The latest edition of The Psychologist has a fantastic discussion on the psychology of how drivers, cyclists and pedestrians interact.
Rather appropriately, it’s with psychologist Ian Walker, who makes lots of interesting points about how different road users are perceived and how that affects behaviour.
…the lack of understanding of the cyclist outgroup seems to produce measurable changes in other road users’ behaviour. A few years ago I did a study which showed that changing the appearance of a cyclist led to notable changes in how much space drivers left when passing the bicycle. The specific changes seen make sense given the small body of research on non-cyclists’ stereotypes of cyclists. The two extant studies – the Lynn Basford et al. one, and research by Birgitta Gatersleben and Hebba Haddad, in 2010 – both found that non-cyclists view bicycle helmets as an indicator of an experienced rider, and in my data we saw riskier behaviour from drivers when they passed a cyclist who was wearing a helmet, which fits the idea they saw the rider as more capable.
The positive lesson from this, I feel, is that drivers do adjust their behaviour to the perceived needs of the non-drivers they are interacting with. The problem is that they do not always understand how to read these other people and judge their needs.
The whole issue of The Psychologist is a special and transport psychology and all of it is open-access this month.
Declaration of interest: I’m an unpaid associate editor and occasional columnist for The Psychologist and a low-skilled pedestrian.