For everyone curious about the bike safety bill from State Senator Eric Adams that we mentioned on Monday, here are the basics.
The bill would add a bike and pedestrian safety component to the five-hour course that New Yorkers must take before obtaining their first drivers license. This course currently includes sections educating prospective motorists about drunk driving, road rage, and driving in work zones. New Yorkers who don’t have a license have to complete the course, along with a certain number of practice hours behind the wheel with an instructor, before they can take the licensing exam.
This bill would be a good step forward for driver education in New York. Research by David T. Levy published in the journal Risk Analysis in 2006 indicates that drivers ed laws do reduce fatalities and that “an important part of the effect of curfew laws, driving education laws, and, of course, driving age laws appears to occur through their effect on discouraging early licensure.”
As with all things Albany, New Yorkers who care about street safety will probably have to push hard to get this bill through the legislative gauntlet in a form worth enacting. Adams introduced the bill in the second week of September, and there’s no equivalent on the Assembly side yet (things are quiet in Albany this time of year). A member of Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries’ staff was on the line for a conference call about the bill Monday evening, so there seems to be some interest from a potential sponsor in Sheldon Silver’s house.
On Saturday, Adams is hosting a meeting at his district office, starting at 11 a.m., to strategize about how to generate momentum for the bill. He described his motivation like so on Monday’s conference call: “Throughout the city we’ve witnessed a large number of bike lanes and just people who use the roads in many different fashions. It’s time to go back to the five-hour class and look at how do we make the roads safer for those who use the roads other than vehicles.”
If you want to see more awareness for cyclist and pedestrian safety built into the curriculum that all of New York state’s first-time drivers — mostly teenagers — have to take, I recommend turning out on Saturday to give your feedback.
There may be some room to strengthen the bill as part of this process. Note, for instance, that it explicitly affects the course people take before they sit down and try to pass the exam, but not the exam itself. American driving exams are notoriously lax and superficial compared to the equivalents in European countries where bicycling is much safer and widespread.
New York’s requirements seem to be fairly loose even by American standards. Licensed New York drivers do not enjoy reciprocity in Germany — they have to take rigorous tests to obtain long-term driving privileges there. Drivers from 36 other states do receive full or partial reciprocity in Germany. (Also, if you’re under 18, they just won’t let you drive, no matter if you’re a foreigner or not.) You can see some sample German driving exam questions here — lots of items about interacting with pedestrians and cyclists.
It’s been 16 years since I took an American driving exam. I think I remember one question about cyclists — it was about how to overtake them. Maybe someone who’s taken a test more recently can tell me: Do we have anything like these German questions about safely sharing the road with people walking and biking? How well did your class time prepare you for the road?