#47 – Share the Road: Motorist/Bicyclist Traffic Education and Enforcement Programs

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Todd Litman, Director, Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Most conflicts and collisions between motor vehicles and cyclists result when either a driver or cyclist violates a traffic rule or law, including rules that motorists must observe that reflect cyclists’ right to use public roadways. Common violations that can cause these problems include failure to stop or yield when required, following too closely behind another vehicle, illegal turns and passing, and cycling at night without adequate lighting. Traffic rule violations by cyclists reduce respect for cycling as a legitimate form of transportation, and can result in public policies that prohibit or discourage cycling under certain conditions. Traffic rule violations by motorists discourage people from cycling.

This situation suggests that one of the most effective bicycle safety countermeasures, and a way to increase respect for cyclists and encourage cycling, is to implement “Share the Road” programs and materials which provide bicycle traffic safety information and enforcement directed at both motorists and cyclists. The goals and objectives of such programs are to:

This case study summarizes some of the best practices in “Share the Road” programs and materials that teach and enforce bicycle-related traffic rules. Many organizations have developed “Share the Road” traffic education and enforcement programs and materials. These may include:

Sponsoring organizations include government agencies, bicycle clubs, transportation advocacy organizations, children’s safety programs, and various combinations of these. Since traffic laws are established at the state or provincial level, and sometimes have local variations, such materials are usually implemented at the state, provincial, or local level.

The quality of these programs and materials varies, depending on the perspective, knowledge, and resources of sponsoring organizations. Important factors include:

As much as possible, information should be presented in a positive manner. For example, rather than conveying the message, “Cycling is dangerous. Watch out!” it is better to emphasize that “Cycling can be easier and safer if you follow the rules when you ride.” A “Share the Road” brochure is most effective if it is physically attractive with interesting graphic images and simple but accurate wording that explains key concepts in a friendly, non-threatening manner. Such a brochure must be widely distributed so that the information disseminates through the community.
Materials should target both motorists and cyclists. For example, some “Share the Road” brochures have information for motorists on one side and information for cyclists on the other. Of course, many people will read both sides, because they are interested in both perspectives. Special materials may be necessary to target particular groups, such as children or people who speak a different language.

Occasionally, motorists or public officials assume that cyclists have less right to use public roads than motorists, either because bicycles are smaller and more vulnerable, because they are used by children or because they do not pay fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Litman (2000) and Hill (1986) respond to these claims. They point out that:



Following are examples of some exemplary brochures and print materials and education and enforcement programs for helping motorists and cyclists better share the road.


The Drive Right/Cycle Right brochure developed by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC, 1999) is a good example of “Share the Road” material that provides information for both drivers and cyclists. The brochure has “Drive Right” on one side and “Cycle Right” on the other, with simple drawings that illustrate these concepts (http://www.icbc.com or http://www.richmond.ca/services/ttp/cycling/news/driveright.htm).

Another good example of this type material is the “Sharing the Road” tips developed by the League of American Bicyclists, available at http://www.bikeleague.org/action/sharetheroad.php.

Traffic Law Enforcement - Bicycle Diversion Programs

Appropriate traffic law enforcement can also help prevent conflicts and collisions between bicyclists and motorists and can instill lifelong traffic safety habits in young people. Children who spend years violating bicycle traffic laws with impunity are being poorly prepared to become responsible car drivers.

Safety experts recommend targeting the following cycle traffic rule violations:

An effective enforcement program must overcome various barriers. Police officers may be unfamiliar with traffic rules and laws as they apply to bicycles, cyclists’ rights to use the roadway, or how to effectively enforce bicycle traffic laws. Nonmotorized traffic violations, particularly by children, tend to be considered a low priority by officials and the general community. Standard traffic fines may appear excessive or inappropriate for children. Cyclists and pedestrians may ignore citations unless police departments develop a suitable processing system.

A bicycle “diversion” program allows offending cyclists to take a cycling safety workshop as an alternative to paying a traffic fine (i.e., they are “diverted” from the court system). Police departments can run such workshops internally or contract with an outside expert. Such programs are popular because they emphasize safety rather than punishment and help develop cooperation among police, parents, and bicycle safety advocates. Scout troops, school groups and parents often voluntarily attend the safety workshops.

Examples of communities with well-established and effective bicycle diversion training programs include Tempe, AZ; University of California at Davis through Transportation and Parking Services; and Huntington Beach, CA; as well as Walnut Creek and Brentwood in Contra Costa County, CA. Here is how such programs typically work:

Conclusions and Recommendations

Many conflicts and collisions between motorists and cyclists result from inadequate understanding and observance of bicycle traffic rules, including rules that cyclists must follow, and rules that motorists must observe that reflect cyclists’ right to use public roadways.

“Share the Road” programs have the potential to improve awareness and respect of cyclists’ right to use the roads and compliance with rules and laws affecting bicyclist safety by both motorists and cyclists, and may therefore help to reduce conflicts and collisions between cyclists and motorists.

Costs and Funding

Costs vary depending on the type of program and materials. Most bicycle traffic safety education programs require staff time for planning, plus resources to produce brochures and other outreach materials. Some offer training courses. Most traffic law enforcement activities are included in existing police budgets.



Todd Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
1250 Rudlin Street
Victoria, BC V8V 3R7 Canada
(205) 360-1560