Take a Look at Eric Adams’ Bike Safety Bill (and a German Driving Test)

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.

The legalese currently looks like this.

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.”

No, this is not on the New York State driving exam. It's ##http://osterberger.org/test.html##a sample exam question from Germany##.

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?

  • The French test is similar to the German test. It may be even harder, in that it contains trick questions. It would show you a photo of a rural highway connected to a dirt road, and ask you who has the right of way, which depends on whether the dirt road is a public road or not. It would show you a road segment and ask a multiple choice question, “At what speed is it legal to drive?”, and expect you to tick off multiple answers, not just the maximum speed but also all speeds below it. And so on…

  • I looked at the sample questions. Pretty good. They not only quiz people on safety issues, but on the larger impact of driving. Check out Question 20: “Your vehicle loses oil. How much drinking water can be polluted by a single drop of oil?” (Answer: 600 liters).

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Was there discussion on taking a bike ride in the future with Mr. Adams? I thought I read somewhere there might be one. If so, it might be interesting to document with a short film. That might generate momentum of course.

  • A bike ride is in the works. Maybe the week after the Tour de Bronx. Planning it is probably item #1 on their agenda for this Saturday.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    If it is after the TdB, there will be a much greater chance of coverage.

  • JK

    NYS driver’s ed has been in reverse for many, many decades. Maybe Streetsblog can dig up some of the reports AAA has done which document plummeting driver training requirements, and the disappearance of drivers ed from NY high schools, and the long ago end of bicycle ed for elementary school kids etc.

  • JJM P.E.

    So much stuff has been added to the course that it will get barely a mention unless the length of the course is increased. As it is, we’d be get lucky to get a minute or two on the topic.

  • tom murphy

    You might contact NY branch of AAA. They might want to incorporate something like this in their safety course. Also you might ask them about the training their trainers get. It’s very rigorous. I don’t know if it touches on engaging with bikes.

  • Adams indicated on the conference call that he’d be looking into increasing the length of the course. I’m guessing that lengthening the course would also, in itself, have some effect on “discouraging early licensure.”

  • One major problem with the mandatory class is that while all new drivers and drivers who have lost their licenses must attend nobody actually fails it. I actually took it twice when I first applied for a motorcycle license and again, several years later, when I applied for a drivers license. It was truly appalled to see how many drivers showed up late and or drunk. And many who were sober at the beginning actually went out for a drink during the break! Maybe the NYS written test should include items covered only in the class just to insure prospective drivers were awake, sober, and paying attention.

  • Doug

    Also, don’t be fooled by the name. Five hours is the MAXIMUM time you’re in the course. I think the minimum is something like two or two and a half hours: you watch videos, they read from a script, you take a test only a drunk or illiterate person would fail, and then you leave. If you do fail, you are told the answers the questions you get wrong, and then get to take the test again, I believe.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “AAA has done which document plummeting driver training requirements, and the disappearance of drivers ed from NY high schools, and the long ago end of bicycle ed for elementary school kids etc.”

    I’ve looked into this as I contemplate my own teens learning to drive, and what is available (let alone required) is a joke compared with when I leared to drive 31 years ago.

    Then: an eight week course, first using driving simulators with different situations on a screen ahead of you, then in a car, with required homework driving with your parents.

    Now: a five hour course, with no simulators.

  • Clutch J

    Small question regarding the answer to #18: Is that an example of the European yield-to-the-right-rule?

    I once almost got killed bicycling in the Netherlands because of my unfamiliarity with that concept.

  • Sounds like we need legislation that goes far beyond what Adams is proposing. We need comprehensive, effective education for all NY drivers, not just new ones. We need the rights of cyclists to be indelibly written into the minds of motorist and law enforcement.

    Though DOT has thrown us an infrastructure bone in recent years to bolster Bloomburg’s greenwash of the city, NYPD continues to actively make cycling much less safe, and motorists are being taught that we have no right to the road, only the (frequently-blocked) bike lane.

    If Adams is serious about bicyclist safety, we can take our long, long list of complaints to him on Saturday. Organizing the ride will be the easy part, as NYC cyclist and organizations do it all the time. We need a critical mass of pressure on these politicians who claim to be acting in our interests.

    Driver’s ed is a small start. If we don’t move faster, too many more cyclists and pedestrians are going to lose life and limb before we all learn to “share the road.”


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