If you’ve ever spent time cycling in Europe, you may have felt shocked by the differences in your interactions on the roads. Many riders report feeling like European drivers are kind and courteous when they ride around bikes, whereas American drivers tend to act frustrated and hostile. This attitude could explain why car vs. bike accidents remain so common in the United States, when riders in Europe feel much safer.
But this probably got you thinking: Why do Americans have this different viewpoint? If we could change that, could we make cycling safer on this side of the Atlantic?
One big difference is just how common bikes are in many parts of Europe. Rather than riding the bus, a lot of children use bikes to go to school in the morning and to go home at night. A lot of adults don’t drive cars for their morning commute, opting to cycle instead. They even use their bikes when running errands.
The result is that European drivers never feel surprised or flustered by bicycles. They expect them. They get used to them. American drivers often seem frustrated because they usually don’t see cyclists on the road, so encountering one feels like the bike is encroaching on an area — the road — that they think of as their own. European drivers view the road more as a space to share, so it changes their reactions.
The fact that more Europeans ride bikes means that more of those drivers are also cyclists. They just don’t ride exclusively, but they also use their bikes for exercise and transportation. Since they understand what it’s like to be cyclists, they respect them when they’re in the car.
American road designs
The reason that Americans cycle less often isn’t just that they don’t enjoy it. To a large degree, the designs of roads and cities make it a less viable option for a lot of people.
European cities are older and there is less space. This means that a lot of people live in close proximity to their work, their school, the store or other common destinations. This makes cycling easy and natural.
In the United States, people tend to live in the suburbs, far outside of the city. The road designs extensively use interstates — where bikes are not allowed — to give motorists a way to drive into the city. Some have an hour-long commute every day by car.
It’s just too far to realistically ride a bike frequently. This means Americans, on the whole, tend to be more reliant on cars, and that changes drivers’ attitudes.
This mental perception of cyclists can shape encounters between bikes and cars, and it can lead to accidents. If you get injured, make sure you know how to seek financial compensation in Connecticut.