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With STP around the corner, drivers report unease with bicyclists on the road

July 14, 2010

SEATTLE – This weekend, 10,000 bicyclists will hit the Northwest’s scenic roadways in the Group Health Seattle to Portland Classic, a 200-mile cycling event that passes through the I-5 corridor on the way to the Portland finish. In preparation for the annual ride, PEMCO Insurance is releasing poll results that show two out of three Washington drivers feel uncomfortable sharing the road with cyclists, but most think that existing traffic laws are fair for both cyclists and drivers.

According to PEMCO’s poll, most respondents (87 percent) understand that cyclists can be ticketed for violating the same safety rules and traffic laws mandated for Washington drivers. Forty-five percent said the laws are generally fair for both drivers and cyclists and shouldn’t be revised to favor one group over the other.

However, compared to 2007, fewer drivers (40 percent) now believe they must give cyclists several feet of room when overtaking them on a roadway, which is down from 58 percent three years ago. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) mandates that drivers pass cyclists at a safe distance, and the Washington Driving Guide recommends allowing at least three feet.

"This latest poll found that most Washingtonians understand the laws for cyclists and drivers, but some laws are understood better than others," said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg.

PEMCO found that one-quarter (23 percent) of drivers are aware that it’s legal for cyclists to ride two abreast in a lane of traffic, and two out of three (62 percent) know that it’s illegal for cyclists to ride in lanes used by oncoming traffic.

In Washington, it’s legal for cyclists to ride on most sidewalks, but one in three drivers (30 percent) said they weren’t sure if it’s legal and more than half (54 percent) said they thought a cyclist could be ticketed for riding on a sidewalk.

"It’s clear that some traffic laws for drivers and cyclists are less intuitive than others. PEMCO is concerned because we want everyone to be safe on the road, whether they’re on a bike or driving a car," Osterberg said.

Of drivers who own and ride a bicycle, about half say they always wear a helmet, and an additional 20 percent say they usually wear a helmet. Though there is no statewide requirement for wearing a helmet, most Washington cities and/or counties have a helmet law and enforce it. According to PEMCO’s poll, more than one-quarter of all respondents (27 percent) think it’s legal to ride without a helmet.

Younger people are less likely than their older counterparts to say they regularly wear a helmet. One-third (36 percent) of those under age 35 say they only wear their helmet sometimes or never, compared with 17 percent of their older counterparts. Perhaps more troubling, younger people also are significantly more likely to use their bicycle for commuting. Forty-eight percent of bike riders under age 35 use their bike to commute at least once a month.

Overall, men are more likely to wear their helmet and use their bike weekly for commuting. Women drivers report they are more uncomfortable then men with cyclists on the roadway.

For those attending STP festivities, stop by PEMCO’s booth in Portland at Holladay Park for a chance to make your own bicyclist identification and emergency contact card.

To learn more about PEMCO’s poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in April 2010.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 635 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4.0 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance

PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the state and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.

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