What is a socially optimal level of bike-riding danger?

Maxim Massenkoff writes to me:

You’ve blogged about bike laws before; I have a question about a particular cyclist (me). As bikers go, I’m very considerate. I obey red lights and stop signs. But I’ve noticed that many DC drivers expect me to break the law, eg., if one reaches an intersection a little before me, he’ll often get frustrated when I stop and give him the right-of-way.

This makes me wonder: if my only goal is to save other bikers from injury and death, should I follow or break the rules? Say that right now 50% of bikers break rules and 50% don’t. Then I figure most normal drivers will be cautious and hesitant around bikers. But if only 5% break rules, then cycling for that subset is way more dangerous as drivers will expect law-abiding bikers.

This model is rather simplistic, as it certainly goes both ways–bikers adjust their strategies to the habits of drivers. But we can consider DC and the marginal effect of one additional rule-abiding or rule-breaking cyclist. Which side should I choose, given my selfless utilitarian preferences above?


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