Posts Tagged ‘Actor-observer bias’

Motorists and Actor-observer bias

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Certainly you’ve read the public comments whenever the media write about making this area a better place to bike.

It’s quite common to read stereotypes of cyclist as law breakers — and that’s an excuse for cyclists not to have safe facilities.

You may also read cycling organizations stress that bicyclists should follow the rules of the road, to be ambassadors, to not play into this stereotype.

Both responses are malarkey with perhaps the latter being more disappointing since it’s coming from the same team.

Does AAA tell motorists to be ambassadors while driving to reduce scorn from non-motorists and to ensure safe facilities get built? Of course not.

The hypocrisy of motorists stereotyping cyclists as law breakers is clear. Which road user is causing the majority of road fatalities, personal injuries, and crashes? Aggressive driving, distracting driving, drunk driving — notice the common word?

Police believe it is optimal setting speed limits at the point where only 15% of motorists are speeding. Top safety experts have admitted to us that speed limits are fairly worthless because drivers ignore them.

Furthermore, since 2004 no cyclist has caused a crash in Michigan resulting in the serious injury of death of a motorist or pedestrian. We checked.

So why the cycling hate?

The best explanation we’ve found is Actor-observer bias. According to Wikipedia:

People are more likely to see their own behavior as affected by the situation they are in, or the sequence of occurrences that have happened to them throughout their day. But, they see other people’s actions as solely a product of their overall personality, and they do not afford them the chance to explain their behavior as exclusively a result of a situational effect.

In other words, a motorist can justify their speeding because the speed limit is too low, or 5 MPH over is socially acceptable, or because they’re in a hurry.

However, when a cyclist on rolls through a stop sign, it’s because they are lawbreakers. This latter judgement is also called a Fundamental attribution error.

A two-fold solution

First, bicycle advocacy organizations need to make the rules of the road work for bicyclists. Contrary to what you may read, the League of American Wheelmen nor any other bicycle advocacy organization were at the table when the automotive industry crafted the basis for today’s rules of the road during the 1920s. We need these rule templates changed at the national level. The Idaho stop law should be the U.S. bicycle stop law.

We don’t want the same laws for bicycling. We want better laws.

Second, we need to get more people on bicycles. Doing that should give more motorists a better understanding and perhaps empathy for cyclists. We need more motorists understanding why treating stop signs as yields or jumping red lights can be safer for us. Not every motorist will become a bicyclist, but their family members and co-workers could.

It’ll never be a complete harmonious relationship between motorists and cyclists, but the first step is to recognize the social psychology driving motorists’ perception and make real improvements for a safer future.