Why Cyclists Anger Drivers

Accidents can happen when cyclists and drivers don’t share the road.

If you regularly ride a bicycle to school or work, you may have been on the receiving end of some rude comments from car drivers. Or, while riding in the family car, some of those comments may have even come from someone you know! It is true that some bicyclists run stop signs, ride between lines of stopped cars, and mosey down city streets far below the speed limit. The verbal abuse that some drivers hurl their way, however, seems out of proportion to these violations. Why is that?

A British blogger says that cyclists annoy motorists because drivers view cyclists’ behavior as an offense to the moral order. What makes driving a moral activity is the fact that, collectively, we only survive the perils of the road because most drivers play by the rules—staying in one’s own lane, signaling turns, obeying yield signs, and so on. Many bicyclists, however, violate those very rules, indulging in actions that are out-of-bounds for motorists—and “getting away with it!”

The conflict between drivers and cyclists reflects the “free rider problem”: this phenomenon, known to economics and politics, exists when some people who refuse to contribute to a common goal nevertheless reap the benefits available to all. An example is people failing to pay their taxes but still making use of the roads and utilities paid for by tax revenue. As a society becomes more complex, the free rider problem can become worse.

Psychologists conducted an experiment aimed at determining how the socially destructive “free rider problem” gets resolved in people’s interactions. They found that the common emotion of anger directed toward cheaters has the effect of promoting cooperation among the overall group. It appears that anger can motivate individuals to overcome their short-term self-interest in favor of cooperation.

Image credit: © Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

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  1. alan wita says:

    i ride my bike every day and to tell the truth ive seen yelling from both sides

  2. Anonomous says:

    My dad yells at cyclists a lot. Now I know why.

  3. SWAG says:

    I dont no why people hate cyclists. IT puts less emissions in to the world.

  4. kl says:

    swag, that misses the point entirely….this is about gut reactions. bikers do put less emissions out, but when in a life-or-death road situation, this is not going to be a factor in our gut responses.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Must not have read the article…