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Part 2

[This long section has been divided into two parts
for Internet publication]


In some respects, motorists are more easily educated than bicyclists. As a group, motorists are older and therefore more capable than bicyclists of understanding explanations of complex concepts, applying abstract rules and principles to decisions about the behavior that is appropriate for specific situations, and synthesizing instructional information with the body of knowledge acquired through direct experience in the traffic system. By the time persons reach driving age, they have acquired a reasonably high level of perceptual and motor skills and have acquired a reasonably extensive knowledge of the physical and operational characteristics of the traffic system. For these reasons, there is no necessity to spend valuable education time developing motorists' fundamental perceptual and motor skills and teaching them about the basic physical and operational characteristics of the traffic system.

Although motorists may be more easily educated than bicyclists, the job of educating motorists is complicated by the sheer size of the motorist population and, more importantly, by the inaccessibility of motorists for education. Access to a large portion of the bicycling population is possible through the public school system and perhaps other institutions as well. However, there is no one or small number of institutions that provides easy access to a large proportion of the motorist population. The accessibility of motorists is such a critical issue that it seems worthwhile to comment briefly on possible methods for conveying educational material to motorists before proceeding to the discussion of motorist educational objectives.

The discussion of educational objectives for motorists follows the same format used for discussing educational objectives for bicyclists; objectives for enhancing Preparatory-Phase functions, Anticipatory-Phase functions, and Reactive-Phase functions are discussed in turn.


The methods that appear to have some potential value for educating motorists include: (a) incorporate bicycle-safety education into the existing driver-training programs taught in the public high schools or taught by commercial driver-training organizations, (b) convey educational messages through the public communications media (newspapers, magazines, radio, and television), and (c) convey the educational materials through special publications developed for widespread distribution. Each of these methods has important advantages and disadvantages; so all may be required to do an effective job of educating motorists. The advantages and disadvantages of each method are discussed briefly below.

Incorporating bicycle-safety education into existing driver-training programs has several important advantages: this method ensures a captive audience of motorists who are motivated to learn (because learning is a prerequisite for driving privileges); it provides an opportunity for face-to-face instruction and interaction between instructors and students; it provides access to students for a sufficient amount of time for reasonably comprehensive education; it enables education to be administered before undesirable behavior patterns have become firmly entrenched; and it could be easily implemented at a relatively low cost. The obvious disadvantage of this method is that many years would pass before a substantial proportion of the motorist population would have been educated. For instance, after the onset of a driver-training program in high school, it would be about 20 years before one-half of all licensed motorists would have received the education; more than 35 years would pass before three-fourths of all licensed motorists would have been educated.

The public media provides widespread exposure of educational materials and may prove to be a highly cost-effective method for accomplishing some educational objectives. However, educational messages conveyed through the public media must be brief, simple, and highly engaging. Some of the necessary educational information could easily be drafted in the form of a brief, straightforward message; other information is too complex to be stated in a brief message. Even if it is possible to develop brief messages with educational value, considerable expertise will be required to develop materials that have sufficient appeal to attract and maintain the interest of the motoring public. The material drafted for publication in newspapers and magazines must compete for motorists' attention with news articles about inflation, Proposition 13, the mid-East conflict, earthquakes, and so on. Messages prepared for radio and television must compete with product commercials, rock music, Charlie's Angels, and so on.

Educational publications provide an effective and low-cost method of conveying information if motorists can be induced to read them carefully. Even if an effective publication was developed and distributed widely, it seems unlikely that a substantial proportion of the motoring public would read it unless there was some impelling reason to do so. One approach is to distribute such publications through the Department of Motor Vehicles and require motorists to pass an examination on the publication in order to obtain a driver's license. Another approach is to distribute the publication through insurance companies and provide reduced insurance rates to motorists who pass an examination on the publication. The difficulties in implementing either of these approaches are so obvious that there is no need to enumerate them here.

The above discussion will have accomplished its purpose if the reader recognizes that the method for educating motorists is a critically important problem that warrants the attention by knowledgeable and innovative persons in several different fields.


The data from the study of bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents provided no indication that an important number of accidents could be prevented by education to enhance motorists' inclination and ability to perform the Preparatory-Phase functions. Fewer than one percent of the accidents involved a defective motor vehicle, and only a fraction of the motor-vehicle defects that were present were judged to be contributory. Neither vehicle-handling skill deficiencies nor operator-vehicle incompatibilities were found to be important contributors to accidents; together these factors were found to contribute to less than .1% of the accidents in the sample. With one exception, few accidents were caused wholly or in part by a motorist's permanent or temporary impairment. The exception was that a significant number of motorists were impaired by alcohol. Evidence that the motorist had been drinking was found in over three percent of the non-fatal accidents and about 17% of the fatal accidents.

In light of the above discussion, it is concluded that the only education on Preparatory-Phase functions that might prove beneficial is education to curtail driving while intoxicated. However, since there are many ongoing programs to curtail driving while intoxicated, it seems unnecessary to establish this as a primary objective for a bicycle-safety education program.


It will be recalled that the Anticipatory-Phase functions are those that must be performed in order to select an optimal course (speed and path) through an area; by definition, the selection of a suboptimal course means that an Anticipatory-Phase function failure has occurred. The results of the bicycle/motor-vehicle accident study showed that Anticipatory-Phase function failures were much less frequent for motorists than bicyclists.

Even so, it was found that about 21% of the fatal and 11% of the non-fatal accidents were the direct or indirect result of the motorist's selection of a suboptimal course. Of the cases in which the motorist's course was suboptimal, about 80% involved a motorist who was traveling unnecessarily close to the right-hand edge of the roadway, traveling at an excessive speed, or both. Unlike bicyclists, there were few motorists who traveled through controlled intersections without stopping, followed an unusual or unexpected path when turning, or traveled against the flow of traffic.

The factors found to most often contribute to the motorist's selection of a suboptimal course include the following: the motorist's judgment was seriously impaired by alcohol, the motorist failed to observe a visual obstruction or failed to evaluate its implications for safety, and the motorist expected that the area would be void of bicycle traffic at the time the accident occurred. For the fatal cases, 80% of the motorists who selected a suboptimal course did so because their judgment was impaired by alcohol. Failure to observe/evaluate visual obstructions was the most important contributor to the selection of a suboptimal course by motorists in the non-fatal sample.

It is clear from the above discussion that some benefits would be realized from education that would induce motorists to drive at a safe speed and that would induce them to avoid drifting too far to the right of the roadway. Nothing whatsoever will be accomplished by simply telling motorists to avoid speeding and driving too far to the right; motorists are perfectly aware that such actions are dangerous and may result in a variety of different kinds of accidents. Instead, motorists must be given explicit instructions about where and when speeding and driving too far to the right are most likely to result in a bicycle/motor-vehicle accident. The education should be designed to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Teach motorists to search for and recognize critical visual obstructions, including the standing motor vehicles that obstruct an operator's view in "multiple-threat" accidents.

  • Modify motorists' expectations about the likelihood that a bicyclist will emerge suddenly from behind a visual obstruction.

  • Teach motorists to reduce their speed and modify their path in a manner that best offsets the effects of a visual obstruction.

  • Modify motorists' expectations about the likelihood of encountering a bicyclist at night. Teach motorists that when driving at night, they should (a) avoid driving farther to the right than is necessary for safety and (b) reduce their speed substantially when traveling on a narrow roadway.

Such education may also prove beneficial in reducing accidents for which the motorist's course cannot be judged suboptimal in the strict sense of the word. For instance, it was noted earlier that most of the motorists who were involved in bicycle-rideout accidents were traveling a path and at a speed that would be considered safe by normal standards. However, it is altogether possible that the incidence of bicycle-rideout accidents could be reduced by educating motorists to recognize the kinds of areas where bicycle-rideout accidents most often occur (quiet residential areas) and modify their course in such areas to provide an increased amount of time/space for evasive actions. Motorists should be taught to (a) drive in the center of the roadway when no vehicles are approaching in the opposing traffic lanes and (b) reduce their speed well below the legal limit when they are unable to drive in the center of the roadway and/or when visual obstructions are present.

It is believed that most motorists have both the ability and inclination to modify their course appropriately if they are able to anticipate a potentially hazardous situation. Thus, even motorists who ordinarily select a safe course would benefit from a detailed explanation of the accident-generation process for each of the important types of accidents and a description of the kinds of traffic contexts in which these accidents occur. This information, along with an increased expectation of encountering bicyclists, would enable motorists to recognize hazardous locations and to modify their speed and path accordingly. Indeed, this is the basic premise underlying all defensive-driving training.


It will be recalled from an earlier section that (a) the Reactive-Phase functions are those required to observe and respond to a potentially threatening vehicle that is visible, and (b) a function failure during the Reactive Phase is possible only if the threatening vehicle could have been observed early enough for a normal operator to have initiated successful evasive action (see pp. 123-124 for a description of the Reactive-Phase functions). The education to enhance the motorist's performance of the Reactive-Phase functions must be aimed primarily at the search function, the detection function, and the evaluation function. It was found that very few accidents resulted from the motorist's failure to perform the decision function or the action function in a proper manner.

Education to Enhance Search Behavior

The data from the bicycle/motor-vehicle accident study indicated that a search failure by the motorist contributed to about 20% of the fatal and 40% of the non-fatal accidents. About one-half of the motorists' search failures were the direct result of the bicyclist riding on the wrong side of the roadway; the motorist failed to search in the bicyclist's direction because he didn't expect a hazard to be approaching from that direction. When the bicyclist was riding lawfully, the motorist's search failure typically was due to one or more of the following contributory factors:

  • The motorist was temporarily distracted -- usually by a passenger or by a pedestrian or vehicle that the motorist considered an accident threat.

  • The motorist's information-processing capacity was temporarily overloaded because of a highly complex traffic environment, excessive speed, or both.

  • The motorist expected that all vehicles approaching on intersecting roadways would yield the right-of-way in accordance with the law.

  • The motorist expected that the general area would be void of bicycle traffic.

  • The motorist failed to search effectively enough to perceive the bicyclist, even though he scanned in the bicyclist's direction one or more times.

The objectives of education to enhance motorists' search behavior are quite similar to those established for enhancing bicyclists' search behavior (see Table 24, p. 124). It is believed that most mature and experienced motorists understand the limitations of the visual system and the need to search selectively for cues signaling the presence of a threat; so, general education on these topics could be limited to young and inexperienced motorists. The following objectives apply equally to all motorists:

  • Increase validity of expectations that may influence motorists' assessment of the need to search.

  • Increase knowledge of the stimuli that may distract attention, and increase ability to cope with distractions.

  • Increase ability to cope in situations where information-processing capacity is overloaded.

  • Increase the validity of motorists' assessment of the degree of risk associated with failures to search.

As has been emphasized repeatedly throughout this section, it is necessary that the instruction be highly specific; motorists must be informed of the specific situation in which search failures most often lead to accidents -- including the traffic context and the pre-crash maneuvers of both vehicles. For each high-hazard situation discussed, motorists must be instructed on exactly where to search and what to search for. The contribution of motorists' search failures should be discussed for each of the problem types defined in Section V, but major emphasis should be placed on the following objectives:

  • Teach motorists to search for bicyclists approaching on intersecting streets, driveways, and alleys.

  • Teach motorists to search for bicyclists riding on parallel sidewalks and other off-street locations.

  • Teach motorists to search more effectively for bicyclists during darkness.

  • Teach motorists to search to the left-rear before opening the left-hand door of their (parallel-parked) vehicle.

  • Teach motorists to search for bicyclists approaching in the opposing lane of traffic before initiating a left-hand turn.

  • Teach motorists to search to the right-rear before initiating a right-hand turn.

  • Teach motorists to search more effectively for bicyclists approaching from the right or left before entering a street from an intersecting street, driveway, or alley.

There is reason to question the advisability of educating motorists to search for wrong-way-riding bicyclists, even though such education is certain to reduce the number of bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents. It is possible that bicyclists would be more inclined to ride facing traffic if they knew that motorists were being educated to search for wrong-way-riding bicyclists. More importantly, requiring motorists to search for wrong-way-riding bicyclists increases their workload and may, in turn, cause an increase in other kinds of accidents.

Education to Enhance Detection of Bicyclists

A detection failure by the motorist was found in about 28% of the fatal and 10% of the non-fatal bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents. All of these cases occurred under conditions of degraded visibility. A small percentage involved sun glare; the remainder occurred during darkness. Although sun glare is not a major contributor to accidents, it is believed that minimal effort would be required to inform motorists that glare sometimes leads to bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents and that they must slow their speed and exercise extreme caution when temporarily blinded by sun glare.

It seems unlikely that any type of education would significantly increase a motorist's ability to detect bicycles at night that are not equipped with lawful lighting equipment. Moreover, it is unlikely that any type of education would increase the chances that an intoxicated motorist would detect a bicycle at night, whether or not it is equipped with lawful lighting equipment. However, it is altogether possible that motorist education would greatly increase the likelihood that sober motorists would detect properly equipped bicycles at night. This education should be aimed principally at overtaking accidents. Motorists should be informed of the frequency, consequences, and causes of overtaking accidents; they must be instructed about the necessity for searching the area ahead more thoroughly; and they must be instructed on what to search for.

Instructional films are available that show the appearance of a properly equipped bicycle at night. Unfortunately, the films show the appearance of the bicycle when it is illuminated by a motor-vehicle's high beams and when viewed against a totally black background. The films make it difficult to imagine how any motorist could fail to detect a bicycle at night. Obviously, such films have no instructional value. What is needed are methods that illustrate the visibility of bicycles under worst-case conditions. For instance, the appearance of bicycles should be shown when: the bicycle is equipped with lawful but marginal lighting equipment, the bicycle is illuminated by a motor-vehicle's low beams, the bicycle is viewed against a background that contains many light sources, the motorist's eyes have been exposed to the lights of an oncoming motor vehicle, and so on. if films are used for this purpose, considerable expertise will be required to produce films that accurately simulate real-world imagery.

Education to Enhance Evaluation Behavior

An evaluation failure by the motorist occurred in about 20% of the fatal and 24% of the non-fatal bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents. In all of these cases, the motorist observed the bicyclist early enough to have easily avoided the accident. The motorist failed to initiate some form of evasive action because of an invalid expectation or because of some form of faulty judgment. About one-fourth of the evaluation failures resulted from a motorist's incorrect expectation that a bicyclist approaching on an intersecting roadway would stop or turn before riding into the motorist's path. About 10% of the evaluation failures were the result of a motorist's misjudgment of the space required to overtake and pass a bicyclist. The remaining cases were the result of a motorist's failure to anticipate a sudden left-hand turn by a bicyclist riding in front of him. That is, the motorist observed the bicyclist well in advance of the accident but expected the bicyclist to proceed straight ahead (rather than making an abrupt left-hand turn into the motorist's path).

Most readers will have observed many cases in which an alert motorist was able to avoid an accident because he anticipated the bicyclist's actions. Nearly every time the author discusses bicycle safety with a motorist, the motorist volunteers an anecdote about a serious accident that was avoided only because of the motorist's ability to anticipate a "crazy action" by a bicyclist. It is believed that such anecdotal evidence provides support for the assumption that the vast majority of motorists are both willing and capable of going to great lengths to avoid an accident with a bicyclist. it follows that motorists would be highly receptive to education that would help them better anticipate the bicyclist's actions and to develop defensive-driving skills that would enable them to counter these actions. The accident data indicate that education to enhance motorists' evaluation behavior should concentrate on the following objectives:

  • Increase motorists' expectations that a bicyclist riding ahead of them will turn suddenly into their path. Teach motorists to slow their speed and give the bicyclist as wide a berth as is possible when overtaking and passing him.

  • Increase motorists' expectations that bicyclists approaching on intersecting road ways will continue without stopping. Teach motorists to slow their speed and veer in a direction opposite to that of the approaching bicyclist as far as is possible under the circumstances.

  • Increase motorists' ability to judge the width of their vehicle and the space required to overtake and pass a bicyclist safely.  Teach motorists to avoid attempting to pass the bicyclist when space is marginal.


There are at least three important benefits of educating bicyclists' parents. First, parents can be educated to teach their children about bicycle safety. Secondly, parents can be taught the need for a greater amount of supervision and control of their child's bicycle-riding habits and practices. Thirdly, parents can be educated about the necessity for formal bicycle-safety education for the children and the need to support a comprehensive bicycle-safety education program for their community.


There are many parents who purchase their child a bicycle as soon as they feel he has the motor skills required to control it. In fact, the competitive spirit leads some parents to encourage their children to learn to ride a bicycle at an age younger than their child's peers. Parents must be taught that certain perceptual and cognitive skills are as essential to safe riding as vehicle-handling skills, and that juvenile bicyclists should be carefully supervised until they have acquired these essential skills. But, how are parents to know when their child possesses the fundamental perceptual and cognitive skills that must be present to form the foundation for specific instruction on bicycle safety?

Ideally, parents would be provided with an objective test that could be used to assess the adequacy of their child's perceptual and cognitive skills. Unfortunately, no such test has been developed. The only alternative is to define the average age at which the necessary skills are developed through the natural maturation process; more specifically, define the age that the normative child must reach before he has the perceptual and cognitive skills needed to understand the principles and rules of safe riding and perform the tasks required to implement these principles and rules. This age would be considered the minimum age for unsupervised riding on the public streets.

Defining the minimum age for unsupervised riding will be a difficult and highly controversial task, but it should be done. Based upon a careful study of the accident data and numerous discussions, the author believes that the minimum age should be about eight years old. Admittedly, there are many who believe the minimum age should be younger and a nearly equal number believe the minimum age should be older. However, there are few safety-education experts who believe that five- and six-year olds should be permitted to ride on public streets without being accompanied by an adult.


Parents who purchase their children a new bicycle are usually given expert advice about the appropriate size, type, and fit by the sales personnel. However, there are some parents who fail to follow this advice and buy their child a bicycle that he can "grow into." Parents must be educated about the risk associated with purchasing their child a bicycle that is too large, too sophisticated, or both. If parents are not taught the specific criteria for evaluating the size, type, and fit of the bicycle they purchase for their child, they certainly should be taught to seek the advice of an expert and to follow this advice.

Although the author knows of no data on young children's ability to operate hand brakes and to manipulate gear shifts on multi-speed bicycles, some persons have argued convincingly that young children cannot be taught to safely operate bicycles equipped with either hand brakes or multi-speed gears. It is claimed that operating hand brakes in an emergency situation requires a greater degree of strength and coordination than many young children possess. Similar claims are made about multi-speed gears. Not only does the manipulation of the gears require a relatively high level of skill, but the multi-speed gears enable young bicyclists to travel faster than they should be traveling. If these claims are supported by research, parents should be advised against purchasing their child a bicycle that is equipped with either caliper brakes or multi-speed gears.


Parents are in a unique position to teach their children safe riding habits and to reinforce these habits. Education administered by parents can be particularly effective, because it can be administered within the specific traffic contexts where the child will be riding. However, before parents can be expected to educate their child effectively, it will be necessary to eliminate many misconceptions that could lead to counterproductive education. Specifically, parents must be educated about the types of accidents that most often involve young children, the factors that contribute to these accidents, and the types of traffic contexts in which they occur. This general information should enable parents to evaluate the area in which their child will be riding and formulate highly specific rules to guide his riding behavior. For instance, knowledge of the bicycle-rideout accidents may lead parents to recognize the importance of a hedge that obscures their driveway and the need for a rule that prohibits their child from riding into the roadway at that location without stopping. Parents may also see the danger in advising their child to ride on the sidewalk at certain locations, and certainly should learn that they should teach their child to never ride facing traffic.


Parents should be informed that some essential bicycle-safety education can best be accomplished by a highly trained instructor using equipment and materials specially designed for this purpose. Hopefully, the knowledge of this fact will lead parents to demand the establishment of a formal bicycle-safety education program in their community and to provide the support needed to implement such a program. In these days of tax revolt, it is unlikely that an effective bicycle-safety education program could ever be implemented in a community without widespread support by the parents of school-age children.


Most agree that an education program for bicyclists would lose much of its effectiveness if it was not reinforced by a good law enforcement program. In most communities, the patrol officers consider the enforcement of bicycle laws to be among the least important and least desirable part of their job. As a consequence, few bicyclists who are observed violating the law are stopped and admonished by patrol officers; fewer still are issued citations. Therefore, the first objective of an education program for law enforcement officers is to educate them about the necessity for enforcing bicycle laws. They must be given explicit and factual information about the magnitude of the bicycle-accident problem and the beneficial impact that enforcement has on curtailing accident-producing behavior.

A second objective is to inform law enforcement officers of the violations that are most likely to be accident producing, and to induce them to be particularly conscientious in citing or otherwise admonishing bicyclists who violate these critical laws. The violations most likely to be accident producing include:

  • Bicyclist enters a roadway from a driveway, alley, or over a curb or shoulder without slowing or stopping for traffic on the roadway.

  • Bicyclist rides into intersection against traffic control device (stop sign, yield sign, traffic signal).

  • Bicyclist rides on the wrong side of the roadway, facing traffic.

  • Bicyclist rides on sidewalk where prohibited by local ordinance.

  • Bicyclist rides at night without lawful lighting equipment.

  • Bicyclist initiates left-hand turn without signaling or searching for approaching motor vehicles.

  • Bicyclist attempts to pass motorist on the right or left at a roadway junction.


There is little question that bicycle designers have had a long-standing concern for the safety of the bicyclist. This concern has manifested itself in many innovative design characteristics that have increased the safety of the bicycle. Recently, considerable attention has been devoted to increasing the effectiveness of bicycle-lighting equipment, increasing the effectiveness of bicycle brakes (particularly caliper brakes), and increasing the structural strength of critical parts of the bicycle. It is believed that educating bicycle designers about the causes of accidents will motivate them to seek innovative solutions to the bicycle-design deficiencies that often contribute to accidents.

Perhaps the most important need is for one or more devices that will increase the bicycle's conspicuity during both daytime and at night. It is important to emphasize to bicycle designers that the criterion that should be used to evaluate potential devices is conspicuousness (attention-getting quality) rather than visibility. Some recent attention has been given to the development of devices to increase the conspicuity of motorcycles; it is possible that some of the insights gained from the study of motorcycle conspicuity will also apply to bicycles.

Another equipment item that should be given special attention by bicycle designers is rear-vision devices. The rear-vision mirrors that are presently on the market appear to have important disadvantages. The bicycle-mounted mirrors are subject to vibration and have such a limited view that the bicyclist may be unable to see the area of interest to him even if vibration were not present. The main disadvantage of the mirrors that are attached to eyeglasses or helmets is that it is difficult to induce young bicyclists to wear them each time they ride.

A third design feature that should receive attention is the braking efficiency of caliper brakes when wet. Apparently, this problem has received some attention by bicycle designers, and improved braking pads and rims may now be available.


Throughout this report, a special attempt has been made to identify problems and issues that must be dealt with before it will be possible to develop and implement an effective bicycle-safety education program. The problems and issues considered of greatest importance are summarized below.


NMV Accidents

It has been mentioned repeatedly that there is a great need for comprehensive data on the bicycle accidents that are not the result of a conflict between a bicycle and a motor vehicle (NMV accidents). Enough is known to conclude that NMV accidents represent an important problem, but there are insufficient data to define the type of education that is required to solve this problem. In order to obtain data on NMV accidents, it will be necessary to survey a large and representative sample of the general bicycling population. Since there is evidence that NMV accidents occur with great frequency on college and university campuses, it is essential that a study of NMV accidents include a representative sample of college and university students who ride their bicycles on campus. The study of NMV accidents must provide data on the incidence, consequences, and causes of such accidents. Personal interviews with bicyclists will be required to obtain information that is detailed enough to identify the full range of factors and events that cause NMV accidents.

Unreported Bicycle/Motor-Vehicle Accidents

In order to more accurately assess the magnitude of the bicycle-accident problem, additional data are needed to estimate reliably the incidence and consequences of the bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents that are not reported to the police. If a survey was conducted to obtain data on NMV accidents, it would be a simple matter to include items that would provide data on the number of unreported bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents a bicyclist has had and the consequences of these accidents.

Reasons for Bicyclists' Failure to Search Behind Before Turning Left

In Section V, it was mentioned that additional data are needed to fully define the reasons why bicyclists frequently fail to search behind before initiating a left-hand turn. It was hypothesized that bicyclists' failure to search may be due to (a) fear that searching behind may result in a loss of control of the bicycle, and/or (b) fallacious belief that auditory cues will always signal the presence of an overtaking motor vehicle. Data are needed to support or refute this hypothesis. If it is found that fear of losing control is a factor, research will be required to determine whether bicyclists can be taught to search behind without losing control of their bicycle -- particularly juvenile bicyclists


Implementation Agency

Many persons, including the author, believe that a major part of bicycle-safety education must be accomplished within public and private schools. However, there is no one within a local district who has the formal responsibility for implementing and supervising bicycle-safety education. Even though the interest in bicycle-safety education is high in some areas, it is pure folly to assume that someone within each school district will voluntarily assume the responsibility for bicycle-safety education in their district. The same is true for education that would be accomplished through the public media. That is, there is no person or agency that clearly has the responsibility for seeing to it that educational messages appear in local newspapers and magazines or are aired on local radio and television.

Essentially, the same condition exists for federal and state agencies. It might be supposed that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare would be willing to establish an office that would be responsible for the implementation of safety education on a nationwide scale. However, no such office exists at this time. It also might be supposed that a safety-education office could be established within the Departments of Education for each state. Such offices exist in some states but not all of them. In short, there is no agency at any level of government that can be expected to champion bicycle-safety education and assume responsibility for its implementation on a broad scale.

There appears to be no simple and easy solution to this problem. It will be necessary to either establish an independent implementation organization or assign the responsibility for implementing bicycle-safety education to persons within existing agencies. Although both approaches would require a major effort, it is believed that even the best safety-education program will simply die on the vine if there is not an agency at the federal, state, and local level who has the formal responsibility for implementing it.

Sources of Funding

Traditionally, federal and state funds have been made available for the development and evaluation of educational materials, but have not been available to support the routine administration of education at the local level. Since it is unlikely that this tradition will change in the near future, it seems reasonable to assume that most, if not all, of the funding needed to administer a bicycle-safety education program must come from local sources. Local tax revenues are a logical source of funds for bicycle-safety education, but the combined forces of inflation and tax revolt have increased the competition for local funds and have caused local administrators to be extremely reluctant to adopt new programs of any type.

If public funds cannot be obtained, it will be necessary to support bicycle-safety education with private funds. There are many private agencies who are interested in the bicycle-accident problem and who would be willing to contribute funds to a program that would serve to curtail this problem. However, it would be difficult to maintain continuity of a bicycle-safety education program if it was necessary to depend solely upon annual contributions from individuals and private organizations.

It has been suggested that bicyclists should and would be willing to bear the cost of education; bicyclists could either be charged directly for their education, or revenues from bicycle registration could be used for bicycle-safety education. Since funding constraints will have a large impact on the type of educational materials and methods that will prove most effective, it is important that the problem of funding be dealt with during an early stage of a developmental program.

Instructor Qualifications

It is impossible to commence developing instructional methods and materials until assumptions are made about the qualifications of the persons who will serve as instructors. The job of developing instructional methods and materials would be easiest if the instructional staff was composed of persons who were accredited teachers, experienced bicyclists, and who had received specific training in bicycle-safety education. If instructors lack any one or more of these qualifications, it will be necessary to offset the deficiency by (a) developing instructional materials that are more simple to use and more self-sufficient in technical content, and/or (b) providing additional training to offset the deficiency in knowledge and experience. In general, the less qualified the instructor, the more difficult and costly it will be to develop effective educational methods and materials, unless this deficiency is offset by instructor training.

A considerable amount of analytical study will be required to define the optimal strategy for selecting and training instructor personnel. However, it is believed that this is a task that can and must be done before any attempt is made to develop the educational methods and materials that will be administered by instructor personnel, either in the classroom or in the field.

Incentives to Learn

The effectiveness of any educational program is influenced greatly by the trainees' motivation to learn. Motivation is importantly influenced by the skill of the instructor and the quality of the instructional materials. However, educational efficiency might be increased greatly if it is possible to create incentives that would further motivate the trainees to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.

It has been suggested that an effective incentive for both bicyclists and motorists could be created by making licensing contingent upon the acquisition of the necessary knowledge and skills. Whether this practice would prove cost-effective remains uncertain. The idea of licensing bicyclists is offensive to many because they consider it to be another attempt to create an unnecessary government bureaucracy and further stifle individual freedom. Moreover, it is unlikely that the Department of Motor Vehicles would be enthusiastic about assuming the extra burden of licensing bicyclists and making motorists' licensing contingent upon a knowledge of bicycle-safety principles and practices. Despite the obvious disadvantages of this approach, it cannot be discounted without further consideration.

The author would welcome ideas from readers about incentives that would increase the motivation to learn, particularly incentives for motorists. If motorists are to be educated through published materials, it is certain that effective incentives will be required to motivate them to spend the time needed to carefully study the instructional materials.

Legal Liability

The issue of legal liability arises when it becomes necessary to conduct any type of on-bike training, particularly when the training is to be conducted on public streets. There have been a number of instances in which school administrators have refused permission to conduct on-bike training because of their concern about the school's liability in the event of an accident. It is believed that this issue should be studied carefully by legal experts and an official opinion formed about the school's liability in the event that an accident occurred during the course of a bicycle-safety education program. If it is judged that the school would be held liable, insurance experts should determine the type and cost of additional insurance that would be required to protect the schools from significant financial loss in the event of a law suit. It is unlikely that any local school administrator is going to agree to routine on-bike training until he has detailed information about his school's liability in the event of an accident and the cost of insurance protection.

Access to Motorists and Bicyclists

Educational methods and materials are more dependent upon techniques for gaining educational access to motorists and bicyclists than any other factor. As a consequence, it is essential that considerable time and effort be spent identifying and evaluating potential techniques for gaining access to motorists and bicyclists for a sufficient amount of time to accomplish the educational objectives. When evaluating alternate methods, it is not sufficient to identify the approaches that are best; it also is necessary to determine if any of the approaches judged best are truly cost-effective. It is altogether possible that there is no cost-effective way for gaining educational access to bicyclists and/or motorists and that the best strategy is to simply abandon the notion of educating bicyclists, motorists, or both.

In an earlier part of this section, the author discussed the advantages and disadvantages of various techniques for educating bicyclists and motorists. Also, recommendations were made about the techniques that are considered most feasible. It is not recommended that the author's views on this important matter be accepted without further study. Rather, it is hoped that these recommendations will stimulate others to consider this important problem and to express their views about the best way to deal with it.


Discussed below are problems and issues that are more technical and less political than those discussed above. The reader may find the distinctions between organizational and technical problems somewhat arbitrary, since the solutions to both types of problems may require careful analytical study. The main difference is that the technical problems and issues, as defined here, can best be dealt with by persons who possess expertise in bicycling, educational methods, or both.


One of the first technical issues that must be resolved in developing a bicycle-safety education program is to define specifically who is to be educated. The author's views about the factors that must be considered in defining the educational target groups were discussed in an earlier part of this section (see pp. 103-106), so there is no need to repeat them here. However, it is important to emphasize that these views represent one person's opinion and that a considerable amount of additional analytical study and discussion will be required to define the educational target groups to everyone's satisfaction.


It is generally recognized that the purpose of bicycle-safety education is to modify behavior in a manner that will reduce accident likelihood. In many instances, defining the manner in which bicyclists and motorists should be taught to behave is a simple and straightforward task. However, there are some situations in which it is difficult to specify the exact behavior that will minimize accident likelihood. Discussed below are situations in which there is some uncertainty about the behavior that is optimal.

Route Selection

Little is gained by instructing bicyclists to select the safe route if they are incapable of evaluating the relative safety of alternate routes to their destination. In the author's view, additional study is required to identify the criteria that should be used in evaluating alternate routes and the relative weight that should be placed on each criterion. This issue is discussed in more detail on pages 111-112.

Course Selection

Bicyclists. Since about three-quarters of all bicycle/motor-vehicle accidents were either the direct or indirect result of the bicyclist's selection of a suboptimal course, it is essential that bicyclists be taught the optimal course through an area and induced to follow that course on all occasions. Unfortunately, bicycling experts disagree on the course that is optimal for some traffic contexts. Thus, it will be necessary to conduct further study to define the course that is, in fact, safest for certain traffic contexts, maneuvers, and conditions. It is particularly important to define:

  • The optimal course for making left-hand turns in a variety of traffic contexts.

  • The optimal course when exiting driveways with visual obstructions nearby.

  • The optimal course when riding along narrow roadways (during daytime and during nighttime).

  • The optimal course when riding along a row of parallel-parked motor vehicles.

There also is a need to define the maximum speed that is safe when riding in a variety of traffic contexts and under a variety of different weather and lighting conditions. In some cases, it may be possible for a group of bicycling experts to define the safest course. In other cases, analytical or experimental study may be required to define the optimal course.

Motorists. Similar uncertainties about the optimal course exist for motorists. Additional study is required to define the optimal course for the following situations:

  • When driving along residential roadways with many intersecting driveways and alleys (bicycle-rideout accidents).

  • When driving on narrow rural-type roadways at night (motorist-overtaking accidents).

  • When exiting a driveway or alley with visual obstructions present (motorist-driveout accidents).

  • When preparing to make a right-hand turn at a location where an on-street bike lane is present.

Responding to Uncertainty

Bicyclists. There were a number of accidents in which the bicyclist observed the motorist well in advance but failed to initiate evasive action because of an invalid assumption about the motorist's intentions. Thus, an important objective of any bicycle-safety education program is to teach bicyclists to recognize when the motorist's actions cannot be predicted with certainty. However, teaching the bicyclist to recognize situations in which the motorist's actions are uncertain is not enough; bicyclists must also be taught exactly how to respond in the face of such uncertainties. For instance, what is the bicyclist to do when he observes a motor vehicle waiting to enter the roadway from an intersecting driveway and the bicyclist is uncertain about whether or not he has been observed by the motorist? Some bicycling experts believe that the bicyclist should attempt to attract the motorist's attention with some type of signal; others believe that the bicyclist should modify his path, his speed, or both.

In the author's view, additional study is required to answer questions such as these. That is, there is insufficient information to define precisely how a bicyclist should behave in the face of uncertainty. Therefore, an important technical issue that must be resolved is to define precisely how a bicyclist should be taught to behave when he is uncertain about the actions of a motorist in each of the following situations, and perhaps others as well:

  • A motorist is stopped on an intersecting roadway and may drive out into the path of the bicyclist.

  • A moving motor vehicle is approaching on an intersecting roadway and may continue into the path of the bicyclist.

  • A motorist is approaching in an opposing traffic lane and may turn left into the path of the bicyclist.

  • A motorist, traveling in the same direction as the bicyclist, may turn right into the path of the bicyclist.

  • A parallel-parked motor vehicle may be occupied by a motorist who may open the car door into the path of the bicyclist.

  • A parallel-parked motor vehicle may exit the parking space into the path of the bicyclist.

Motorists. Although motorists appear to be inclined to expect aberrant behavior by bicyclists, there is an important number of accidents that result from a motorist's uncertainty about the bicyclist's intentions. It is important to define precisely how a motorist should be taught to behave in the following situations:

  • A bicyclist is approaching on an intersecting roadway and may continue into the path of the motorist.

  • The motorist is preparing to overtake and pass a bicyclist who may suddenly turn left.

  • The bicyclist is approaching in an opposing traffic lane and may turn left into the path of the motorist.


The educational objectives discussed in this report must be considered potential objectives; further study will be necessary to identify which of these potential objectives will, in fact, be included in a bicycle-safety education program. Final decisions about the objectives to be included must be based upon the accident-reduction potential, the cost in time and resources to accomplish the educational objective, and the likelihood that the education will, in fact, produce the desired behavioral change. It is also necessary to consider whether changing behavior to reduce one type of accident may increase the likelihood of other types of accidents. Teaching motorists to search for wrong-way-riding bicyclists is an example of an education that may decrease one type of accident but increase others. It also will be necessary to consider whether a bicycle-safety education program should be limited to objectives that have accident-reduction potential. There are a number of reasons why it might be beneficial to include auxiliary objectives, such as teaching bicyclists to be more effective and efficient riders, and promoting bicycling. Furthermore, considerable thought and study will be required to define the rudimentary knowledge and skills that must be taught before it is possible to teach young bicyclists the safety concepts and skills that are more directly relevant to bicycle safety.


The educational objectives discussed earlier in this section identify what must be taught but not how best to teach it. Considerable work will be required to develop educational techniques that are both effective and efficient. Questions about educational technique can be posed for virtually every educational objective discussed in this section. However, technique is a more critical question for some educational objectives than for others. The need to develop innovative techniques is particularly great for the following objectives: Teaching bicyclists the precise course that is safest in a wide variety of traffic contexts.

  • Motivating bicyclists to refrain from unsafe behavior, even though it is highly unlikely that such behavior will lead to an accident on a particular occasion.

  • Teaching bicyclists and motorists to search selectively for features that dictate the optimal course and for cues that signal a potential hazard.

  • Teaching bicyclists and motorists to recognize specific cues to actual or potential hazard.

  • Teaching bicyclists and motorists to correctly assess the risk associated with specific accident-producing behavior. Increasing bicyclists' ability to make specific temporal and spatial judgments.

  • Teaching bicyclists and motorists to cope with momentary distractions.

  • Teaching bicyclists to cope with competing needs.

  • Teaching bicyclists and motorists to respond correctly to situations in which the other operator's actions are uncertain.

  • Teaching bicyclists and motorists to recognize and cope with information overload.

  • Eliminating, through education, invalid expectations that often lead to accidents.

  • Increasing bicyclists' vehicle-handling skills, including searching behind, emergency stops, and emergency swerves/turns.

  • Teaching bicyclists' parents to educate their children and to exercise control over where and when they ride.

  • Motivating law enforcement officers to apprehend and cite bicyclists who violate critical laws and ordinances.

  • Increasing the likelihood that motorists will observe bicyclists when they scan in the direction of a clearly visible bicyclist.

  • Motivating bicyclists to select the safest route when an alternate route is faster, shorter, flatter, or otherwise more desirable.

It is hoped that the readers who wish to pursue research in the bicycle-safety area will consider the study of one or more of the above problems. It also is hoped that readers who have opinions about one or more of the above problems will convey their opinions to the author.

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Contents copyright 1978,
AAA Safety and Educational Foundation
Republished with permission
Internet edition prepared by John S. Allen