Educating Motorists

Whether they deserve it or not, motorists tend to get a bad rap among cyclists. But poor behavior on the part of motorists is often simply a response to misbehavior by cyclists or an ignorance of cyclists' needs. When educating motorists about cycling, one should approach them with respect. Respecting motorists is the first step in awakening them to the need to safely share the road with cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists and cycling educators must learn to work with motorists; not against them. Realize that motorists may not have any experience cycling and therefore may not understand the situations that confront bicyclists in traffic.


When educating motorists, one should always emphasize the benefits of sharing the road, such as safer, more inviting streets with reduced crime, increased property value, a better environment, and an overall enhanced quality of life.

Instructors in motorist education should underscore the notion that a bicycle is not a toy but a viable means of transportation-often the only means of transportation for many people.

Those educating motorists should stress that they are not trying to force motorists off the roads or take away their rights, but illustrate that cyclists have an equal right to the road. The more motorists know about cycling safety, the safer streets will be for everyone on them.

Tools and Skills

Motorists should learn to look for cyclists in traffic just as they would check for cars, especially when switching lane position or turning or going through an intersection. They should look for cyclists in parking lots, or exiting and entering roadways. Motorists must always anticipate cyclists at night and learn how to detect them.

Learning how to safely and considerately pass an individual or group of bicyclists is an important skill for motorists. Most states require motorists to leave at least 2 feet of passing room when overtaking other vehicles (including bicycles) moving in the same direction. Giving at least 3 feet is courteous when passing a bicyclist. Motorists should wait-like they do when passing other motor vehicles-until traffic conditions are clear and safe enough to comfortably pass a cyclist. They should also check over their shoulder after passing a cyclist before moving back into the lane. Motorists should learn how to cope with interruptions in traffic, such as cycling races and tours.

The motorist must pay special attention to children on bicycles, particularly in residential neighborhoods and in school zones, on sidewalks, and entering or exiting driveways. Teach motorists that kids are not small adults and therefore cannot deal with traffic in the way that adults can. They should understand that kids do not judge speeds or distance well, so motorists should reduce speeds when driving through residential areas.

Explain to motorists about bike lanes and teach motorists how to operate around them.

Motorists should be aware of weather conditions, how they can affect cyclists (i.e., the windblast effect), and adjust accordingly.

Drivers of motor vehicles should be aware why some bicyclists choose to bicycle busy streets or choose to bike on the street even when there may be a bike trail in the vicinity. Stress to motorists that even if there is high traffic, cyclists have as much right to the street as they do.

Explain the importance of driving predictably and obeying traffic laws, just as motorists would expect other drivers and cyclists to do.

Motorists should learn why crashes happen and what risky behavior is, so that they can avoid and prevent future accidents.

Teach motorists how to communicate with cyclists, particularly when negotiating right of way. They must make sure that a cyclist knows they have seen him or her, through eye contact and verbal or body language.

Explain the importance of showing common courtesy and respect on the road. Stress using less harmful ways of venting anger and frustration, rather than taking these feelings on a cyclist. Drivers should learn how motorist harassment can be threatening to cyclists and avoid it.

Motorists should be encouraged to look for and report impaired cyclists.

Motorists should learn why people cycle, for health and fitness, transportation, recreational fun, and the environment. Motorists who have never cycled before should be encouraged to give it a try.

A video on driver education and motorist-bicyclist safety can be viewed here.