Since 2014, at least 140 pedestrians and bicyclists in Connecticut have been killed in collisions with motor vehicles* (CTCDR, 2016). This equates to at least one death a week during this time period. Pedestrians and bicyclists, also known as non-motorists, are a unique and particularly vulnerable population. Non-motorists, for all intents and purposes, are a minority group in transportation. Some argue the reason crashes between these two groups occur are because non-motorists are not as cautious as they should be while on the road, by jaywalking or being distracted with MP3 players and cellphones. Others may feel that motorists are to blame because they are not more aware of pedestrians and bicyclists, with some not yielding at crosswalks or providing a safe distance for non-motorists to pass. There is some truth to be found in both arguments but more often than not, it is non-motorists who are seriously injured or killed in these collisions, not drivers. However, pedestrians and bicyclists also have a responsibility to fully obey the rules of the road that are really in place to protect them. Nevertheless, motorists and non-motorists do share the roadway and it is important to figure out how these two populations can coexist safely in the transportation environment.
When looking at the “cognitive, social and behavioral processes” that affect the safety of non-motorists, Walker (2011) explains that the separation lies within the difficulty of being empathetic towards a group that you cannot personally identify with (p.368). Meaning, it may be hard for some motorists to relate to or even realize the dangers non-motorists may face on the road because they themselves are not in those same situations. The ‘Us vs Them’ mentality is unfortunately a perception some motorists have towards non-motorists (Fruhen & Flin, 2015). Pedestrians and cyclists are viewed as separate from other road users, when in fact there is no difference. However, because this separation already exists in their mind, some motorists drive without being cognizant of non-motorists sharing the road way, which may cause non-motorists to be overlooked. There are some differences, however, between bicyclists and pedestrians, including what their responsibilities are as a road user, and how they are treated by other road users. Because of this, it is important to look at each of the particular vulnerabilities of each population separately.
Much of the responsibility of avoiding motor vehicle crashes does not lie on the shoulders of the pedestrian, but on the shoulders of drivers. Van Houten (2011) points out that it is drivers who are required to meet a standard of expectation when it comes to the cognitive ability and motor skills needed to effectively operate a vehicle. Pedestrians may be small children, elderly or physically disabled and may not meet these same standards. In addition, driving is a privilege bestowed by the state that a motorist resides in, and it can be taken away should that motorist violate any laws or regulations associated with this privilege. Non-motorists right to walk or bike, however, cannot be taken away without infringing on their human rights. However, because the road is seen as “the exclusive domain of the automobile”, it presents challenges when trying to implement changes to the driving culture (Van Houten, p. 353). In an attempt to tackle these challenges, the behavioral/psychological component of non-motorist traffic collisions are explored.
When motorists and non-motorists are not aware of one another, it can lead to collisions resulting in very serious, and sometimes fatal injuries. One example of this is a screening crash, in which one motorist stops for a pedestrian to cross the street but a second motorists in another lane fails to see the pedestrian and ends up colliding with them in the crosswalk (Van Houten, 2011). Another type of screening crash is one that involves a pedestrian darting out from a parked car or other structure. These crashes can be particularly hard to prevent because this can happen at any point in the roadway. Infrastructure changes, such as creating a barrier to physically separate pedestrians and drivers and moving the stop line for vehicles farther back from crosswalks, are possible solutions to help reduce these collisions. Installing audible crosswalk warnings that inform the pedestrian of turning vehicles could also help to reduce the over-representation of pedestrians in intersection crashes.
A screening crash can be initiated by many different variables, one of which is the driver committing a “looked-but-failed-to-see” error. Walker defines looked-but-failed-to-see errors as those in which a motorist failed to see another road user, in this case non-motorists, even after checking the roadway. This type of driver error is classified as an attention lapse and can occur when a driver has become so familiar with the driving task that their brain consciously overlooks certain things (Herslund & Jorgensen, 2003). For example, have you ever driven your usual route to or from work and realized later that you didn’t really remember going through the motions to get there? Even though you were alert and paying attention to your surroundings, perhaps there is a particular business you always pass on this route and you don’t remember passing it. You may do so without really thinking about it, because you have done it so many times before. When this happens, you are experiencing this same attention lapse.
Lack of knowledge about what is expected from drivers and non-motorists could also contribute to these collisions. Some drivers are not clear on what is expected of them when it comes to sharing the road with non-motorists and vice versa. The Connecticut General Assembly enacted the ‘Vulnerable User Law’ in October of 2014 to protect non-motorists on the road way. CSG § 14-300i(b) states that “any person operating a motor vehicle on a public way who fails to exercise reasonable care and causes the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way,” will be fined. Below is a summary of Connecticut’s current laws regarding motorists and pedestrians, provided by The National Conference of State Legislatures (2016) :
- Drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within a marked or unmarked crosswalk when a pedestrian steps off the curb and enters the crosswalk or is within the same half of the roadway as the vehicle. (Sec. 14-246a)
- The driver of a vehicle within a business or residence area, emerging from an alley, driveway or building, shall stop and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian as may be necessary to avoid collision, and upon entering the roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on such roadway. Violation of any provision of this section shall be an infraction. (Sec. 14-247a)
- Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to vehicles when crossing outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk. (Sec. 14-300 b)
- Where traffic control devices are in operation, pedestrians may only cross between two adjacent intersections in a marked crosswalk and may only cross an intersection diagonally if authorized by a traffic control device. (Sec. 14-300 b)
- No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb, sidewalk, crosswalk or any other place of safety adjacent to or upon a roadway and walk or run into the path of a vehicle. No pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol or any drug shall walk or stand upon any part of a roadway. (Sec. 14-300 c (b) )
The separation between bicyclists and motorists has been acknowledged by both groups, with research presenting drivers openly indicating their annoyance with cyclists on the road and cyclist’s perception of aggression they receive from drivers. Basford (et al. 2002) reasons that drivers regard cyclists as being in their way. Cyclists, of course, are unable to pedal at the same speed as a moving car and this can be frustrating for some drivers as they may be forced to slow down. Arguments have been made by some drivers that cyclists behave as though they do not have to obey the same rules as motorists on the road (Evans-Cowley, 2015). As British psychologist Tom Stafford (2013) explains in his article titled “The psychology of why cyclists enrage car drivers”, this can breed resentment among the two populations. Stafford provides the theory that motorists feel an “offense of moral order” has been committed by cyclists. He reasons that people generally rely on one another to follow societal norms and “do the right thing” to maintain peace and order and the same can be said about the driving environment. Stafford calls driving “a game of coordination” and says that “like all games, there’s an incentive to cheat”. So when someone is perceived as cheating the system, i.e. a cyclist basket weaving through traffic, resentment can ensue.
Professor Daniel Piatkowski found similar results from a survey he conducted regarding road behavior. Survey respondents were scored on Piatkowski’s Scofflaw Score, which ranged from complete law abidance to reckless endangerment. The cyclists who said that they stop at all stop signs reported being the most angered by seeing other cyclists who didn’t stop. Ironically, Piatkowski reported that all participants did not always obey traffic laws, regardless of whether they were biking, driving or walking, with less than 20 percent falling into the law abidance range (Evans-Cowley, 2015). Personal safety was given as a reason for breaking the rules of the road for 60 percent of respondents who were cyclists while pedestrians reported saving energy as their reason. In relation, a 2012 NHTSA survey of non-motorists attitudes and behaviors, one in eight bicyclists reported feeling threatened for their personal safety during their most recent riding trip (Schroeder & Wilbur, 2013).
Fruhen and Flin (2015) conducted an online survey of 289 residents of Australia, to determine whether drivers’ negative attitudes towards cyclists resulted in more aggressive driving behavior towards cyclists. Participants were split evenly for gender and their ages ranged from 18-65 years old. Results of the survey confirmed their hypothesis with participants who displayed a more negative attitude to cyclists also self-reporting more aggressive behavior towards this group. While often associated with the same negative connotations as pedestrians by motorists, bicyclists sometimes receive further resentment from pedestrians themselves. Walker explains that, “the bicycle does not always sit easily among pedestrian space, often stirring fear and resentment from people on foot.” Results from a recent study of pedestrians’ attitudes and behaviors revealed that the following groups of pedestrians were more likely to have either a neutral, acceptable or extremely acceptable attitude towards cyclists: Males, non-married, under the age of 25 and from large families (Kang & Fricker, 2016). Kang and Fricker provided a number of possible explanations for these results: males generally tend to be larger and therefore may feel a greater sense of safety than females; people who are married may be more hyper vigilant in situations where danger is present because of their familial obligations; younger individuals and people from large families tend to be more open to social acceptance in general.
Connecticut General Statutes provide the most current legislation regarding bicyclists and motorists:
- When passing another vehicle, the driver shall pass to the left of that vehicle at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.
- The driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle and shall not increase the speed of his/her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.
- For the purposes of this subsection, “safe distance” means not less than three feet when the driver of a vehicle overtakes and passes a person riding a bicycle. (Sec. 14-232)
- Each person operating a bicycle shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal within a reasonable distance before overtaking and passing a pedestrian. (Sec. 14-286)
- Every person riding a bicycle, as defined by section 14-286, upon the traveled portion of a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any vehicle subject to the requirements of the statutes relating to motor vehicles.
- Every person operating a bicycle solely by hand or foot power upon and along any sidewalk or across any roadway upon and along any crosswalk shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to pedestrians walking in such areas as provided by the general statutes.” (Sec.14-286a)
Based on the available research in this area, which includes many self-reported behaviors of motorists and non-motorists, two things are clear. The first is that pedestrians and bicyclists are two very distinct groups and should be treated as such in terms of educational outreach, policy and planning, and the traffic safety needs of each population. The second is that it is imperative that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists are all included in a collaborative effort to incorporate safety and functionality into their shared space. The development and application of pedestrian-bicycle-driver shared space strategy, where the considerations and concerns of each group are taken into account, would be beneficial in possibly alleviating these types of collisions.
Connecticut Crash Data Repository (CTCDR). (2016). http://www.ctcrash.uconn.edu. Accessed Aug 4, 2016.
Evans-Cowley, J. (2015). Why Do People Hate Cyclists? Blog post. http://www.planetizen.com/node/81826/why-do-people-hate-cyclists. Accessed Aug 8, 2016.
Fruhen, L. & Flin, R. (2015). Car driver attitudes, perceptions of social norms and aggressive driving behaviour towards cyclists. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 83, 162-170.
General Statutes of Connecticut. (2015). https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/titles.htm. Accessed Aug 8, 2016.
Herslund, M.B., & Jorgensen, N.O. (2003). Looked-but-failed-to-see errors in traffic. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 35, 885-891.
Kang, L. & Fricker, J.D. (2016). Sharing urban sidewalks with bicyclists? An exploratory analysis of pedestrian perceptions and attitudes. Transport Policy 49, p.216-225.
National Counsel for State Legislatures. (2016). Pedestrian Crossing: 50 State Summary. http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/pedestrian-crossing-50-state-summary.aspx. Accessed July 8, 2016.
Schroeder, P. & Wilbur, M. (2013). 2012 National survey of bicyclist and pedestrian attitudes and behavior, volume 1: Summary report. (Report No. DOT HS 811 841 A). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Stafford, T. (2013). The psychology of why cyclists enrage car drivers. BBC Future. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130212-why-you-really-hate-cyclists . Accessed Aug 5, 2016.
Van Houten, R. (2011). Pedestrians. In B.E. Porter (Eds.) Handbook of Traffic Psychology. (353-366). London, UK: Elsevier, Inc.
Walker, I. (2011). Bicyclists. In B.E. Porter (Eds.) Handbook of Traffic Psychology. (p 367-374). London, UK: Elsevier, Inc.