“Bike Safety” Public Service Announcements

This pair of “Bike Safety” public service announcements are creating quite a stir on various bike blogs around the i-net . The first is from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the other is from the New York City Department of Transportation.

It’s my opinion that the ads do more harm than good. Most people who aren’t already bicyclists perceive bicycling to be much more dangerous that it actually is; they don’t need a PSA to reinforce their unfounded fears. On the other hand, bicycling enthusiasts already know not to ride against traffic or run head-on into a car traveling at 50 mph (ridiculous). If anything, the ads encourage people to do the most dangerous thing they can possibly do: stay at home in front of the TV and develop heart disease, the number one killer in the United States.

What do you think?

[via Cyclelicious]

36 Responses to ““Bike Safety” Public Service Announcements”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I find the first PSA (LADOT) completely offensive and horrible. It focuses all the danger and responsibility on cyclists. It is a get out of jail free card for motorist AND doesn’t even fulfill it promise of being a physics lesson. Bug Splatter my ASS.

    The NYCDOT one is negative in that it focuses on danger but it does point the responsibility toward motorists as well as cyclists. I like it much better.

    I had a driver in the Seattle area get mad at me for giving him a “look” after he almost ran me over coming out of a burgermaster driveway. He said “hey, I am sorry, but do you have to give me that look“. I mentioned that my life was the one threatened and his risk was dinging his paint. He didn’t like that much either. So I can respect the NYCDOT PSA.

    Both place way too much emphasis on the risk though.

  • Len says:

    I agree. The whole media-corporate fear culture is out of control. Live life, don’t just watch it.

  • lyle says:

    I don’t like the “Culture of Fear” approach. I think a partnership tack would be better for all. It wouldn’t have to be all hippyish or über-eco but something like this blog that encourages us all to get along.

  • Molnar says:

    What Duncan Watson said. I just wish that the rude motorists here in Massachusetts were as polite as those in Seattle. That said, I have seen some improvement in the last couple of years, but I have no idea why.

  • lyle says:


    Your post made me realize that where I live in California’s central valley, rude motorists are the exception, not the rule. One thing I’ve noticed lately is that drivers are less afraid of bicyclists. There’s one intersection that I cross regularly where drivers are likely to start turning before I am fully across. It’s sort of freaky until you get used to it. But it’s an acknowledgement on their part that they “understand” me.

    I”ve been hit three times by a car, the first was serious, the second two much less so. One happened in Germany, the other two in Seattle. Anyway, since then I’ve been quick to flaunt my middle finger. However, where I live now, my middle finger has gone stiff from non use.

    I really think it’s about a critical mass of cyclists.

  • Perry says:

    >>>I really think it’s about a critical mass of cyclists.

    Right. Anything, ANYTHING that puts more cyclists on the road will increase cycling safety. So in that respect, if the ads discourage cycling, they are counter-productive.

  • Nipper says:

    Those videos are terrible! I feel a bit nervous about riding to work tomorrow.

    I think I will watch again the balletic way those Dutch bikers weave in and out of each other on your video from Amsterdam post. I think films showing positive images of safe cycling do more good for safety as they get more people out on bikes and so keep motorists more alert to the fact that there are bikes on the roads around them.


  • Erich Zechar says:

    I totally agree that the fear-mongering will do little but dissuade cyclists from taking to the roads for fear of being killed. Heck, that second ad’s tagline could have been “be safe. drive a car.”

    I with others here, that the only way to convince drivers we belong on the road is to be on the road in great numbers, and share the road like we want drivers to do.

  • Donald Moore says:

    Take action to inform LADOT and NYDOT how we feel by E-mailing them as I did below. Maybe if they get enough response they will rethink their PSA’s. and their attitudes.

    Dear Sirs,
    Your latest “public service” message with a bicyclist deliberately colliding head-on with a car is a disservice to bicyclists and portrays us as lunatics. Those inexperienced riders riding against traffic do not need to be scared off of the road but instructed in a more intelligent manner. The most dangerous thing they could do is give up the health benefits of cycling.
    Thank You,
    Donald Moore

  • Eddie says:

    These are classic examples of PSA as POS.

  • Marc Tamo says:

    After reading all these comments I’m less pro these “PSAs” than before. But I don’t think it’s adverts like this that create a culture of fear, there’s a couple of other things going on. It’s a good thing to remind people driving cars that they’re piloting huge chunk of weapon and their carelessness could easily kill someone. As this relates to bicycles, you can hop on a bike and ride it down Market St. in SF with no training what so ever, I hope you’re a little scared because that could save your life. Hopefully not keep you from getting on a bike, but encourage you to ride within your limits and focus on safety. I say show some blood and guts and people drooling on themselves because they thought it didn’t look cool to wear a helmet. Major brain injuries are not that cool. This has turned into a rant…I’m sorry. In closing: More blood and guts, less bogus polished story line.

  • Christina says:

    Those are truly awful. You hit it on the head in the post- people who already ride bikes, already know this. And the last thing I need is more terrible images to flash before my eyes when I have a close call.
    The first one is bad on so many levels- as has been mentioned, it’s not even a physics lesson, and how about this “physics lesson”- a car going 50 mph hits a cyclist going 15. It won’t be much prettier.
    It would be so much better to say, “Hey, new biker, you like to ride against traffic so you can see what’s coming at you. But if you’re in a car- would you rather be rear-ended or get it a head-on collision? Yeah. That goes double when you’re on your bike.”

  • Carrie says:

    Yikes! That first video is awful. Sure bicyclists who flaunt the rules piss people off, but geez. And the second — as a new rider I’ve been sticking to paved trails and that would be why. My worst nightmare, especially as I want to have my kids with me. They might as well print “Don’t ride a bike! You’ll get killed!” and leave it at that.

  • Andy K says:

    two thumbs down.

  • Nipper says:

    @Marc, I don’t wear a helmet because I don’t need to! I am not trying to look cool, although I do wear a 504 in a rather fetching kinda way… I digress. I am able to make my mind up by reading the evidence, understanding the statistics and the science, all of which in my opinion, show that there is no need to wear one for the very safe activity of cycling.

    I do however wear a helmet when climbing stairs and when riding in a car, these activities come with a far higher risk of head injury than cycling does. I do definitely think I look cool on the stairs in my stair climbing helmet and I am campaigning for a law to force me to make my children wear helmets in cars and on stairs. I want to see adverts showing head injured people who fell down the stairs without their helmets on being laughed at. I want to see people who allow their children to ride in cars without helmets being derided in the streets and made to pay with huge and unreasonable fines. Hope you are wearing your stair climbing helmet, I am only saying this out of genuine concern for you well being.


  • Fritz says:

    The “NYCDOT” ad was actually produced by a coalition that includes New York’s Transportation Alternatives. Presumably they had a hand in creating the ad. What’s Transalt’s statement (if any) on this ad?

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I am quite torn regarding my position on the issue of safety. It is not a black-and-white issue.

    Personally, I ride wearing “normal clothes” and without a helmet. I agree that fear tactics can only reduce cycling, and I think that both of these DOT ads are just awful — a set-back in terms of developing a healthy attitude to cycling in the US.

    However, neither do I think it is fair to give Americans who are new to cycling a false sense of security by telling them to just get out there and cycle, carefree, and it will be just like Amsterdam/Copenhagen — with no further instructions or caveats. That is what I see happening on a couple of blogs, and this concerns me as much as the over-the-top safety campaigns. I feel that both of these positions are extreme, not reflective of reality, and inappropriate.

    Cycling in the US is very different from the happy-times, easy-peasy cycling in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and beginners need to be properly prepared for how to behave on American roads. But they do not need to be scared out of their wits in doing so. There needs to be a balance, and I rarely see such a balance in the positions taken on the various cycling blogs.

  • Molnar says:

    Nipper’s comment reminds me of the time I got home from a ride, put my bike inside the house, and then went out to get the mail while still wearing my helmet. As I was opening the mailbox, a branch fell from a tree and hit my head. Without the helmet I would have had a pretty good bump, but the helmet saved me from injury. So, I’m not so sure about the stairs and car suggestion, but wearing a helmet to get the mail is definitely a good idea.

  • Marc Tamo says:

    Nipper – good suggestions on the car and stairs, I’m going to contact my friends at giro and see if they can develop a special helmet for non-race in car use and something that will be fitting for stair climbing. Actually, I’m having a special bubble built for myself that works in the car and on stairs.

    Seriously though, you don’t have to wear a helmet, that’s your right. I don’t think you should have to wear a seatbelt either, or a helmet on a motorcycle. I’ve NEVER been in a car accident and I’ve been driving for 20 years, but I still wear a seatbelt, because if I am in an accident it will provide a certain level of safety that will reduce my injuries, and there’s not really any benefit to not wearing it. I feel the same way about bike helmets. Sure, people are a bit nuts about helmet wearing these days, I cut me teeth (and head) riding and crashing on bikes as a youngster when nobody thought to wear a helmet unless you were racing (BMX), a few stitches here and there, but nothing major. I wear a bike helmet because it just doesn’t make sense not to. Statistic, shmatistics – if you fall on your head and you have some foam protecting it it’s not going to be as badly damaged as if your head hits the pavement. Show me some statistics that show increase of danger due to helmet usage. Plus there are some totally badass helmets out there.

    The people who read this blog are obviously avid cyclists and far more enlightened than the average joe. If you’ve not taken a look around recently, average joe is pretty stupid and needs to have things explained to them in the most rudimentary of ways. I don’t think either of the videos in question will keep anyone from getting on a bike, and if it does then maybe they weren’t meant to ride a bike.

  • Adrienne says:

    I had no idea a car would splatter me if I deliberately rode into it. Now that I am armed with that knowledge i will avoid that situation.

    I like the saying ‘Teach, don’t preach’. Demand more education for drivers. Demand more education for cyclists. Hell, I think we should go back to teaching table manners and telephone skills to kids while they are in school- believe it or not, better manners at the table translates to better manners on the road.

    If we teach and practice what we want others to emulate, we will get what we want sooner.

  • Nipper says:

    Marc, There is plenty of evidence that wearing a helmet can be more dangerous, the study from Bath University that showed vehicles pass cyclist wearing helmets more closely than those not wearing them. There are some studies which indicate helmeted riders hit their head more often and are involved in more accidents than those not wearing helmets, given the very low level of protection afforded by a cycle helmet it is best to avoid accidents. Most importantly there is no study which shows increased helmet use has lead to a reduction in head injuries relative to cycle use. To equate cycle helmet use to motorcycles or seatbelts is ridiculous, they are devices that actually lower the rate of serious accidents, there is no evidence wearing cycle helmets actually lowers the rate of head injuries. Show me the study where increased cycle helmet use has lead to a reduction in head injuries relative to cycle use.

    The only way to be truly safe on a bike is to deal with infrastructure and the attitude of motor vehicle drivers. This leads to a reduction in accidents and makes us safer, look at the countries with the safest cycling, Holland and Denmark, they don’t wear helmets, they prevent accidents. Placing the emphasis on helmet use takes away the responsibility of governments to actually make cycling safer. People who advocate helmet use reduce the number of cyclists and prevent real accident prevention measures from being taken.

    I want to be safe and I want others to be safer so I don’t wear a helmet. I don’t mind if you continue to wear one but please be aware that you make it more dangerous for all other cyclists.


  • 2whls3spds says:

    Carrot or Stick…in the US we seem to take the Stick approach to everything!


  • Marc Tamo says:

    Nipper – Seems like you’re taking a very scientific approach to this all with the multitude of studies that you’ve read – that’s great, but I’m not a scientist, just a guy who makes some observations, reflects on his experiences and changes his own behaviors based on them. I cannot find a way to connect my wearing a helmet to making the act of cycling more dangerous to other cyclists…that’s some straight up fooey. Just taking a guess here, but have you thought that maybe there haven’t really been as many studies done on bicycling matters when compared to automobile and motorcycle studies? Bicycles in the US are seen mainly as toys/recreational devices and that is an attitude that needs to be changed. I think more people on bikes does that.

    I’d love to continue the to helmet or not to helmet argument offline over a beer sometime – are you in the bay area?

    I totally agree with Adrienne on the teach don’t preach – We’re living in a “me” society, with generations of people who have no idea how to communicate with one another without the barrier of a computer or a handheld device – teaching manners and basic communications will help out on the roads, both when in car and on bike. Some training on how to maintain bikes is necessary as well – I don’t know how many times new cyclist friends have told me they need to get their bike down to the bike shop to have the tires pumped up…what? Know your machine!

    Off to ride my bike to work now…with a helmet on my head.

  • Alan says:

    To reiterate, the problem I have with these PSAs is that bicycling is not an inherently dangerous activity! Should we run some PSAs showing people floating face down in their swimming pools, because swimming is much more dangerous that bicycling. How about some PSAs showing the aftermath of an airplane crash, because general aviation is far more dangerous than bicycling. Why does bicycling always get singled out and promoted as being more dangerous than it actually is? Why do we need a “bicycling safety” PSA when we don’t have PSAs for far more dangerous activities? You have to wonder if it’s in the best interest of DOTs to promote bicycling as dangerous so that the onus for safety is placed on bicyclists and taken off of motorists.

    More on relative safety

  • Perry says:


    >>>Some training on how to maintain bikes is necessary as well – I don’t know how many times new cyclist friends have told me they need to get their bike down to the bike shop to have the tires pumped up…what?

    Anyone can learn the basics nowadays for free. Here is one site:


    There are many others. My point being, we must conclude such folk have little interest in maintaining their bikes themselves. But that’s cool too. More business for the bike shops.

    As for the helmet debate, there have been numerous studies. I think Nipper has it pretty right as far what I have seen. OTOH, you see many anecdotes to the contrary, but that’s not a study and often strewn with false logic. I am not saying you, or anyone else should not wear a helmet (I sometimes do and sometimes don’t–long story there). I am saying that if we are to conclude through anecdotes and “common sense” that helmets prevent head injuries from bike falls, we must be able to visit the idea of helmets preventing head injuries from stairway falls, car accidents, etc. Otherwise, we place cycling in a separate and distinct category from many daily activities which pose just as much or more danger.

    BTW, I highly recommend Nipper’s video. That’s cycling as it ought to be, IMHO.


  • A Bike Commuter says:

    @ Marc

    You said, “Seems like you’re taking a very scientific approach to this all with the multitude of studies that you’ve read – that’s great, but I’m not a scientist, just a guy who makes some observations, reflects on his experiences and changes his own behaviors based on them.”

    It has been said before, and it bears repeating, the plural of anecdote is not data. And absent data, debates become a contest of idealogies and/or personal beliefs.

    Live and let live — with regard to helmets and just about everything else. Peace.

  • Marc Tamo says:

    Nippers video is great, love the bikes, love the retro stuff, love the pass down of a classic roadster through the generations. I’m cycling in a MUCH different world from him, so that might have a lot to do with the logic behind this helmet thing.

    Working on your bike – yeah, there are resources online for everything…why do people still call a plumber to plunge their toilet? You got me. If you’re operating a motor vehicle you should know how to check your tire pressure, oil, etc – that should be a requirement to get a license – it would promote a better understanding of the hunk of metal you’re piloting. Same for bicycle safety I think.

    As for the debate on PSAs for swimming, airlines, stairclimbing. When hummer starts putting vehicles piloted by complete jackasses into swimming pools then yes I will advocate for some PSAs. I think the differentiation is that with bicycling (in my world at least) there are a lot of other players on the road – cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, etc. so it’s different from the dangers of swimming or flying in airplanes.

    Head injuries in cars and on stairs – c’mon…when was the last time a motorcycle side swiped you on the stairs? We can go deeper and deeper on this argument. It’s about taking proper precautions for the environment you’re in. If I was to race a car, I would wear a helmet. If I were to get into stair racing…perhaps a helmet would be good, but I’d imagine you’d be looking at more of a broken neck in a stair accident.

    I wish my world was more like Nippers, but I live in the US and in an urban area that was not build to be bike friendly (oakland/san francisco) that’s just the facts. I grew up out in the deep suburbs with a lot of dirt fields and a lot of time to take my bike a part and rebuild it. I just don’t see kids having the same experience these days.


  • Erica says:

    Wow, both of those PSA’s are horrifying. What a shame that these groups feel they have to scare people in order to make a point.

    Are there really so many bicycle accidents that these PSA’s are necessary? Aren’t there far more automobile accidents? Shouldn’t the PSA’s be about driving cars safer so there are less auto accidents?

  • Perry says:

    I’m in the process of inventing a booze helmet (TM), patent pending.


  • Marc Tamo says:

    Perry – someone beat you to it in the 70s http://www.thesharkguys.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/beerhat-772303.jpg and it’s a two-fer – providing drink AND protection.

    A bike commuter – I never said everyone should wear helmets – I’m live and let live through and though, I just can’t for a moment believe that my wearing a helmet on my bicycle is making the activity more dangerous for others like Nipper suggests. That’s a joke.

    I gotta put my elevator helmet on and go downstairs to get a pastry.


  • Nipper says:

    @Perry, Thanks for linking my video. I took a little look at your website, great design!

    @Lovely Bicycle, I think you made a good point about educating new cyclists to the dangers of the road without scaring them. It is much more important to get people to ride in a predictable way, to be aware of the other road users around them and to ride safely than it is to slap on a helmet and a hi viz jacket and hope they will be magically protected.

    @Alan, Oh yes INDEED, we cyclists are singled out for special safety guidance. I am not sure why this is but I think it is to do with a generation of car drivers who wanted us off the roads, it suited them to make cycling seem dangerous. Fear is so persuasive it has just become the norm for people to accept that cars are safe, bikes are dangerous. These adverts, helmet promotion, safety gear etc… all just reinforce this and make do-gooders feel they are doing something worth while. I think we have to make people feel cycling is normal, like walking. I am drawn to the cycle chic thing so much because the emphasis is shifted from safety to how cool we all look riding bicycles. We need adverts that show hipsters on groovy bikes looking sharp, we need non-cyclists to want to be cyclists because it’s cool.

    @Marc, I would love to discuss the helmet issue in the bay area but even my mighty Pashley might struggle with distance!

    To digress for a moment the ukulele scene in California is what inspired me to start a ukulele club in my home town. The Californian ukulele clubs have hundreds of members and a there is a very vibrant scene. A few years ago, in my home town of Taunton in the UK I knew of only one other ukulele player. I started a ukulele revolution teaching children at my school to play ukulele and then starting a uke club, all because I wanted a scene like that found on the West Coast. I have more than 50 members in the club and this year I am teaching 90 children ukulele. We have a ukulele scene that has drawn visitors from across the UK and from the US, Canada and Australia. While still not in the league of the West Coast clubs, we are doing well for a small rural town.

    What has this to do with cycling… well you are lamenting that your cycling world is not like mine, so get on and campaign for more and better infrastructure, start small and build it up. Work at a local level. If you can get more bikes on the road, the rest will follow. If it doesn’t work go and see Mike DaSilva and get him to make you a ukulele, he makes great ukes. http://www.ukemaker.com/ Oh and be sure to check out Tippy Canoe she is hot! http://www.myspace.com/tippycanoe

    Nipper (commenting on blogs to keep busy and so not think about wanting a cig – 13 days smoke free)

  • Marc Tamo says:

    Nipper – Bike fashion culture is alive and well here in SF…ever seen a dude dressed like Freddie Mercury http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/archives/Freddie-Mercury—Queen-Photograph-C11797159.jpeg riding a Eddy Eddy Merckx track bike http://farm1.static.flickr.com/116/293347237_0ca4546084.jpg?v=0 I have…and it happens every day. Some of them are wearing helmets.

    I was not aware of the rich ukulele scene here on the West Coast but I’ll look into it.

    Here’s a question – do you put your uke in a case?

    If I’m ever in your part of the world I look forward to having a ride with you.

    Keep off the cigs.

  • Fritz says:

    I’m with Marc — I see lots of bikes of all types in Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a ukelele here. I admit I haven’t looked for it either. I occasionally run into Justine with her violin and once saw a guy haulling a cello with his bike.

  • Sean says:

    “I am drawn to the cycle chic thing so much because the emphasis is shifted from safety to how cool we all look riding bicycles. We need adverts that show hipsters on groovy bikes looking sharp, we need non-cyclists to want to be cyclists because it’s cool.”

    I want to comment on something Nipper mentioned. I think he’s right (or she’s right), but there’s a bit more to mention. When done right, cycle chic isn’t just about looking good, it’s about behavior as well. Riders recognize red lights; they know how to signal; they’re considerate of other road users. From what I’ve seen on vacation, the Danes are pretty good at it, and it’s appealing. Really appealing.

    As a whole, we New Yorkers, target of the second road gore PSA, aren’t so good at it. We may have some chic looking people on bikes, but their behavior is generally deplorable and they don’t do much to promote cycling. To be persuasive, cycle chic has to be looks plus behavior.

  • Nipper says:

    @Fritz, Outside Hawaii Santa Cruz probably has the highest density of ukulele players anywhere in the world. The ukulele club of Santa Cruz is the original the one all other clubs are modelled after http://www.ukuleleclub.com/

  • beth h says:

    Kids, those ads are the products of a car-centric culture, as are the roads we ride on in this country. The ads are designed less to teach safety and more to absolve car drivers of potential guilt in a car-bike collision (the stronger, yet more subtle message I got was: “well, they asked for it by riding their bikes on the same roads I drive on…”). Even in Portland it will never, EVER be like Amsterdam, or even close. And people who are still fighting for that vision to happen in our lifetimes need to take a breath. Dinosaurs take a very long time to die.

    I’m with those who think that sending a carefree, happy-go-lucky message to new riders is doing them a disservice. New riders have the bad luck of inhabiting a place on the generational timeline where it’s much harder to take up bicycle transportation than it used to be. There are more roads, more cars, more drivers, more people in general than there were thirty-five years ago when I became a dedicated bicycle commuter. (There is also a much greater sense of fear among parents who won’t let their kids even FART unsupervised, much less ride a bike to school. I am grateful that my parents raised me with far more freedom — and greater expectations of self-sufficiency — then today’s terrified parents offer their children.) At least I and other longtime bicyclists had time to grow with the scenery, and to grow our traffic survival skills as a result.

    People drive faster today and are more likely to express impatience or even rage behind the wheel. Drivers are more distracted by cell phones and GPS machines and whatever else occupies the dashboards of today’s automobiles. Almost no one wore a bike helmet in traffic back then; today it would be almost suicidal to ride without one. And it would be still more dangerous to sugar-coat the bicycling experience for a newbie. It would also be irresponsible to pretend that the car-centric culture we all live in actually holds motorists accountable. These ads prove that it doesn’t.

    We may as well tell new riders how it really is, and THEN reward them for taking the risks anyway: through tax breaks, a warm welcoming spirit into the “club” of bicycle transportationists, tools for survival in a car-centric landscape, and the regular reassurance that their neighbors are far more likely to die younger by living couch-potato lives than we are by riding our bicycles).

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