What's the Best Way to Say, "Watch Out for Bikes!"

As best I can, I try to keep an eye out for new bicycle commuting or utility cycling themed videos throughout the week.   Fortunately, when a new video pops up, it usually makes an appearance on a handful of bicycling blogs and websites, so they are pretty easy to find.

Today, this video popped up in my blog feed:

The video is from Cycling Scotland and encourages drivers to treat cyclists like horses.   No, don’t groom them and feed them…though some might not complain if you did…but rather use caution when you’re around them.   Although, unlike a horse, a cyclist can’t deliver a punishing kick with a hoof if it gets upset.   The best I can deliver to encourage caution around me is one seasoned stink eye.

But the video, which I found amusing, got me to thinking.   What’s the most effective way to deliver a message about bicycle awareness?   What works better, humor or scare tactics?

Here’s an example of a scare tactic video:

But after I watch this video, I’m left wondering, who is supposed to be scared here?   Honestly, that scares the crap out of me, because I could envision myself or someone I love in that cyclist’s situation.   Does that scare drivers though?   I guess this one might not be so much of a scare tactic, if it’s aimed at drivers, but rather a guilt trip.   So is a guilt trip the most effective way to deliver a message about bicycle awareness?

Here’s another example of a guilt trip and/ or tactic:

Again, after watching this video, I guess I, the cyclist, feel somewhat scared and concerned, but I’m not sure what effect it might have on drivers.   I’d suppose any reasonable person would think, “Ok, yeah, cyclists are all someone’s loved one, so I should watch out for them,” but will that really increase their level of awareness when they’re late for work, they just spilled their coffee, and their cell phone is ringing during the morning drive?

Then, there’s another approach.   This is the “make you feel slightly stupid approach”:

Ok, this one is somewhat unfair. Honestly, the first time I remember watching this video, I did not see the moonwalking bear, because I was concentrating on the basketball. So they’re deliberately trying to distract you in this example. But is that what happens when you’re driving? Is someone deliberately trying to keep you from seeing cyclists? Yikes, that’s a scary thought. Let’s hope not.

Then there’s the humorous, but heart-string tugging version:

Again, this is using the tactic that someone loves a cyclist, so please use caution, give them space, watch out.   But it’s also funny, since the dad is wearing a blow-up suit.   What I think works well in this video is that kids are excellent for delivering powerful messages, because honestly a lot of people are more inclined to hear a kid out than another adult.   Power to the kids.

Then there’s another way of approaching this altogether.   The following video doesn’t suggest that you should use caution or share the road, rather it emphasizes how awesome it is to ride a bike, and encourages viewers to “change their view” about cycling.

So we have six different examples of public service announcements of various kinds focused on bicycle awareness.   They each take a slightly different approach, make you laugh, frown, or scratch your head.   But again, I can’t help but view these from the perspective of the cyclist.   I can try to put on my driver’s hat, and say, “Yeah, these videos make me want to be aware of cyclists when I’m driving,” which is true, of course, but I’m always going to view them from the perspective of the cyclist.   Hey!   Please watch out for me!   I totally agree with what they all have to say.

But then I’m still perplexed as to what effect they might really have on drivers or what version is the most effective.   I suppose the combination of approaches can reach different types of audiences, but then again, I’m left wondering who really views these videos besides other cyclists?

So what do you think?   What’s the best way to deliver the bicycle awareness message to drivers?

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18 thoughts on “What's the Best Way to Say, "Watch Out for Bikes!"”

  1. Kevin Love says:

    I love the Hungarian “Bike to Work” video series. Funny, smart – they show cycling as fast, easy, convenient, sexy and fun. And car drivers as old fuddy-duddies.

    This one is my favorite:


  2. mark tandan says:

    Great read. I’m not sure if there is a best way to deliver the message of cycling awareness to motorists. I’m more of a believer of the ‘saturation’ approach. The more messages the better!
    I certainly make it a point on my daily commutes to ensure drivers know I’m out there – with sometimes colourful language and gestures.

    But if it’s ever to get widely accepted, I think we’ll actually need law enforcement blitzes focused specifically on motorists endangering cyclists through lack of awareness or impatience. Set a few cops up by some notorious intersections and let the tickets fly!

    1. Mark,
      That would be fantastic, but unfortunately, in Tucson, it always seemed to be the opposite with cyclists being targeted for tickets for Idaho stops and the like. It would be good to see that change!

  3. bike geography says:

    I recall Conor Cash telling about the time he kicked out the door of a SunTran bus that was passing him too closely.

    Bike like a horse.

    1. bike geography – that is impressive. I suppose a nice U-lock could also come in handy at times… The bicyclist’s horseshoe.

  4. Jeff says:

    Terrific article Melanie, for a topic always at the surface that never seems to be resolved definitively.

    Our Asian club riding policy was that assertive riding equaled safe riding. ‘Assertive’, not ‘offensive’. This was not “PC” then and may not be now, dunno. But we sure believed it saved lives. Motorists may or may not approach you with an abundance of caution, but we found that at least as often as not it was due to a sense that the cyclist him/herself was unsure of what they were doing. Sort of like how a dog can sense whether you are comfortable with them or not.

    We have people here in town who preach the “safe”, uncontroverial basics. See them on the road however, and they too engage assertive action when it is their own lives on the line.

    Thanks, Melanie. Great.

  5. Jeff says:

    Mark, if you live in a place where the revenuers give cyclists a second glance, much less being willing to exert NRG on behavior that is obnoxious but not against the law, then you live in a better place than most of us. Besides, if lack of awareness or impatience were against the law, seems to me that most Americans would be in the pokey.

  6. Brent Logan says:

    How about with poetry? Here’s Kent Peterson’s, “He’ll Never Ride Again.”

    1. Brent, wow, poetry is a good option!

  7. BluesCat says:

    I don’t think any Public Service announcements, of any kind, will help us cyclists in the safety arena. Not until we experience a sea change in attitude, among the motoring public, about cyclists belonging on the roads.

    I know, that sounds really cynical, but I can back it up: it was just a couple of years ago that I was stopped at a stop sign, waiting for traffic to clear so I could cross a busy three-lane road, and a Phoenix cop pulled up behind me and beeped … and when I carried my bike to the curb — wondering what he wanted — he pulled up next to me, rolled down his passenger-side window and scolded me saying I “don’t belong out there” in the lane keeping him from making his right-hand turn at the stop sign!

    When I complained, his precinct commander telephoned me and told me he actually had to look up the section of A.R.S. §28-812 where it says “A person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle …”

    If the COPS don’t know this, how are we to expect the clowns in their full-size pickups of OBEY this?

    1. Blues Cat, yes that’s the dilemma I see with PSA’s, as well. It’s all a matter of who they reach. I am suspicious that a lot of these aimed at cyclist safety just reach cyclists. It’s like preaching to the choir.

  8. BluesCat says:

    Typo: “full-size pickups of OBEY this” should be “full-size pickups to OBEY this”

  9. Kevin Love says:

    How about the way we teach everyone else to obey the law?

    How about criminal negligence with a two-ton lethal weapon means serious jail time?

    I predict they would learn very, very fast.

  10. Jeff says:

    Blues! You helped avoid a Tucson (Left lane turn, Speedway to Wilmot) citation this past weekend. I’d just read your latest interpretation of AZ statute. As you might expect we disagree completely, so my discussion with Tucson’s Best argued pretty much opposite of your understanding of law and of this issue. We got to discussing the premise of this, Ms. Colavito’s article. While your point about uninformed law enforcement is too painfully true, in this case the officer argued the other side of the coin with delightful (if unexpected) authority. He sincerely believed that people in his dept knew the law far better than cyclists. And from his knowledge of bicycle law off the top of his head, he was xurely right. Anyway, both he and I were too happy to have an authoritative discussion that seems all to rare. He certainly impressed on me a remarkably cogent case for why PSAs &c wouldn’t EVER work. He left with a bit more faith in cyclists, and I, of police.

    Thanks, Blues Cat!

  11. BluesCat says:

    Jeff – HA! But be careful about throwing Arizona Revised Statutes around, because municipalities CAN restrict the law further if A.R.S doesn’t clearly state something contrary.

    For instance, A.R.S. is silent about riding bikes on sidewalks, therefore, it is legal UNLESS it is prohibited by law or ordinance in a particular town. Tucson prohibits it, while Phoenix actually REQUIRES you to ride on the sidewalk in some locations (see my previous CbB article: Sidewalk Salmoning: It’s the Law).

  12. BluesCat says:

    Kevin – Unfortunately, I don’t think even draconian penalties would help us out. Motorists don’t think much beyond the next aggravating stop sign which is gonna impede their progress; some of them apparently think even less about violating some laws they KNOW have some stiff penalties.

    For instance, Arizona has some good, strict laws against drunk driving:

    First Drunk Driving Conviction
    DUI Base Fine = $250
    Arizona DUI Surcharge = $200
    Probation Surcharge = $10
    Prison Construction Assessment = $500
    Arizona Xtra DUI Assessment = $500
    Jail – Minimum 24 Hours up to 10 Days
    License Suspension – From 90-360 Days
    Ignition Interlock Device – Court May Order Installation of Ignition Interlock Device at the expense of the Convicted DUI Offender.

    Yet in 2012 drunk driving fatalities made up 28% of all traffic deaths; almost a THIRD!

  13. Thank you for the great blog. As a cyclist in Manhattan,one of the most hi traffic cities in the US, bike safety is often on my mind.
    Personally, I think drivers will never take awareness of bikers until there are better laws. For example, it should be illegal for cars to double park in bike lanes, or for taxis to let their passengers out on a bike lane. I also believe that there should be explicit laws giving bikers the right of way when cars in a lane to your right cross a bike line in a left hand turn. If these types of laws are implemented and enforced it would go a long way. For anyone who’s interested I wrote a blog here with some safety tips for urban riders: http://blog.nycewheels.com/folding-bike-safety/ Best – Jack

  14. Douglas C Fawkes says:

    The best way to watch out for bikes. Ride with a bright fluorescent t-shirt. That’s right when you ride wear the brightest t-shirt you can find. Dull colors will not do. As Cheryl Crow once sang, “Let’s give them something to talk about!” Well if you are a cyclist like me then the word to you is “Let’s give them something to see about…!”

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