In Denmark, bicyclists more law abiding when facilities present

By Robbie Webber

We have written before about studies that find bicyclists in the U.S. break the law at about the same rate as motorists, although for different reasons. Now a study in Denmark finds that, although Danish cyclists break the law at a far lower rate than in the U.S., the prevalence of scofflaw behavior varies based on the presence of bicycle infrastructure, size of the city, and size of the intersection. The study also found that bicyclists using protected bike lanes and paths only break traffic laws about 5 percent of the time, while 14 percent of those without accommodations violate traffic laws. In contrast, 66 percent of motorists were scofflaws.

One interesting finding of the Danish study was that bicyclists’ traffic violations were higher in medium-sized cities than in Copenhagen, and at smaller rather than at larger intersections. By far, the most common bicyclist violation was making a right turn on red, which is illegal in Denmark. The second most common violation was riding on the sidewalk, and the third was using the crosswalk to make a left turn, both of which are also illegal. None of these violations were considered by the researchers to be dangerous.

These recent results were almost identical to those from a previous study done by the consulting firm Copenhagenize , which found that five percent of bicyclists overall violated traffic laws, with 15 percent turning right on a red light. In a 2007 study in London, city transportation agency found that 16 percent of bicyclists ran red lights; however the majority of those violations involved bicyclists traveling straight instead of making a turn.

The finding that the rate of violations correlates to the presence or absence of bicycling infrastructure is similar to research by Wesley Marshall in the U.S. He found many bicyclists violated traffic laws because they felt the violation actually increased their safety. Examples were riding on the sidewalk, jumping ahead of traffic before the light turned green, or not making a full stop at stop signs and red lights in order to maintain momentum and balance.

Previous studies of motorist behavior in Denmark found that just one in three drivers follows all traffic laws, with speeding being the most common offense.

The study of bicyclists’ behavior was conducted by the Danish Road Directorate and involved cameras set up at intersections. 28,579 bicyclists were observed at 25 intersections. 1,649 offenses were committed by 1,404 bicyclists, some of whom broke more than one law.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.