics took one driver away, but luckily nobody sustained life-changing injuries.

Of everyone involved in the incident, being out in front I had the least time to react, yet I was the one who was able to avoid the crash.

Yes, this is totally anecdotal and hardly objective "proof," but I have no doubt that the fact that I was able to predict and react the way I did was helped by my experiences as a cyclist -- who is typically a more vulnerable road user. And I'd be willing to bet that many people reading this have similar stories to share.

On a related note, RoadCC also ran a story recently on this car insurance discount. I read in the comments section something that just has to be the greatest blog comment and expression of British slang that I've ever read:
"Certainly I drive less like a monumental cockwomble since starting to cycle regularly."

Oh my god, I love that. It sums it all up so perfectly.

Not everybody out there would agree that we cyclists drive better. The RoadCC article also cites a trucking company director who claims that "lorry drivers (that's 'trucks' to us yanks) are the best users of the road while cyclists are the worst." Of course we'd probably all disagree loudly, but I'd love to see some objective studies on the idea that cyclists really do drive better, as such studies might lead to more insurance companies recognizing us with better rates.

By the way - how does carinsurance4cyclists determine that a person really is a cyclist, and not just someone checking a box to get a discount? Apparently it is necessary to be a member of one of the U.K.'s cycling clubs. I suppose that works. I recall that I used to get a break on my motorcycle insurance for belonging to the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) and for having completed a sanctioned motorcycle-riding course.

It would be great if more insurance companies, like some of those here in the U.S., followed that lead.

How about it, Flo?
In the meantime, I can't stop thinking of a phrase that needs to become a part of eveyone's lexicon, and would even make a great t-shirt or bumper sticker:

Don't be a MONUMENTAL COCKWOMBLE. Ride a bike.


  1. What an interesting idea, RE: that insurance.

    I understand what you're saying about the car's "body language". I'd agree that most of us that have been riding for a good length of time have a sort of sense about how some drivers are going to proceed. Maybe it's a recognition of how they are moving within their own lane, or noticing how they are using their brakes, it all follows patterns of behavior that one recognizes (when your life depends on it...)
    My daughters (late teens- 20 years old) all wonder how I know when a car is going to rapidly switch lanes w/o signaling, or jump a turn at a light. I try to point out behaviors that signal something stupid is about to happen, so that they learn to watch for them.


  2. Oh, bad manners on me... I'm glad you dodged that incident.


  3. Good post, thanks. A slightly different perspective: I live in the Netherlands and find that negative interactions between car drivers and cyclist are quite rare. I attribute this to the fact that most car drivers are also cyclists, at least some of the time, and are thus keenly aware of the vulnerability of cyclists. Drivers education reinforces this, putting bicycles (and pedestrians, wheelchairs, and horses) in a preferred category of "vulnerable road users".

  4. Might qualify that to be "road/commuter cyclists" - around my part of the world (western SD), pickups/SUV's/Jeeps with mountain bikes on racks or tailgates drive like total a-holes.

  5. Can we get a bonafide study on this? Insurance companies or insurance regulatory agencies could partner LAB to do a driving record search of club members...In a related topic, my state has some interesting motor vehicle incident data...2500 reported bike injuries 2010-2014 but in 60-70% or the cases there was either no report about driving/biking behavior or "no improper driving" reported. That many people can't get hurt and no errors occurred.