Is It Rude Or Worse?

It’s been recently suggested in the Bicycle Friendly Springfield group on Facebook that a vehicle driver (e.g. a bicyclist) controlling the lane and traveling about 10 mph on a 2-lane road with a 35-mph limit and non-sharable width (<14 feet) is being “rude, arguably unethical, and possibly sociopathic.” Let’s examine this assertion.

The system of traffic works on a few foundational principles — the primary one being “first come, first served.” This principle governs numerous situations and behaviors, primary among them is the first order of right-of-way. Simply put, motorists are obligated by principle and law to yield right-of-way to vehicles ahead of them in the travel lane.

There exists no natural right or expectation to be ahead of any particular traffic user. Speed is meaningless. If I am ahead of you in traffic riding my bicycle, and you are behind me in your sports car, you are obligated to yield right-of-way. While there exist rules regarding impeding traffic, it is widely recognized that a vehicle moving at a speed normal for its type cannot be said to be impeding traffic.

Further, there is no expectation or guarantee that one can drive 35 mph on the road in question. A speed limit is the fastest one is allowed to travel when conditions are good enough to allow it. It is not the speed you must go. It is not the speed you have to go. It is the fastest you are allowed to go. Any expectation of speed on the part of any driver is entirely misplaced. Here’s what the Missouri Driver’s Guide has to say:

Your highest duty as a motorist is to drive your vehicle carefully and prudently.
Your speed and manner of driving must create a safe environment for yourself and other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.

Use the same care when passing a pedestrian or cyclist as when passing a motor vehicle. You may need to slow down and wait for a safe opportunity to pass a pedestrian or cyclist, just as you would for any other slow-moving traffic.

Operators of slow-moving vehicles have exactly the same rights and privileges to use the road as the operators of vehicles capable of speeds greater than the speed limit.


Bicycling education courses such as those run by CyclingSavvy and the League of American Bicyclists teach a form of courtesy known as control-and-release. It works this way: If traffic is stacking up behind a bicyclist, the bicyclist may, as a courtesy, pull to the right or otherwise yield room for cars to pass if it is safe to do so. This is not an obligation. It is a courtesy. Not extending the courtesy is not a form of rudeness because a courtesy can never be an obligation. If it were, it would be an obligation and not a courtesy. The control-and-release courtesy only becomes an option in situations where the stacked traffic is unable to pass. When passing is an available option, the bicyclist has no need to offer the courtesy; the following motorist, on the other hand, always has an obligation to yield right-of-way.


When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to white man, she was breaking the law. She was also acting ethically against the immoral system of segregation and the laws that created it. Sometimes laws are immoral. But this doesn’t apply to traffic laws and the foundational rules of traffic that have been in development and use for more than 100 years.

From a duty perspective, we owe our fellow traffic users fidelity to the law and the foundational rules because, as the driver’s guide states, our “highest duty” is to drive carefully and create a safe traffic environment. Nothing about using our hypothetical 35-mph road at less than the speed limit relieves the faster traffic user of this duty. In fact, given the role of speed in traffic deaths, I argue that slower is more ethical for all traffic users.

It is also a simple matter to argue this from the perspective of consequence or utilitarianism. We have an obligation to create a safe traffic environment because it leads to the greatest outcome for the greatest number. You might not get to where you’re going as fast as you would like (your tender convenience) but you and others may get there alive (the social good).


Sociopathology is a field of study that examines anti-social behavior. A person who is sociopathic lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

Given the argument I have made so far, the assertion that controlling the lane of our 35-mph road is “possibly sociopathic” is absurd on the face of it. It assumes that the bicyclist is unreasonable or controlling the lane not because it is objectively safe to do so but because the bicyclist wants to annoy motorists.

Does anyone have an actual example of this? I’ve found that most transportation and sports bicyclists simply want to get where they’re going and, possibly, have a little fun (or get a little exercise) doing so. I’ve yet to meet the bicyclist who enjoys trying to annoy motorists.


It is a sad fact that many in the bicycle community — and far too many so-called advocates — actually do not believe that bicycles are vehicles and that bicyclists have the same rights to the road as anyone else. Deep down they believe that bicyclists should get out of the way of motorists. They have fooled themselves into thinking that bicyclists need bicycle lanes. The real purpose of these facilities is not safety but segregation — getting bicycles out of the way.

Don’t fall for it.

Same roads. Same rules. Same rights. It is the safe, courteous, ethical, and socially-responsible way to drive your bicycle.

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Comments 26

  1. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Well argued Andy, as usual. Minor edit suggestion: “Deep down they believe that bicycles should get out of the way of cars.” — Change to “Deep down they believe bicyclists should get out of the way of motorists.”

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 12:48 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mighk … Not into anthropomorphism, huh? 🙂 Good edit. Will do.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 12:52 pm
  3. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    If it’s a Warner Brother’s cartoon, I’m all into that kind of anthropomorphism… ;^)

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 12:54 pm
  4. Michael wrote:

    Here in Washington State, the delaying of 5 or more vehicles is illegal. I’d say that if cars are piling up behind you you should pull over and let them pass. In years of riding this has happened to me maybe 3 or 4 times. As long as you’re not causing a big delay you should be good to go.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 1:21 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Michael… If the law says 5 cars, then it is no longer a courtesy but an obligation. While the situation doesn’t often occur, I always try to release stacked vehicles. Most of the time motorists are able to pass safely without much delay — although the concept of delay is misplaced concern with convenience 😉

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 1:33 pm
  6. Jim Phillips wrote:

    I’m still flabbergasted by the source of the “rude” comment. We obviously have a long way to go when the people who sell bikes to the community and act as so-called advocates are telling cyclists such nonsense. Even worse that it was in the context of a road with ample sharing space that motorists never stacked up. Unreal.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 1:49 pm
  7. Jason wrote:

    Honestly, this could all be summed up as “don’t be a jerk.” Either in the car or the bike. You know if you’re blocking traffic in a way you don’t need to be doing. Just like someone riding a cyclist’s backside knows what they’re doing. If everyone would just be courteous to each other we wouldn’t have to deal with crap like this. 🙂

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 1:53 pm
  8. Michael wrote:

    “Honestly, this could all be summed up as “don’t be a jerk.”


    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 2:11 pm
  9. Steve A wrote:

    I was raised with the “5 car rule” which is ubiquitous in the west and it influences me even here in Texas. If I get multiple cars stacking up, I look for a safe turnout. It doesn’t happen often on a bike. It is more common in our motor home.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 4:45 pm
  10. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Very nice and concise explanation of the reasons cyclists should never be afraid to control their lane. And this sums up why I called my blog ‘The DESEGREGATED Cyclist’ – because I became tired of feeling I should sit at the back of the bus.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 5:17 pm
  11. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Jason, the problem is that in a situation in which a cyclist has two options:

    1. Take the lane and prevent what must be an unsafe pass.

    2. Ride in the gutter and allow a motorist to squeeze past dangerously close.

    …many motorists think a cyclist is being a jerk when he takes option 1 and doesn’t permit option 2.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 5:22 pm
  12. Khal Spencer wrote:

    The classic “unlawfully impeding traffic” case is Selz vs. Trotwood, Ohio. Its sometimes better to refer to established law than offer one’s own $0.02. I’m sure some know of it but here is a link to start with.

    Back to one’s own $0.02, I agree with some above who say that a little bit of common courtesy goes a long way in defusing people and demonstrating that some of the loudest mouths are fulla schitt. If traffic is stacking up due to conditions making passing difficult and it is possible for a slow moving vehicle to let traffic past, that is a good idea if it can be done safely for all involved (including one’s self, the overtaking motorist, and oncoming traffic).

    Many (all?) places have slow moving vehicle laws and its worth looking up the chapter and verse. Some badly need revision. It would be nicer if they were vehicle-neutral.

    Being slowed down by Steve’s R/V is not substantially different than being slowed by me on my bicycle or an Amish person in a buggy. What I do suspect is that motorists think it is easier for a bicyclist to shade right to be overtaken compared to a buggy or R/V and often it is. What I would like in return is that the overtaking vehicle is driven competently and does not endanger me or anyone else when I try to let them by. It works both ways.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 5:50 pm
  13. Josh wrote:

    The law in Washington is *if* delaying 5 or more vehicles, *and* passing is unsafe, *and* it’s safe for the slow-moving vehicle to pull over.

    For a cyclist, that means the road has to be narrow enough that passing isn’t safe, yet wide enough that pulling over is safe.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 5:51 pm
  14. RANTWICK wrote:

    @Jason: +1. Trouble is, as some have pointed out, “jerk” is a relative term. So long as the cyclist is going by an informed, self-definition of jerk rather than popular opinion on what constitutes a jerk, I think I’m good.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 9:57 pm
  15. RANTWICK wrote:

    I forgot to mention that I find myself pulling right over and stopping, allowing all cars to pass before even having to slow down behind me when I’m taking the lane in snow or ice… if I can’t guarantee complete control of my vehicle, I figure that is how I keep from being a jerk who scares everyone. Problem is, with studded tires I often have better control than the motorists, but they would never buy it! I pull over.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 10:03 pm
  16. Kevin Love wrote:

    Very interesting. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act states that if there is oncoming traffic or someone wants to pass, I have to move to the right half of the road. This is the right half of the entire road.

    In other words, the lane is mine and I don’t have to budge. Here is the law:

    “Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting another vehicle shall turn out to the right from the centre of the roadway, allowing the other vehicle one-half of the roadway free.

    Every person in charge of a vehicle or on horseback on a highway who is overtaken by a vehicle or equestrian travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the overtaking vehicle or equestrian to pass.”

    Source is section 148 of the Highway Traffic Act at:

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 10:08 pm
  17. Eliot Landrum wrote:

    I think that Alexander is confusing highways and city roads. I’ve never seen minimum speed limits on city roads.

    Posted 25 Oct 2012 at 11:00 pm
  18. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Personally, I don’t recall the last time I saw a posted minimum speed limit. I’m sure freeways and limited access roads have them, but I suspect cyclists aren’t permitted on such roads anyway. I’m always surprised by how many people seem to sincerely believe that posted speeds are minimums – maybe that has something to do with the fact that it’s rare to see a motorist traveling below a posted speed limit – the vast majority travel about 10mph over the limit, whether they’re on 50+mph highways, 30+mph city streets or 20mph neighborhood roads.

    Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 4:16 am
  19. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    These cyclists that Alexander Hogan sees where he lives seem like an evil bunch of psychos. And I suppose where he lives, motorists all drive under the speed limit, never use cellphones, never roll through stop signs, never run red lights, never drive distracted and are never cited or convicted of any traffic violations. I wish I cycled in such a place – it’d be great!

    I wonder how it is that getting on a bicycle in Alexander’s neighborhood turns people from simple commuters into psychotic nutcases. Could it be that Alexander takes special note of scofflaw cyclists but fails to do the same when motorists are the culprits?

    Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 4:27 am
  20. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I second Schubert’s comment.

    I have a serious hunch that like in most cities, Houston traffic problems are caused by too many cars on the road, not too many bicyclists. We spend too much time in the U.S. these days trying to paint others as problems, rather than facing actual problems. Houston, or as one friend calls it, the Petro Metro, has problems deeper than caused by a few cyclists (0.5% according to one source and I suspect the lack of both civility and lawfulness isn’t confined to one social, political, economic, or transportation group.

    Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 7:49 am
  21. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Houston ranked #4 in time lost to congestion of very large cities in the U.S. (2011 numbers, so I can understand anyone’s frustration, but as I said before, the small number of bicycle commuters (previous post) probably has little to do with the frustration level except as scapegoats. A lawful bicyclist is exercising his or her choice to ride a bike. Period.

    One of my pet peeves with everyone in this discussion of delays and queuing is the lack of data presented. I’ve yet to see a reference to some good scientific data or computer modelling that looks at Level of Service (a nice, neutral number) as a function of differing motor vehicle and bicycle densities on a given road. I think there is plenty on MV densities and one could probably tweak the model by having some cars drive at “ten miles per hour”. One would expect that at high level of service and low density, cyclists and motorists could negotiate around each other easily, but as LOS decreases from A, there will be more delays and more queuing behind a slow bicyclist in a narrow lane. So at some point, I hypothesize that as one gets denser, one gets slower and the question is, has anyone modelled this in terms of absolute ratios of cyclists vs. motorists. Maybe at some point if cycling density is high, its simply good efficiency to have high and low speed vehicle lanes. Without data, everybody is blowing smoke and getting political. But I suspect in most cases, one doesn’t need more whistles and bells and these should be added if they can be justified by real numbers rather than agit-prop.

    Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 8:56 am
  22. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Travel time studies would be more effective than LOS. LOS is just a measure of volume over capacity, and of course “capacity” is a subjective measure.
    New technologies using Bluetooth can measure travel time along corridors. One could coordinate that with field observations of bicyclists on the roadway, and add some cyclist “plants” to see if they affect overall travel time.

    Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 9:18 am
  23. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Good idea, Mighk.

    Posted 26 Oct 2012 at 10:14 am
  24. Angelo Dolce wrote:

    As you note, there are differences between rude, illegal and unethical. I find attitudes towards bicyclists (motorists and police) depend on culture and preconception; while you can argue about practicality or the law, nobody cares.

    For the east coast, I’d suggest the George Carlin routine about driving where he calls anyone driving slower than he is an idiot, while anyone driving faster is a maniac. He is the only sane driver on a road full of maniacs and idiots.

    In Wilmington and Philadelphia, my overwhelming experience has been that it is slow traffic where motorists got most angry when I wouldn’t get out of the f$^%& road or use the side walk. If traffic is faster, it is almost always light traffic and they can just pass. In 8-12 mph rush hour traffic they believe the cars in front of me have the right to use the road, but tell me I don’t. Of course, if all the cars in front of me would get out of MY way, I could go much faster than 10 mph on roads with 25-30mph speed limits too.

    Local drivers seem to take Carlin seriously. Following motorists are quite vocal in their displeasure at idiots driving the speed limit, or stopping at red lights in Philadelphia. Idiots in front of them have the obligation to run new red lights; motorists on cross streets running red lights are maniacs. Homeowners with children and police consider speeding and running red lights rude and illegal acts committed by maniacs.

    Not using bike lanes (or sometimes sidewalks) is equally rude and idiotic to motorists. Motorists support the bike lanes to get idiots on bikes out of the way; whether the lanes are safe or available to bicyclists is not the issue. The bike lanes are frequently in the door zone, or blocked by parked cars if they are wide enough.)\

    I’ve seen a number of ads for motorcycles and hybrids citing great gas mileage (with government projections for higher average mpg and falling gas taxes). Avoiding gas taxes by motorists is good; for bicyclists it shows they are free loaders (no matter what they pay in property or income tax). It’s not the behavior; it’s what group you’re in.

    Someone is going to consider you an idiot or a maniac, or a sociopath, no matter what you do. I’ll ride my bicycle where ever I want to go, but it would be nice if bicyclists’ rights were consistently enforceable.

    Posted 27 Oct 2012 at 5:46 am
  25. Andy Cline wrote:

    Angelo … Have you read the book Traffic? Excellent. It’s partly about the psychology of driving and covers many of the attitudes you name. Those attitudes, BTW, play a role in 35,000+ traffic deaths per year.

    Posted 27 Oct 2012 at 9:33 am
  26. Angelo Dolce wrote:


    I looked at the book when it came out a few years ago. I agree that this is a big factor in 35,000 traffic deaths – if killing other motorists is not a big deal, collisions with bicyclists, pedestrians, and children won’t be either.

    I still think George Carlin summarizes the issues the most elegantly.


    Posted 29 Oct 2012 at 3:50 pm

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