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  1. #1
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    The Surprising Psychology of Driver Interaction With Cyclists

    According to information below, If you wear a helmet motorists might give you less room. Same for "cycling" attire. Might give you more room if you are a woman and/or in non-cycling attire though. Time to replace my helmet with a wig and heels?

    From http://streetsblog.net/2011/10/26/th...with-cyclists/

    "A classic post from Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt on How We Drive, detailing the findings from a UK study on helmet use and motorist behavior, serves as the starting point:

    In his study (published as “Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender,” in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention), [Ian] Walker outfitted a bike with a device that measured the distance of passing cars. He found, among other things, that drivers tended to pass more closely when he was wearing a helmet than when not (he was struck by vehicles twice, both while wearing a helmet).

    New research has identified similar effects. Ollinger writes:

    In a Florida DOT commissioned study [PDF] published last month, researchers reached a very similar conclusion. Although the study didn’t specifically address helmet usage, the researchers found that their data was consistent with Walker’s conclusions when it came to how closely drivers passed bicyclists based on the bicyclist’s gender and attire. The study found that on average, drivers passed cyclists more closely when cyclists were dressed in “bicycle attire” and if the cyclist was male. The study was unable to determine the reasons on this passing behavior and the authors of the study speculated that, “it [was] possible that motorists perceived less risk passing riders who were in [a] bicycle outfit.”


    The gender factor, at least, appears to be noticeable to the general public. In fact, it has a name: the Mary Poppins Effect."

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    Interesting, thanks for posting

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    Tiocfáidh ár Lá jfmckenna's Avatar
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    I've been waiting to see if some one repeated that study. I'd like to see it done a few more times. It is very interesting.
    If you don't talk to your cat about catnip, who will? =^.^=

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    24-Speed Machine Chris516's Avatar
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    So, in essence, the study is saying that I need to have a sex-change operation to gain respect on the road. I will definitely pass on that hypocrisy.

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    This could be that drivers consider helmets and other cycling gear to be a sign of a more predictable cyclist. The Florida study described the average separation distance to be close to 6 ft, so I wouldn't think that the 4-6" extra is significant anyway.

    -Gary

    Good post, BTW!

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    I like a good study as much as the next guy, but statistics don't drive cars, people do.

    My own experience, and that of my kids when they ride with me, are about all I have to go by.

    For example: after a newspaper article at the end of 2006, I noticed a marked decrease in disrespect from motorists while I was riding. (This affects me when running errands and commuting, as my 'fun' riding is almost all on the very good MUP system we have (up over 60 miles worth!).) Not too long thereafter, we elected a mayor who was a big bicycle advocate; he pushed through bike lanes on three downtown streets, and supported the growth of the MUP system. Since these things have come about, I find the rudeness of drivers to be pretty rare, and confined mostly to the main arterials through the city, which I avoid anyway -- there are more scenic ways to get around those bottlenecks.

    Over the last year, I have stopped the practice of wearing a helmet; there are, of course, still events that require helmet use, so I still OWN one. But I chose to go helmetless after reading up on the LACK of effect helmet use has on traffic deaths and injuries. I no longer push helmet use to others, either; if they choose to, OK; if not, OK. (Just don't ask MY opinion.....) Since I have done this, I also noticed that the frequency of 'buzzes' has gone down dramatically. DRIVERS HAVE BEEN CHANGING LANES TO GO AROUND ME, and all I have done is lose the helmet and claim the right-tire track in the right lane. I have been buzzed exactly ONCE in 2011. (BTW, personally car-free since '04, ride 3-5K miles/year)

    There may be something to that study.... But all that really matters to me, when push comes to shove, is that I make it home every day, and my kids are not hood ornaments.

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    Quote Originally Posted by weshigh View Post
    According to information below, If you wear a helmet motorists might give you less room. Same for "cycling" attire. Might give you more room if you are a woman and/or in non-cycling attire though. Time to replace my helmet with a wig and heels?

    From http://streetsblog.net/2011/10/26/th...with-cyclists/

    "A classic post from Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt on How We Drive, detailing the findings from a UK study on helmet use and motorist behavior, serves as the starting point:

    In his study (published as “Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender,” in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention), [Ian] Walker outfitted a bike with a device that measured the distance of passing cars. He found, among other things, that drivers tended to pass more closely when he was wearing a helmet than when not (he was struck by vehicles twice, both while wearing a helmet).

    New research has identified similar effects. Ollinger writes:

    In a Florida DOT commissioned study [PDF] published last month, researchers reached a very similar conclusion. Although the study didn’t specifically address helmet usage, the researchers found that their data was consistent with Walker’s conclusions when it came to how closely drivers passed bicyclists based on the bicyclist’s gender and attire. The study found that on average, drivers passed cyclists more closely when cyclists were dressed in “bicycle attire” and if the cyclist was male. The study was unable to determine the reasons on this passing behavior and the authors of the study speculated that, “it [was] possible that motorists perceived less risk passing riders who were in [a] bicycle outfit.”


    The gender factor, at least, appears to be noticeable to the general public. In fact, it has a name: the Mary Poppins Effect."
    I have posted my review of the March 2011 Florida DoT study of the traffic effect of wide outside lanes. The URL of my review is:
    http://johnforester.com/Articles/Fac...de%20Lanes.pdf

    As I see it, the investigators went to a great deal of trouble to make a study without understanding what its real point should have been. The purpose of wide outside lanes is to allow safe overtaking within the lane instead of either unsafe squeezing by or using the adjacent lane. The investigators measured clearance distances between cyclists and motorists for a variety of outside lane widths, with distances of cyclists from curbs. But they failed to work out how wide a lane had to be to produce safe overtaking behavior, and how close to the lane line on his left the cyclist had to ride to strongly persuade motorists to change lanes to overtake. All that work, for almost nothing.

  8. #8
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    Can say that if you are four feet tall, wear a pink helmet, and have a long braid, that motorists give you a mile of space.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Forester View Post
    I have posted my review of the March 2011 Florida DoT study of the traffic effect of wide outside lanes. The URL of my review is:
    http://johnforester.com/Articles/Fac...de%20Lanes.pdf

    As I see it, the investigators went to a great deal of trouble to make a study without understanding what its real point should have been. The purpose of wide outside lanes is to allow safe overtaking within the lane instead of either unsafe squeezing by or using the adjacent lane. The investigators measured clearance distances between cyclists and motorists for a variety of outside lane widths, with distances of cyclists from curbs. But they failed to work out how wide a lane had to be to produce safe overtaking behavior, and how close to the lane line on his left the cyclist had to ride to strongly persuade motorists to change lanes to overtake. All that work, for almost nothing.
    Thats great, that is exactly what you said on the other post. This discussion is less about the lane positioning and more based on attire and sex of the rider.

    Have any thoughts on the subject of this post?

  10. #10
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    I think the point is, and Walkers experiment shows,

    helmets make riders feel safer and they respond to this by taking more chances. And even if the riders don’t change their behaviour, my research showed the drivers with whom they share the road certainly change theirs
    It's called, risk compensation. Take away a consequence, and people change their behavior.

    Pretty basic human behavior.
    Last edited by closetbiker; 11-01-11 at 01:20 AM.
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    Senior Member KD5NRH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by closetbiker View Post
    It's called, risk compensation. Take away a consequence, and people change their behavior.
    I just can't imagine anyone really feeling like the helmet is going to make a crash not hurt, or hurt significantly less. Unless you manage a one-point landing on your face, most of the pain is going to come from arms and legs being bruised, abraded, dislocated or broken.

    Mine is mainly for protection from low-hanging branches (city's really bad about not cutting those even on the streets, much less over sidewalks or the MUP) and improved visibility. (Scotchlite and helmet-mounted lights.) Any benefit in a crash is just a nice addition to that.

  12. #12
    Senior Member rydabent's Avatar
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    I might add that when I ride my bent I seem to get more room than when I rode either of my DF bikes. And then now when I ride my trike, I get even more. On the trike they pass really wide.

  13. #13
    Senior Member CaptCarrot's Avatar
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    I think there is something in this, although I am always skeptical of these studies and cynical to the extent that you can get any study to say what YOU want it to, if you ask the right questions or go about it in the right way.

    That said, there is something for the risk compensation - at my work, we HAVE to wear hi-vis jackets whilst in the yard. Fair enough. There is however 2 problems with this:

    1 - People walk across the yard without looking, because they are wearing hi-viz and ^can be seen^.

    2 - People ^zone out^ the hi-viz because it is everywhere.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KD5NRH View Post
    I just can't imagine anyone really feeling like the helmet is going to make a crash not hurt, or hurt significantly less...
    neither can I, and evidence shows the protective value of helmets hasn't been realized in real life. This was the second point made by Walker in the linked blog

    if helmets do work, why is this proving so difficult to see? In countries where helmets have been made mandatory, and where usage went from low to high levels almost overnight, there is just no real evidence of a concomitant drop in injuries.
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  15. #15
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptCarrot View Post
    I think there is something in this, although I am always skeptical of these studies and cynical to the extent that you can get any study to say what YOU want it to, if you ask the right questions or go about it in the right way...
    It's always good to be skeptical, ask questions, and point out contradictions; like when people tell me risk compensation doesn't exist, yet won't ride a bicycle unless they wear a helmet.
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  16. #16
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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    The really crazy, surprising psychology of drivers and cyclists - and you'd never guess this by reading A&S - is that both are human. There's some predictability that follows from that.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by gmt13 View Post
    This could be that drivers consider helmets and other cycling gear to be a sign of a more predictable cyclist. The Florida study described the average separation distance to be close to 6 ft, so I wouldn't think that the 4-6" extra is significant anyway.

    -Gary

    Good post, BTW!
    That's exactly it, I think. Motorists see someone in a helmet and cycling clothes, and assume he won't do anything stupid. Of course, the sure way to get passed with plenty of room is to take more lane. Between taking the lane and monitoring upcoming traffic in my mirror, I can dictate when cars get to pass me. If I see traffic in the oncoming lane and see a car approaching me, I'll drift slightly left---just enough to eliminate any room for passing. When it's safe to pass, I drift right and wave the motorist on. I haven't had a problem since I started doing that.

    Before I took the lane, I was run over from behind.
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  19. #19
    Senior Member dougmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
    So, in essence, the study is saying that I need to have a sex-change operation to gain respect on the road.
    No, that's not what the study is saying. It just says that's *one* factor that seems to gain one additional passing distance.

    There are other factors (including many that are directly under your control), and passing distance is not the same as respect.

    I will definitely pass on that hypocrisy.
    Hypocrisy is doing one thing while telling people to do something else. I don't see where that applies here.

  20. #20
    Senior Member dougmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KD5NRH View Post
    I just can't imagine anyone really feeling like the helmet is going to make a crash not hurt, or hurt significantly less.
    True, but even so ... the risk compensation is still there.

    People are often bad at figuring out risks of things and therefore make bad decisions ... but the decisions are still made.

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    This is why I ride no hands and make sure to wobble a lot on narrow roads. Drivers give me the entire lane.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan The Man View Post
    This is why I ride no hands and make sure to wobble a lot on narrow roads. Drivers give me the entire lane.
    You joke (I assume), but this actually has some truth to it. I've seen garbage riders cross busy intersections unpredictably (sometimes diagonally, against the light, etc) and it's often like all the traffic just sort of halts in a bubble surrounding them. There usually isn't even any honking or yelling, because the drivers are all apparently too busy trying to avoid them. The unpredictable, dangerous cyclists seem to get an amazing amount of respect from drivers, in my observation of them. Unfortunately, I feel that they may also contribute to those same drivers later taking out their anger at this kind of behavior on me, even when I'm riding properly. When you're in a bike lane, etc, drivers feel they have the time to harass you because they aren't having to do anything to avoid hitting you.

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    Interesting "no-win" theory from all this:

    If we 'dress appropriately', we are considered to be more knowledgeable, and therefore less deserving of consideration, by motorists. If we don't, we are given more consideration by motorists, who think A.)we are less knowledgeable; and B.)SINCE we don't know as much about what we're doing, so they can "coach" us on road etiquette.

    Either we get buzzed, or we get verbally abused. Good thing I LOVE riding, I wouldn't put up with a choice like THAT ANYWHERE ELSE!

  24. #24
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DX-MAN View Post
    Interesting "no-win" theory from all this:
    Either we get buzzed, or we get verbally abused...
    yes, from a driver that can't accept a cyclist on the road. It's not like that everywhere. When cyclists are recognized for the positive value they offer, the attitude is different
    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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  25. #25
    2 Fat 2 Furious contango's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by weshigh View Post
    According to information below, If you wear a helmet motorists might give you less room. Same for "cycling" attire. Might give you more room if you are a woman and/or in non-cycling attire though. Time to replace my helmet with a wig and heels?

    (main body cut)
    I can't help thinking that a driver has to judge the likely behaviour of the cyclist. Someone in cycling clothes and wearing a helmet probably looks like someone who knows what they are doing, and therefore someone who is more likely to maintain a straight line. Someone who maintains a straight line needs less space when passing because they are less likely to weave or wobble.

    I can only assume the gender effect is down to people assuming female cyclists are more likely to be erratic. It would be interesting to know whether that's a preconception or based on cumulative experience.

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