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Two Wheels vs. Four: Northwest residents say tension between cyclists and drivers persists

Wednesday, May 12, 2021by  PEMCO Insurance

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As the nation continues to experience bicycle fever in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new poll from PEMCO Mutual Insurance finds that younger residents in the Pacific Northwest are responsible for fueling the trend locally. But as more self-proclaimed novice cyclists take to the streets, tensions continue to vex cars and bikes who often struggle to share the road.  

According to the latest poll that surveyed Seattle and Portland residents, those who are most likely to say that time on their bike has increased during the pandemic are young cyclists. In Seattle, about one-third of cyclists under 35 (33%) say the time they spend cycling has increased since the beginning of the pandemic. In the Portland metro area, 24% of cyclists under 35 say they've spent more time on their bikes during the pandemic.

Interestingly, PEMCO's poll also finds that more time spent on the bike may not translate to greater skill. Among all Northwest bicyclists, about three-quarters (74%) consider themselves to have beginner or intermediate cycling skills. Conversely, in both Seattle and Portland, only 24% of cyclists say they're advanced or a professional.

"It's encouraging to see folks of all ages and skill levels cycling in the midst of the pandemic, especially those that are new to the sport," said PEMCO spokesperson Derek Wing. "Afterall, it's great for our physical health, mental health and the environment. But it's also important that both drivers and cyclists take the proper precautions when hitting the road, so we can all feel comfortable and stay safe."

With the majority of cyclists noting novice skills, it's not surprising that 63% of Seattle cyclists say they feel only somewhat or not at all comfortable when sharing the road with cars and other bikes. In Portland, even more cyclists – 77% – say they're only somewhat or not at all comfortable sharing the road with vehicles, other cyclists and e-bikes.

Northwest residents were asked in 2019 and 2021 how well they believe cyclists and drivers share the road. In Seattle, 57% of residents said drivers and cyclists do a "fair" or "poor" job sharing the road in 2019 and 52% said the same in 2021. Portlanders shared the same sentiment; in 2019, 57% said drivers and cyclists just do a "fair" or "poor" job sharing the road, and in 2021, 59% said the same.

While most agree that both drivers and cyclists have room for improvement, cyclists seem to have a better impression of drivers' ability to follow standard traffic rules. Half of cyclists think that most or all drivers follow traffic rules, whereas only 42% of drivers think that most or all cyclists follow the rules of the road. In fact, almost a quarter of Northwest drivers (19%) go as far to say that only a few or no cyclists follow the rules of the road when on their bikes.

Regardless of Northwesterners' comfort level on two wheels or four, here's a few rules and tips to remember:  

  • Bicyclists in traffic lanes must follow traffic laws and rules of the road.
  • Keep adequate distance between drivers and cyclists; many recommend maintaining at least 3 feet of space.
  • Bicyclists should signal their intentions with their hands to alert drivers.
  • Drivers should avoid distracted driving at all costs.
  • When biking in the rain, avoid slippery surfaces like metal or road paint.
  • Check your blind spots for cyclists if you're turning, especially if you're making a right-hand turn.
  • If you're biking, always wear a helmet and check your bike for safety hazards before starting your ride.
  • At night, both vehicles and cyclists should use lights to alert others of their presence.

For a complete summary of PEMCO's proprietary poll results visit www.pemco.com/blog/nw-polls, where you'll find responses collected by FBK Research of Seattle in February 2021.

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About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Mutual Insurance commissioned this independent survey, conducted by FBK Research of Seattle, that asked Washington and Oregon residents questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 400 respondents in the Seattle Metro (King, Snohomish, Pierce Counties) region and 400 respondents in the Portland Metro (Multnomah, Marion, Clackamas, Washington Counties) region yields an accuracy of +/- 5.0% respectively at the 95% confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range. 

About PEMCO Mutual Insurance

PEMCO Mutual Insurance is the Defender of Your Northwest, providing auto, home, renters and boat coverage. We are consistently recognized for outstanding service, employee expertise and social impact. Our Mutual Good programs raise the achievement levels for youth in education; build stronger, greener environments; and increase safety at home, on the road and at play. Our mission: Free our communities to worry less and live more. 


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