You don’t need to spend long hours reading the comments sections of local newspaper websites to know that cyclists are widely perceived as incorrigible rule-breakers. Yet a new study from the Danish Road Directorate found that less than 5 per cent of cyclists break traffic laws compared to 66 per cent of motorists.
Forbes reports that the study was carried out by consulting firm Rambøll using video cameras at major junctions in several Danish cities, including Copenhagen.
Strikingly, while just 4.9 per cent of cyclists broke road rules when riding on cycleways, 14 per cent did so when there was no cycling infrastructure present. The most common transgression was pavement cycling.
While it doesn't serve as a direct comparison, the Danish Road Directorate has previously found that two-thirds of motorists routinely flout the law, with breaking local speed limits the most common offence.
Earlier this week, we reported on a fairly typical anti-cyclist comment that on this occasion was posted to Mumsnet. A contributor who was somewhat inexplicably unhappy at, "having to be careful not to knock cyclists over," said: “Of course, they don't have to be careful not to knock anyone over when they go through red traffic lights, do they?”
This is a fairly typical example of the persistent perception that cyclists are inherently rule-breakers. But where does this view come from? The Danish Cycling Embassy, a privately-funded NGO, believes it is in large part down to visibility, suggesting that while the more common examples of law-breaking by cyclists are “easy to notice for everyone,” transgressions by motorists, such as speeding, can be harder to spot.
There are other aspects to the issue too. In a recent Guardian video asking whether cyclists feel they are above the law, Dame Sarah Storey explains that when a cyclist breaks the rules of the road, it is often done for safety reasons – pavement cycling in particular.
In the same podcast, West Midlands traffic officer PC Mark Hodson makes a further point, which is that the kind of cyclist behaviour that people like to moan about generally has a negligible impact. “If you look at the statistics, if you look at the actual threat of harm, you think ‘cyclists aren’t posing a risk to anybody,’” he says.
The media also has a huge role to play, according to Storey. “If we hear of an incident where it’s the fault of the cyclist, which is a very, very, very rare occurrence, it’s a massive headline. It’s all over the newspaper, it’s all over the news, it’s on the radio and everyone knows that a cyclist has done something wrong.
“And it’s a tragedy when that happens, but unfortunately every single day on our roads, multiple people die because of the actions and lack of care of a person behind the wheel of a vehicle – and those just don’t get reported on, there are so many of them.”