What are effective ways to educate motorists about bicyclists' status and rights on the road?

As with many endeavors, education is a two-way street, and this is true when it comes to bicyclists and motorists sharing the road. Too often there are fingers pointed and blame assigned to others; the reality is: there is plenty of responsibility to be shared between both cyclists and motorists.

Bicyclists who follow traffic laws and behave in responsible, predictable ways do a lot to set an example for others. Bicycling responsibly gains bicyclists respect as equal users of the road and also makes them more predictable to other motorists. While some conflicts may arise due to how skilled or aware drivers are of the needs of bicyclists on the road, conflicts may also arise as a result of bicyclist misbehavior or unpredictability. One study found that bicyclist error was the cause of more than half of crashes in children under 19 and adults over 45, but in the 20 to 44 year old range, motorists most commonly were in error (1).

Similarly, motorists have a responsibility to act in ways that make the road safer for all road users. This includes operating according to the law and being alert. As motorists, we're conditioned to watch for large obstacles, such as vans and tractor-trailers. Although cyclists are no bigger than pedestrians, we need to expect them on the roadway and take necessary precautions.

A multi faceted approach

There are a variety of methods to educate both drivers and bicyclists alike of the rules of the road. A multifaceted approach is likely the most effective; approaches range from promotion of bicycling and safety, programming educational events and outreach, and infrastructure improvements to improve bicyclist visibility, to increased enforcement.

PBIC's website has much more information on how to educate motorists and other road users. It is complete with research, resources, and case studies: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/education/

Share the Road campaigns

One approach that has met with success in many communities is that of a promotion focusing on "sharing the road." Promotion organizers focus on different audiences with a similar message - that of shared responsibility and respect for the welfare and safety of all involved. Informative marketing campaigns ideally should deliver an easy to understand message that a wide range of people will relate to. Considering the target population, should the message be translated into another language, should a particular road user be targeted, or could free bike checks or helmet fittings be offered to low income riders?

The key to a successful campaign is basing decisions about the focus and approach on local data and circumstances. In areas where bicycling is more common, where there is a cycling tradition, or where the community encourages cycling, motorists are more aware of the presence of bicyclists and crash rates are lower. For example, between 1998 and 2008, for example, bike commuting in Marin County increased 66% as bicycle crashes declined 34% (2).

Focus on the motorist

Some programs that target motorists take the approach of making drivers aware that cyclists are people as well as vehicle drivers; others make drivers more aware of the consequences of negligent driving. Cambridge, MA includes educational pamphlets when drivers purchase a parking permit. In Santa Cruz, California, commercial truck drivers have been targeted regarding bicyclists by distributing a flier to all applicants for commercial licenses at the local Department of Motor Vehicles. In New York State, PSAs and brochures focus on different messages for different audiences.

Educational program examples

Please visit the following PBIC web site for more case studies and promotion and programming ideas: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/promote/strategies.cfm

More information, case studies, and suggestions can be found at: http://bikesbelong.oli.us/Bikes%20Belong%20Foundation%20Safety%20Campaign%20Best%20Practices%20Report_reduced.pdf

Additionally, this FHWA study provides an informative survey of various education programs in the country for different ages and user types: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/library/details.cfm?id=2657

Marin County, CA has been in the forefront of Share the Road outreach. Go here: http://www.marinbike.org/Campaigns/ShareTheRoad/Index.shtml


  1. Rowe, B.H., Rowe, A.M., and Bota, G.W. (1995). Bicyclist and environmental factors associated with fatal bicycle-related trauma in Ontario. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 152(1): 45-53.
  2. Aschwanden, C. (2009). CAN WE SHARE? With more bikes on the road, drivers are frustrated -- and cyclists are at risk. Now's the time for changes. Los Angeles Times: Health. Features Desk; Part E; Pg. 1.