Aiming Enforcement at Motorists

Few motorists go out of their way to deliberately hit or frighten bicyclists or pedestrians. However, an equally small number really appreciate the impact they can have on the safety and comfort of more vulnerable road users such as bicyclists and pedestrians. Some common mistakes motorists make include:

  1. Speeding through neighborhoods.
  2. Not paying attention or looking for cyclists or pedestrians around them, especially when making turns.
  3. Overtaking a cyclist too closely, or without waiting for a gap in traffic before pulling out and safely passing a rider.
  4. Cutting off a bicyclist or pedestrian to turn right or left.

Every patrol officer should watch for these violations while on patrol and take enforcement action when they observe them.

Areas of Focus for Enforcement Aimed at Motorists

Law enforcement officers should focus on behaviors that are most threatening to bicyclists' safety. These include:

  1. Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  2. Failing to yield the right-of-way.
  3. Not looking when turning left at intersections or at driveways.
  4. Not looking when turning right at intersections or at driveways.
  5. Not looking when entering the roadway.
  6. Speeding, particularly in neighborhoods and near schools.
  7. Overtaking bicycles in areas where it cannot be done safely.

Law enforcement would have a stronger case if driver educational materials, including licensing manuals and tests, incorporated information to educate motorists about properly and safely sharing the road with bicyclists. Model driver handbook materials prepared for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program include information states could adapt for use in state driver handbooks on sharing the road with bicyclists.

Warning or Citation?

There is a place for a verbal or written warning in traffic law enforcement. Where officers are engaged in new or different enforcement activities (and the public finds this unexpected), warnings are a great way to get the word out. Officers should try to give the first warnings through the news media to let people know!

Citations are clearly appropriate in many circumstances, such as where a motorist's or bicyclist's actions place a person in obvious danger, a crash is narrowly avoided, or a crash occurs. Deliberate or reckless violations should also dictate formal enforcement action. Always keep in mind the final goal: improved safety.