New York lawmakers to vote on making cycle safety training compulsory for new drivers

If US policiticans can see the benefit of driving test changes why not their UK counterparts?

by Tony Farrelly   December 27, 2010  

New York

Cycle safety instruction for new drivers could become mandatory in New York if a bill currently working its way through the state senate becomes law in January – something that is sure to lead to renewed calls for a similar reform to UK driver eduction.

New York's Bill 8487 would add a unit of bicycle safety instruction to New York's mandatory pre-licensing driver education course and is designed to make drivers aware of the dangers facing cyclists on the state's roads, and in particular those of New York city.

The bill was introduced by State Senator Eric Adams following the death of 23 year old art student, Jasmine Herron, who was killed when she was knocked from her bike by an opening car door in September.

“The menace of serious injury or death from accidents between bikes and motor vehicles is a reality that every cyclist faces, but it is imperative that we take every feasible action to increase bicycle safety,” Senator Adams said in a press statement announcing the bill.

The senator has said that bicycle groups would be consulted about the content of the cycle safety program for drivers - presumably if the bill is passed.

New York City, like London has seen a massive rise in the number of cyclists on its streets in recent years - both cities have "cycling" mayors and both have transport departments that seem eager to embrace cycling as an efficient mode of urban transport. If anything the New York's Department of Transport more recent conversion has eclipsed London's TfL in its enthusiasm for installing cycling infrastructure – with new bike lanes being built all over the city in recent months.

The growth of cycling in New York has not been without its problems with reports of tensions between motorists, residents and cyclists in some areas. In one well reported case a newly installed bike lane on Staten Island was removed after an outcry from drivers who resented the amount of road space the segregated bike lane was taking up.

However, although there would seem to be something of a cycling backlash (in the New York media at least), across the Atlantic the momentum seems to be with the advocates of cycling, and bill 8487 will further underline that fact should it become law.

While the UK has seen a rise in cycling levels over recent years, most dramatically in its larger cities particularly London, as yet no such requirement to educate new drivers about cycle safety yet exists. BikeAware a new campaigning organisation was launched this year to campaign for such a change to be made to driver instruction in the UK, BikeAware is campaigning for the UK driving test to recognise the "hierarchy of effect" and for the inclusion of a module on cycle awareness as part of the driving test which would include on-road cycling as part of the test. As yet no UK politician has publicly backed the campaign and while in theory a government ostensibly led by three cyclists should be sympathetic, in practice the new coalition government has shown itself to be the most pro-car in a generation with the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond in particular looking like no friend to sustainable transport of any form.

Ironically while the push for better cycling awareness training for drivers is being propelled by the growth of cycling in major cities on both sides of the Atlantic the cyclists most likely to benefit from such a change are likely to be those using rural and suburban roads which are statistically far more dangerous to cycle on than city streets where the safety in numbers effect, does seem to be cutting the accident rate particularly for the most serious casualties. In New York's case, despite some recent tabloid controversy, that drop in casualties is reflected non only in the accident rate but in the overall totals too.

For more on Bill 8487